Plants - Vines and Groundcovers

Vines and creepers for fall interest

Anne Marie Van Nest

Round out the season with a colourful flourish of groundcovers and climbers

Fall is an exceptional time of the year in the garden; as cooler weather intensifies, so do the foliage colours of many vines and groundcovers. With shorter days and lower nighttime temperatures, the green chlorophyll that masked the original pigments in the leaves of deciduous plants throughout the season is no longer produced, allowing their true colours to blaze. The fluctuation between warm, sunny days and cool nights accentuates carotenoid, which produces the scarlets, yellows and oranges in plants such as ‘Gro-Low’ fragrant sumac, while the pigment anthocyanin shines through to create the blues, purples and magentas of Virginia creeper and the ground-hugging rockspray cotoneaster.

Groundcovers, which so generously spread to cover bare spots in the garden, have a quiet attractiveness throughout spring and summer. Come fall, however, specimens such as dwarf blue plumbago burst into glamorous masses of magenta buds and gentian blue blooms.

Not to be outdone by the showy groundcovers at their feet, many vines play a dramatic role in the autumn landscape, too. There’s no missing the brilliant maroon foliage of Virginia creeper and its Asian relative, Boston ivy.

Care checklist

Soil and Exposure

  • Full sun (for better foliage colour and flowering) to part shade.
  • Moist but not soggy soil, preferably well-drained, loamy and organic; amend heavy clay with compost, leaf mould or sand.


  • Plant in spring or autumn and mulch with shredded bark or small wood chips to prevent weeds.
  • Moderate- to fast-growing vines and groundcovers may need to be contained by edging or raised beds; site them carefully so they don’t overpower diminutive neighbours.
  • Apply two centimetres of sifted compost or slow-release, granular, 10-10-10 fertilizer annually.

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