Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Growing up: Vines add charm, beauty to landscape but require maintenance

It not uncommon to see vines gracing arbors, pergolas, homes and fences throughout Billings.  They keep our homes cool, add interest to architecture, and provide food and shelter for small birds.  This time of year, the foliage is spectacular until, of course, it hits the ground and has to be raked, bagged and thrown out  — particularly if you have a lot of it.

For a few years, vines can be left to their own devices, but after they are established, they must be trimmed and maintained to keep them from choking other shrubs and trees. They can also cause harm to roof, eaves, siding and gutters.  In fact, though it may be unsightly in the beginning, I have started all of my vines on green wire fencing that hangs in sections. If I have to, I can let the fencing down without having to pull the vine off completely.  After I've dealt with whatever issue I needed to, like painting or caulking, I can simply hang the fencing back on the hooks hanging from the eaves with the established vine in place.

As is the case with most 'inventions' there was a necessity.  My friends Monica and James were married at our house two years ago this August.  I spent a week making sure that everything around the yard was as perfect as it could be — which was a tall order with three dogs and 3 children.  As usual everything was pushed to the last minute including staining the concrete stamped driveway in back, which was to be the entrance to the wedding.

The scene was set: driveway sparkling, a beautiful table filled with 250 bottles of chilled Mini S.Pellegrino water, a freshly-painted carriage garage door that perfectly hid a month's worth of junk that had accumulated inside the vine-covered garage.  A quick shower and I was back outside ready to great guests.  It was completely calm, when to my left I heard a cracking noise and within 30 seconds, every vine that hung from the eaves of the garage fell to the ground from the front to back, with the obligatory cloud of dirt and dust. So much for the 'perfect setting', right?

I got through it, thanks to some help from the first few unlucky guests and a water ski rope.  After the wedding I cut it all off and started fresh by first attaching the hanging trellis of green wire fencing from the eaves.  As the vine began to grow back, I wove the vine in and out until it was heading in the right direction.  Now, two years later it looks like it did, but it's not going to fall down and if I ever need to paint the trim it will be no problem at all. 

Vines left on their own can be a problem.  They are a Curious George type of plant. If neglected, vines have been reported to twist and turn their way down fireplace chimneys, through attics and even between trim and window casements.

Imagine returning from a summer vacation to find Engelmann Ivy covering the walls of your living room! The best way to avoid this is to keep ivy away from vents, windows and along the eaves of the house. Late fall, after the vine has gone completely dormant, is a great time to do some trimming.

Jim Gainan is VP/Share-holder of Gainan's Flower and Garden Center in Billings.