The Snowball Bush
I remember going for a car ride with my parents through Mitchell when I was around 15 years old. I was just beginning to grow my knowledge of trees as my interest in them was increasing. As we passed through town on the 52 highway, I saw an Oak tree growing in a yard that was bright red. It was fall time and many trees were beginning to colour up. Most of our native trees have yellow color, and Oaks are typically brown. When I saw the bright red, I was surprised and impressed.
“Dad,” I said with excitement. “What kind of Oak is that?”
My dad, Sheldon Falk, smiled and told me, “That’s just a regular Burr Oak. But it is covered in Virginia Creeper.”
It suddenly all made sense in my mind, but I was no less impressed.
Virginia Creeper is a climbing vine native to Manitoba. It is the coldest tolerant perennial vine I know of and is vastly underrated.
First, as previously mentioned, it has stunning, bright red foliage in fall and is zone 2 cold tolerant. It is a natural climber and does not need to be tied on to anything to successfully climb. I have seen them climb up chain link fences, wooden posts, stucco walls and even vinyl siding (if it can find a seam to get into). It is not a great idea to let the vine climb the wall directly as their grabbing finger vines get into cracks and make them bigger. They can do a lot of damage to a stucco wall over time, and it is best to set up a trellis instead.
Virginia Creeper is also extremely flexible with its location. They can work with open wind or shelter, sun or shade, and they are not too fussy about soil type either.
If you need the creeper to grow up along a fence or wall there are tricks to making it spread faster. Once the vine is mature enough to grow some longer branches (4′ to 6′ long) you can lay these branches down along the wall/fence and cover them with a thin layer of topsoil. Every bud along the branch will become a new sprout and grow up to cover the wall.
With this kind of adaptability Virginia Creeper is extremely easy to propagate from cutting or from seed. They grow berries that are dark blue, and a bit frosted. The berries are not edible and can be poisonous if eaten in large amounts. This is difficult to do however because they taste awful, and sting on the tongue a little.
My Virginia Creeper is only a year old right now and has grown about 2′ up the telephone pole. We will see how long it takes to reach the top (then it’s time to trim)!