It seems like many vines are either so aggressive that they take over the entire neighborhood like some creature in a campy horror film, or they are too delicate to withstand the harsh winter conditions of northern climates.
Is finding a plant that is extremely cold hardy without being an invasive jerk asking too much?
What about something polite and able to thrive in places with frigid winters that also puts on an impressive floral display? Now we’re dreaming big.
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In this roundup you will discover 11 suitable vines that will thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 6, all of which flower beautifully.
Some are annuals that grow quickly enough to fill out a space in one season. Others are tried-and-true perennials that can always be counted on for a big floral show.
Here are the vines we’ll cover:
When we talk about “the north” in the US, we typically mean Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
We’re talking states with cold winters in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 6.
But most of these species will work for anyone in the northern states ranging from the Pacific to the Atlantic, so long as your local Hardiness Zone is suitable.
Let’s also set some expectations:
Invasive is a term used to describe a plant that isn’t indigenous to an area and that outcompetes native plants.
That doesn’t mean a non-invasive plant won’t be aggressive – meaning it might grow in an area where you don’t want it to if you don’t prune it as needed.
So, with that out of the way, let’s look at our first candidate.
1. American Bittersweet
If you love the look of bittersweet but don’t like its invasive nature, consider American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) instead.
In full sun to light shade in Zones 3 to 8, it offers up charming ovate leaves, heaps of fragrant white flowers, and clusters of red berries in the fall. Birds love the fruit.
In this vine’s indigenous range, foragers will take large clusters home for decoration. They’re so enthusiastic that, in some areas, wild populations have been significantly impacted.
This vine will reach up to 20 feet in length but most plants need a pollinating male nearby for the female to produce fruit.
2. American Wisteria
American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) is a perennial, twining, flowering vine that produces fragrant blooms that are blissfully intoxicating! They need full sun and moist soil. Colors can vary.
We have a wisteria that is currently thriving on a backyard wooden trellis. These plants can grow up to 25 feet in length.
Wisteria needs regular pruning, and this is recommended in the summer and again in late winter.
Not to be confused with the potentially invasive Japanese wisteria (W. floribunda), American wisteria is a North American native vine that looks every bit as gorgeous as its cousin, with lots of cultivars to choose from.
For instance, ‘Amethyst Falls’ has six-inch-long lavender and purple blossoms on a compact natural dwarf vine that grows up to 25 feet long.
Available at Nature Hills Nursery in a #1 container, the fragrant flowers fade to blue as they age.
Most cultivars grow in Zones 5 to 9 but you can find a few that grow well in Zone 4.
Clematis is a perennial, flowering, climbing plant that is often referred to as the reigning “Queen of Climbers.”
The blooms range in color from the purest white to deep magenta and purple. Some bloom in spring, others in summer, and still others are repeat bloomers that show off throughout the growing season.
It is a good idea to prune clematis the first spring after planting. But keep in mind that different cultivars of clematis have different pruning needs.
Don’t become discouraged if yours don’t bloom during the first year after planting. These vines need about two years to become properly established. Once they do, they can grow up to 30 feet in length.
Clematis needs to be kept moist, and most varieties require full sun, though some do grow well in partially sunny areas. To keep them truly happy, cover the roots to keep them cool and give the tops bright, direct, full sun all day long.
Some gardeners use rocks to shade the roots, but a clematis garden that I’m familiar with in Portland, Oregon, uses strawberries as a ground cover. I tried this out this year, and my vines have never been happier.
Avoid Japanese clematis (C. terniflora) because it can become invasive. Native types like Virgin’s bower (C. virginiana) and scarlet (C. texensis) are better choices. Most species grow well in Zones 4 to 8.
I’m partial to ‘Patricia Ann Fretwell’ myself. It’s the first pink and red double-flowering clematis.
This means you get a big floral display of the massive, double blossoms not once but twice per year.
Pick up a ‘Patricia Ann Fretwell’ vine for your garden at Nature Hills Nursery.
4. Climbing Hydrangea
Climbing hydrangea vines (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris) are perennials that take about two to three years to get established.
Some may take up to five years, depending on the climate. And these lush flowers are a delight to experience!
Be patient, because they are indeed worth the wait. Hydrangeas are excellent plants for attracting pollinators to your backyard habitat in Zones 4 to 10.
Climbing hydrangea vine needs full sun but can sometimes grow in partial shade. Prune in the summer after the blooms fade.
Upon maturity, these plants have been known to grow 30 to 50 feet tall.
For a non-invasive vine that puts on a display of white blossom clusters beyond compare, visit Nature Hills Nursery to snag yours in a #1 container.
5. Climbing Rose
There are lots of climbing roses (Rosa spp.) that thrive in northern regions.
Gorgeous ‘Gertrude Jekyll,’ highly fragrant ‘The Generous Gardener,’ tough ‘Mary Delany,’ and classic ‘Strawberry Hill’ are all worthwhile options.
All of these can be grown as far north as Zone 4. They won’t twine up a fence or support on their own; you have to tie them into place.
But they can grow to be huge – some of them will stretch up to 20 feet tall, or more!
If you’re not familiar with caring for roses in the winter, visit our guide for some tips.
6. Dutchman’s Pipe
Native to eastern North America, Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla) isn’t just special because of its flowers but for its large, heart-shaped leaves.
The vine can reach up to 30 feet long and is smothered in overlapping leaves, meaning it can completely cover up even the ugliest wall or fence in full to partial sun.
It grows rapidly and the flowers will have everyone talking too.
When young, people compare the blossoms to little green and burgundy human fetuses or old-fashioned Dutch smoking pipes. The flowers grow tucked underneath the foot-long leaves.
This plant is also an important food source for the swallowtail butterfly.
If you live in Zones 4 to 8, bring one home from Nature Hills Nursery.
Okay, this one isn’t your classic flowering vine, but it’s worth considering if you want something different. Common hops vines (Humulus lupulus) aren’t just for beer lovers.
Technically bines like woodbine or bindweed that have climbing or twining stems, these can grow super quickly to cover an ugly fence or patio, and the flowers – typically called cones or strobili – are extremely attractive, even if they’re a bit different from your typical flowers.
You can’t go wrong with any cultivar that has its roots in North American native hops.
European hops will sometimes, though not always, be labeled as H. lupulus var. lupulus. Native vines will usually be called out by the grower, since they’re harder to find.
If you can find them, H. lupulus var. lupuloides, var. neomexicanus, and var. pubescens are native to North America. But just because a hop isn’t described as native doesn’t mean it doesn’t have primarily North American roots.
I think the flowers on ‘Chinook’ are particularly good-looking. They’re also one of my favorites in beer. Nature Hills Nursery carries this one in quart-size containers.
Whatever cultivar you go with, be aware that this vine can literally grow up to a foot a day and over 20 feet long at maturity.
It’s perfect if you have a spot you want to fill quickly, but less ideal if you want a vine that stays politely compact.
Plant in full sun, and feel free to prune hops back as much as you want to keep it in shape.
Stick with common hops, as Japanese hops plants (H. japonicus) are invasive.
These plants grow best in Zones 5 to 8, but they can be grown as annuals in any USDA Hardiness Zone.
8. Morning Glory
Morning glories (Ipomoea purpurea) are remarkable annuals in that their seed deposits regenerate readily each year.
While they are technically considered annual flowering plants, they often self-sow to return each year, growing up to 10 feet in length without any work or help from us.
The vibrant azure blossoms and attractive heart-shaped leaves are a beautiful addition to the garden, and their vines can create a privacy screen on a chain link fence or trail merrily over an arbor.
Morning glories need full sun and regular watering. This plant blooms from early summer until late fall or early winter.
While the original plant will die, the seeds will return, so they’re suitable for any growing zone.
This plant can be invasive or at least overly aggressive in southern states and along the Pacific Coast.
But up north in the Midwest and eastern parts of the US as we defined above, they’re much more polite.
Still, it helps to deadhead the flowers after they fade if you want to keep this vine in check and prevent self-seeding.
Grab glorious ‘Heavenly Blue’ seeds from Burpee and let the choir sing hallelujah!
It’s hard not to adore vinca, also known as creeping myrtle or periwinkle (Vinca minor).
It’s extremely versatile and can be grown as a ground cover or a short vine that will extend a few feet.
With evergreen foliage and long-lasting purple flowers, it’s the perfect option to cover a retaining wall or short fence.
It also flowers in full shade and full sun alike, tolerates drought, and rambles around the garden without becoming invasive.
No wonder it’s such a popular option for gardens in Zones 4 to 9! In colder regions it might lose its foliage, but it will return reliably.
Grab a few live plants in quart-size containers at Nature Hills Nursery and fill up your challenging spots.
10. Purple Bell Vine
Purple bell vine (Rhodochiton atrosanguineus) is a tender perennial that can’t tolerate a hard frost, so what’s it doing on this list?
It grows quickly, reaching up to 10 feet in just a month or two, and then sends out heaps and heaps of bell-shaped purple flowers.
Even if you don’t live in Zones 10 to 12, you can enjoy this vine as an annual.
The blossoms last straight through fall until the first frost, but even before they develop, the heart-shaped leaves are gorgeous on their own, often tinged in burgundy or red.
You can pick up a packet of seeds at Eden Brothers for planting out in spring after the last predicted frost date.
11. Trumpet Honeysuckle
Not to be confused with Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), which is highly invasive, trumpet honeysuckle, aka coral or scarlet honeysuckle (L. sempervirens) is native to North America and stays much more contained than its exuberant cousin.
This perennial flowering vine has vibrant crimson flowers on top of being a wonderful flowering plant for pollinators.
It’s an unbeatable addition to a northern cottage garden in Zones 4 to 9. This plant can grow up to 15 feet high and about six feet wide, so it’s ideal for small yards.
I recommend full sun and pruning in early spring. It may take up to five years for plants to become established, and for the flowers to bloom. Do not overwater them.
Climbing Color Without the Invasiveness
I’ve totally been guilty of seeing a plant that I fell in love with and deciding I needed one for my yard, only to find that it was totally unsuited for the space.
Over the years, I’ve torn out heaps of ivy, cursed trumpet vines, and lamented honeysuckle.
I’ve found that selecting the right species is the most important decision you can make when designing your garden.
Almost any vine can grow out of control if we let it sneak into an area where we don’t really want it, but none of the plants on this list are known to become invasive in the US in Zones 3 to 6. Keep on top of pruning and you’ll be fine.
Which one is your favorite? Do you have another to suggest? Let us know in the comments section below.
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