As a child I remember there being this wonderful shrub in my neighbor’s yard at the end of our street. They lived in an old farm house that even had a brick oven. At the end of each branch were beautiful, waxy, orange, trumpet-shaped flowers that always seemed to draw a band of hummingbirds. Years later I discovered this plant was aptly named trumpet vine.
The plant in my neighbor’s yard was pruned into a shrub-form and as far as I could tell with proper pruning, it would stay that way. So I had the great idea to plant one on either end of my white picket fence in front of my house about 10 years ago. I thought that the flowers would look nice with the light peach siding on the house plus attract all those delightful hummingbirds. So I ordered two Campsis radicans from a nursery catalog and planted them.
The plants I received were thin young vines so I tied them up to stakes and as they grew I pruned the lower branches and trained them into standards. These stems on trumpet vines got woody quite fast so it did not take long for the plants to become self-supportive. For 3 or 4 years, the plants were delightful. They do start out late each spring and there is noticeable winter kill. This is likely because they are native to the warmer southeastern United States and it is not really problematic as a good late spring pruning keeps them in check. I cut back all the dead stems when new growth appears usually in late April or May and use the long, thin branches as row markers as I plant seeds in the vegetable garden.
Trumpet vines are vigorous and can easily reach 30 feet or more if left to their own devices. If grown as a vine it really needs a very strong support system as the woody vines are quite hefty. As far as soil goes, this plant is quite adaptive and I, personally, would not bother amending the soil to encourage even more rampant growth. The pinnately-compound foliage is attractive all summer and I had never noticed any pests until this year when my plant at the shady end of the fence was completely defoliated by gypsy moths. The one in the sun was not touched!
Trumpet vines are pollinated by ruby-throated hummingbirds and the seeds, if formed, look like bean pods. This plant also serves as a larval food for the Plebeian sphinx moth which primarily has a more southern range but has been found in Connecticut.
About 2 or 3 years ago, the trumpet vine in the sun started revealing its true aggressive nature and it became obvious why other common names include hellvine and Devil’s shoestring. The plant was sending up suckers everywhere within now, a 20 foot radius. These aren’t just wimpy little shoots that you can pull up like raspberries but woody, deep-rooted ones that you know no matter how many of them you cut back, they will just keep on coming. If most of them were not popping up in a regularly mowed lawn area, they could turn a patch of ground into a thicket in just a couple of years I bet. This might be useful in areas in need of erosion control but not a front yard.
So a dilemma. Should I just continue to tend my standard trumpet vine appreciating its lovely orange flowers, keep mowing and cutting the suckers down and add it to my plants that I regret planting list, or think about control options? They say hindsight is 20-20 and if I could go back in time, I think I would have found something better behaved.