Parthenocissus quinquefolia is commonly known as the Virginia creeper, Victoria creeper, five-leaved ivy, five-finger, or woodbine. This woody deciduous vine belongs to the Vitaceae botanical family, which makes it a distant relative of the grape (Vitis) vine. Its genus counts 12 members of vines, which are native to either Asia or North America.
Some gardeners actively seek to add these plants — which offer attractive deep green foliage — to their gardens, where they can add beauty when grown on trellises or walls. Just as many don’t want to know how to grow and care for the Virginia creeper at all, being instead rather desperate to get rid of this plant.
It’s easy to understand why. Though the Virginia creeper isn’t technically considered an invasive species in North American gardens, as Parthenocissus quinquefolia is native to that region, it’s certainly tenacious and as persistent as a skilled used car salesman.
Once you’ve got Virginia creeper in your garden, evicting it is going to be a tough job. The plant’s habit of creeping up (very wanted) trees can also jeopardize the health of said trees, and did we mention that Parthenocissus quinquefolia is also extremely poisonous?
Indeed, eating the fruits of the Virginia creeper can, in extreme cases, lead to death — and we’re talking about people, not pets.
Nonetheless, some gardeners welcome Virginia creeper vines, both for the beauty of their leaves and because the plant can play an effective role in an erosion control program.
About the Virginia Creeper
- The Virginia creeper — Parthenocissus quinquefolia — is a fast-growing and aggressive flowering vine that will grow voraciously (and get out of control very quickly). Be very sure you actually want a Virginia creeper in your garden before introducing it, because once you have it, this plant’s all-but-guaranteed to become a long-hauler. It’s important to note that the common name “Virginia creeper” is often used to describe other members of the Parthenocissus genus as well, particularly tricuspidata (which is native to Asia).
- This deciduous vine is native to North America, and can be grown almost anywhere in the United States as well as in southern Canada, all of Mexico, and down into Guatemala. It can also be found in Europe and Asia.
- Gardeners who would like to have Virginia creepers around are advised to train them to grow on trellises, onto garden arbors, or on fences — or to use them as a ground cover plant to help with erosion control. Because of this plant’s fast growth habit, regular pruning is an absolute must.
- The scientific name of this plant, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, can roughly be translated as five-leaved virgin ivy. Quinquefolia means five-leaved, referring to the appearance of the leaves.
- The Virginia creeper is rated as a highly-poisonous plant; eating their showy dark fruits will at least cause nausea, stomach pain, and sweating. It can also lead to bloody vomiting, a weak pulse, facial twitching, and even death. This is true for mammalian pets and humans alike.
- Virginia creeper vines do, on the other hand, attract bees and other pollinators, as well as songbirds, to whom the plant is not poisonous. This makes these plants a good addition to a pollinator garden, and Virginia creepers can also be a nice choice for a native garden.
- Parthenocissus quinquefolia is vulnerable to a number of pests, including caterpillars, scale, leafcutting bees, and flea beetles. Treating Virginia creepers with insecticides can help to keep them healthy. Virginia creepers can also develop fungal diseases like powdery mildew and canker, and should be treated if symptoms are present.
- These plants don’t only grow like wildfire, but could also cause one — their dried stems are extremely flammable.
Virginia Creeper Features: An Overview
- The Virginia creeper is a long climbing or creeping vine with beautiful rich green leaves. This perennial is extremely easy to grow and care for, and spreads extremely quickly.
- Parthenocissus quinquefolia is able to climb as well as creep on the ground, and in both cases, their vines can easily each lengths of 30 to 50 feet (nine to 15 meters). Unlike many other vines, the Virginia creeper doesn’t require additional supports. Their sucker discs (holdfasts) are adhesive, and the plant can easily scale almost any vertical surface.
- The leaves of the Virginia creeper are green during the growing season, but have a deep burgundy, crimson, or red-orange shade during the fall — one of the plant’s most attractive features. The large, palmated and serrated leaves of the Virginia creeper grow in clusters of five.
- Parthenocissus quinquefolia produces delicate green to yellow flowers during the springtime and in the early summer, but are so small that they are easily hidden by the plant’s dense foliage.
- The beautiful deep purple or blue berries the Virginia creeper produces are another very pleasant feature, and the round berries contrast beautifully against the vine’s red stems. The fruits appear during the late summer, after the blooms subside, but they won’t be visible until the fall, when Parthenocissus quinquefolia‘s leaves start dropping. The Virginia creeper’s pretty berries are a tasty snack to many birds, but the fact that they are poisonous to humans and other mammals bears repeating.
- True to its rightfully aggressive reputation, Parthenocissus quinquefolia can grow almost anywhere — this fast-growing vine tolerate pollution very nicely, and isn’t bothered by salty soil types either.
- When growing in the wild, Parthenocissus quinquefolia prefers open areas. It can found alongside ravines, on hillsides (where it helps with erosion control), in valleys, and in woodland areas.
- Don’t let Virginia creepers grow on trees — these fast-growing vines will steal sunlight from their leaves and put their health at risk. When using Virginia creeper as ground cover, keep an eye out and prune as necessary, because these plants will climb trees whenever given the opportunity.
- If you love the look of the Virginia creeper but are looking for a slightly less aggressive plant, consider the cultivar quinquefolia var. engelmannii for your garden, or opt for the Monham variety if you love variegated leaves.
Growing Virginia Creeper Vines
Virginia creepers can thrive all over the United States and beyond — they can thrive in warmer temperatures as well as temperatures as low as -10 °F (-23 °C), during the winter months when they are dormant. These plants are extremely tolerant to shade, and will survive in most light conditions.
Gardeners intentionally growing Parthenocissus quinquefolia will usually be motivated by their beautiful fall colors, on the other hand, and placing your Virginia creepers in areas that receive full sun (if you’re growing them towards the northern end of their range) or partial shade (in the south) allows their fall colors to shine in all their glory. As a general guide, try to offer them six hours of sun in northern regions, and two to four in the south.
These vines cope well with almost any kind of soil, and aren’t picky about pH levels at all. As they are vulnerable to fungal infections, however, it’s important that Virginia creeper vines are placed in well-draining soil. Loam, clay, sandy, and salty soil are all fine for these plants.
To further support their growth, you can use a heavily diluted liquid fertilizer, which may help the Virginia creeper produce more striking fall leaves. Established plants, which can tolerate most conditions, don’t really need to be fed fertilizer — but young Parthenocissus quinquefolia will appreciate the extra love and care, and will reward you by growing more quickly. Mulching around the base of the stem will help to keep your Virginia creeper healthy.
In terms of pruning, most gardeners will want to prune their Virginia creeper vines to limit their growth or to train them to grow on structures like sturdy trellises or gates. Some people like the idea of Virginia creepers growing along the exterior wall of their home. In this case, it is important to keep them away from gutters.
It’s also good to know that detached vines won’t be able to reattach, as their sucker discs lose their sticky powers. These stems will decay, and should be removed as soon as possible. The dried stems are extremely flammable and pose a fire hazard, so it’s crucial to take care of old and dead growth right away.
While these sprawling and climbing plants are beautiful, the fact that not everyone who has Parthenocissus quinquefolia in their garden wants it there is undeniable. That’s not just because the Virginia creeper grows out of control quickly and because it’s poisonous, but also because its fast growth can kill other plants and even trees.
To get rid of a Virginia creeper, you can try to detach the tendrils from young plants, as the suckers cannot reattach. You can also take a more aggressive approach, using diluted glyphosate, with older plants. You’ll have to be more persistent than the Virginia creeper to successfully get rid of one, but if you’re patient enough, it’s possible.
One final note, whether you’re growing and caring for a Virginia creeper or trying your best to eliminate it from your garden, is that contact with the leaves can lead to severe skin irritation in some people. For that reason, you’ll want to wear garden gloves to protect yourself.
- USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-11.
- Beautiful color-changing plant. Its leaves start out bright green and change to an attractive crimson to burgundy color in the fall.
- Fast-growing. In one year alone, it's not uncommon for a vine to put on 20 feet of new growth. Mature lengths average 30 to 50 feet but may reach 100 feet.
- Use Ornamental. The perfect versatile and easy-to-grow plant to turn boring walls and fences into a pleasant landscape that changes color with the seasons.
- Sow. Place seeds in the fridge (39F) for 8 weeks to break down the dormancy. Then sow the seeds onto moist compost and cover with a few millimeters. Gently firm this down and keep it in a warm place, away from hot sunshine at between 15-20 Celsius. Germination occurs in a few weeks.
- Beautiful. Its leaves have five leaflets and morph from their summer green into a fall foliage color ranging from reddish-orange to burgundy.
- USDA Hardiness Zone. 3-10.
- Easy to grow. Whether you are a beginner or have a green thumb, you can grow this beautiful vining plant from seeds easily.
- Sow. In spring or fall, bury the seeds about 3/8 inch deep and keep them to no more than 10 per square foot. Provide deep watering once a week. The plant will grow quickly. Be prepared to thin out the stems to the hardiest during the first few weeks of growth.
- Use. The Virginia creeper vine sports gorgeous fall foliage. And this fast-growing Virginia creeper can be planted as an ornamental to cover walls or fences
- Stratify seeds: Virginia creeper seeds require a period of cold stratification to germinate. This means that they need to be kept in a cool, moist environment for several weeks before planting. You can stratify the seeds by placing them in a plastic bag with some damp sand or vermiculite and storing them in the refrigerator for 60-90 days.
- Prepare soil: Virginia creeper prefers moist, well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. You can amend your soil with compost to improve its fertility.
- Plant seeds: Once the seeds have been stratified, you can plant them in your prepared soil. Make a small hole in the soil, place the seed inside, and cover with soil. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged.
- Provide support: Virginia creeper is a climbing vine that will need support as it grows. You can provide a trellis, fence, or other support structure for the vine to climb.
- Maintain soil moisture: Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged during the growing season to encourage healthy growth.
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Watering the Virginia Creeper
Mature and established Virginia creepers cope well with a variety of climate conditions, and can tolerate periods of drought. They’ll usually thrive even if you don’t offer them any supplemental water, though they appreciate deep watering occasionally, especially if your area doesn’t get much rain. If you live in a more southern area, watering them regularly will help Virginia creepers thrive.
Young Parthenocissus quinquefolia plants will need to be watered regularly during their first growing season, and prefer heavy watering that leads to deeply moist soil.
Propagating the Virginia Creeper
The Virginia creeper is a fast grower and pretty easy to propagate through stem cuttings or from seed.
The right steps to start Parthenocissus quinquefolia from stem cuttings, best done during the late spring or summer, would be:
- Prepare a rooting medium — the Virginia creeper isn’t too picky, and a half peat, half perlite mix is just one example of a potting mix that will work well.
- Using garden shears, snip off a length of three or so inches (seven centimeters) that is just beginning to show woody parts.
- Remove the lower leaves from your cutting.
- While not necessary, dipping the end of your cutting in rooting hormone powder will give your new Virginia creeper the best chance to succeed.
- Mist your cutting and cover it with a plastic covering such as a Ziploc bag. Keep misting to keep the rooting medium moist.
- Your new Virginia creeper will take root at a shocking speed, and will soon be ready to transplant to the garden.
Parthenocissus quinquefolia can just as easily be grown from seed. Simply plant the seed 3/8 inches deep in a soil with peat, moss, or sand, during the fall period. These vines need to be exposed to cooler temperatures to activate the seeds. Your plant will begin growing during the spring. Water them abundantly during this early stage.
The Virginia reputation has a reputation for being an aggressive plant — many people who have Parthenocissus quinquefolia vines in their gardens are desperate to get rid of them. Indeed, it is hard to argue with the fact that there’s plenty to dislike about the Virginia creeper. They will quickly take over your garden if given the chance, and are poisonous as well as flammable.
Despite that, Parthenocissus quinquefolia offers beautiful foliage that will transform through the year, offering festive deep fall colors, and this plant is a wonderful ornamental when grown on a trellis or similar vertical surface. The small berries aren’t only striking, but also attract birds. These plants are also extremely useful for erosion control.
If you’re looking for unique varieties, many especially attractive cultivars are available, and some of them are much less aggressive than Parthenocissus quinquefolia. All are easy to grow and care for.