Everything You Need to Know About Virginia Creeper
Virginia creeper, or Parthenocissus quinquefolia, is a woody, deciduous vine, which means it loses all of its leaves in the fall and regrows them come spring. It's native to the eastern United States and can be grown as both a climbing vine and ground cover in flatter areas. While it's easy to care for (and well-loved by wildlife), it's not always wanted by home gardeners. Here's what you need to know about the sometimes-nuisance variety.
This woody vine is native to North America—and is technically a weed.
Virginia creeper is a temperate liana native to eastern North America, according to Chris Satch, Horti's plant doctor. "A liana is the botanical term for a woody vine; another example of a liana would be a grape vine," he says. "This plant is considered a weed even in its native habitat because of its robust growth, pervasive nature, and difficulty to purge or kill." It uses small adhesive pads placed at the tips of the plant's tendrils to attach itself to vertical surfaces. Left unchecked, the vine can reach upwards of 90 feet.
It looks like poison ivy.
Mary Phillips, the senior director of Garden for Wildlife, says that thanks to Virginia creeper's similarity to poison ivy, it's important to do a quick assessment before you touch it. She suggests using the age-old rule of "leaves of three, let it be; leaves of five, let it thrive" when encountering unidentified leafy vines. "Poison ivy leaflets are normally in groups of three, while Virginia creeper's are in groups of five."
Maintaining Virginia creeper is easy.
If you are someone who likes having Virginia creeper around—Phillips says the leaves display beautiful color in the fall and offer three seasons of screening if grown along a fence or trellis (not to mention the fact that pollinators love it; its berries serve as food in fall and winter for dozens of songbirds and numerous others, including game species)—it's an easy plant to maintain. "The vine adheres to surfaces using aerial roots, so if homeowners provide it an area to grow up, such as covering trellises, fences, or hiding structures, it will do its job," she says, adding that you should keep it away from siding or gutters, which could be pulled down by its weight. Additionally, this variety rarely needs trimming, unless it takes over an area where it is unwanted. "In that case, prune away small stems at any time," Phillips says. "In early spring, you can do a hard prune, cutting back to one-third of the plant if necessary. Remove any stems that show fungal disease or black spot to prevent spreading."
Removing it, however, is hard work.
Not everyone is a fan of the plant—not only can the berries be harmful if they're ingested by humans, but the leaves can also cause irritation—and it's not always easy to remove. If you hate it (or where it's growing), you will have to ensure that you're getting absolutely all of the vine while pulling it out, says Satch—and that includes digging deep down to remove any leftover bits of root below the dirt. "Any piece of the plant left behind has the ability to grow back into an entirely new one," he notes.