Growing Vines Is Easy
August 8, 2014
By Steve Chandler
Photos by Steve Chandler
A walk in any of the wooded greenways meandering through our urban areas in the county will easily make one aware of the vigorous success of the many vines growing there. They are so hardy that they often climb to the top of the trees, reaching across from one to another until the trees look more like vines. You may notice the flowers or fruit on some of our native vines like grape, trumpet or wisteria, and be tempted to take a cutting of one of these to cultivate at home to cover a fence, pergola, or outdoor structure near your garden. You are just as likely to notice some of the less desirable vines in our woods, like poison ivy, Virginia creeper, or Florida smilax, and realize you would rather not have them growing anywhere near your home. It’s also common to see kudzu, the famously invasive vine that escaped cultivation years ago and has since crept all over many of the forested areas in the southeast. Regardless of the type of vine, it’s hard not to be impressed with how easily they grow and push their way to the top of everything else.
Cultivating vines at home can be a fun activity for educating children about how to grow plants in your garden. Fast growing, easy care birdhouse gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) are a good choice for such a lesson. It’s an annual vine that kids can plant in the spring and nurture throughout the summer. With watering just two or three times a week, a single seed can sprout quickly in full sun and spread along an open space or cling to a fence to reach a length of more than 25 feet in just a few weeks. Birdhouse gourd vines sport large leaves to inspire talk about photosynthesis, many tendrils to discuss anchoring and support, and plentiful, easily-distinguished male and female flowers to teach the kids about pollination. The female flowers will wither and the emerging gourd (fruit) will grow quickly enough to hold a child’s attention all summer. Within about 100 days the vine should produce lots of large gourds that can be harvested and used to make birdhouses. For that, just let the gourds grow to full size and once their stems turn from green to brown, cut them from the vine, wash each gourd gently with a ten to one solution of water to bleach to discourage rot, and store them away until dry (this can take some months). It’s normal to see mold growing on the drying gourds; just wash them again with the same solution when you notice it. Once your gourds are dry enough for the seeds to rattle inside when shaken, it’s time to cut an opening in the side of the gourd big enough for the bird of interest. Birdhouse gourds are attractive to many types of birds, like purple martins, bluebirds, swallows, and woodpeckers, so you will want to cut the entrance hole and hang the gourd in the location indicated for the particular bird you desire. You will want to drill four smaller holes in the stem for ventilation and hanging and some small holes in the bottom for drainage, too. The birdhouses can be cleaned, varnished and painted, making the birdhouse construction an art project that kids can also enjoy. Don’t forget to collect some of the seeds and store them in a dry place if you want to plant birdhouse vines again the next spring.
Steve Chandler is a Master Gardener and volunteer writer for Leon County UF/ IFAS Extension. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov