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How to grow the Cardinal Climber vine

A Cardinal Climber vine in bloom.
A Cardinal Climber vine in bloom.
Kim Willis

If you would like to grow a vine that is pretty, easy to grow, and attracts hummingbirds and butterflies try the Cardinal Climber (Ipomoea sloteri.) This vine is a cross between two plants native to the southern part of North America and Central America, the Cypress Vine (Ipomoea quamoclit) and the Scarlet Morning glory (Ipomoea coccinea). It’s an annual vine but in some cases it will re-seed and return in the garden for many years, just like Morning Glories.

Cardinal Climbers have small scarlet red flowers with a long tube at the back and an opening shaped like a star. The throat of the flower is lighter in color, with yellow stamens and pistil protruding in the center. The flowers close at night, just like Morning Glory Flowers. Cardinal Climbers begin blooming earlier than Morning Glories, often in early summer and will continue blooming until frost.

The leaves of Cardinal Climbers are triangular with deep “cuts” in the margin, giving them a lacy appearance. They look like Morning Glory leaves that someone took shears to. Although the slightly smaller flowers of the Cypress Vine are very similar Cardinal Climber flowers are broader at the top and Cypress Vine has fine needle-like leaves. The vines are a little sturdier than Cypress vines and somewhat showier in leaf and flower. Cardinal Climbers are fast growing and in good conditions will climb or spread 20 feet or more in a season. If you like a less invasive vine, Cardinal Vine doesn’t reseed as freely as Cypress vine.

Cardinal Climber vines need full sun and like a loose, rich, slightly acidic soil but will adjust to many soil conditions. They will take some drought, but should be watered when it hasn’t rained in two weeks or if they show signs of wilting. The plants do not tolerate frost or cold ground.

Choose the spot where you will plant Cardinal vines wisely, they need something to climb, like a fence or trellis but you may want to keep them away from delicate perennials, which they can “smother”. Many people allow them to climb sturdy trees. They are sometimes planted in hanging baskets, they will climb the hangers then drape down over the pot twining around themselves. Another interesting use for Cardinal climbers is in a warm greenhouse in the winter where they will provide a bright color accent.

Starting Cardinal Climbers

You can start Cardinal Climbers from seed or buy plants. If you buy seeds be aware that many places confuse Cardinal Climbers with their cousin the Cypress Vine. Cypress vines are nice too, but if you want the Cardinal Climber read seed descriptions carefully. Often the seeds are labeled with both names- Cardinal Climber, Cypress vines which is even more confusing. The best way to avoid confusion is to buy from a seed dealer who uses the proper Latin name, Ipomoea sloteri or in the always changing world of horticulture names Cardinal Vines are also known as Ipomoea x Multifida.

Like Morning Glory seed, the seeds of Cardinal Climber should be soaked in warm water for 24 hours before planting. In zones 6 and below you may want to start the vines inside 6-8 weeks before your average last frost or buy small plants from a garden shop. You can, however, plant the seeds directly in the ground after the soil is warm. Warning, the seeds of Cardinal Climber are poisonous, like most Morning Glory seeds. Do not feed them to birds or other animals and keep them away from children.

Plant Cardinal Climbers outside after the weather and soil have warmed and there is no danger of frost. Space them about a foot apart. If you have a sturdy object you want covered quickly you can plant them 6 inches apart. Plant them near a fence or trellis or put some stakes or other support next to them when you plant them. Otherwise they will begin wrapping themselves around anything near them and it’s very tricky to try and remove them from what they have grabbed without damaging them.

The Cardinal Climber has few insect pests or diseases to worry about. Rabbits or deer may eat them. Unless the soil is very poor it will not need fertilization. Cardinal climber does not reseed naturally as often as Cypress vine and if you want to save some seed for planting the following year wait until you notice small round seed pods with a papery brown cover in late fall. Collect the pods and store them in a dry, clean jar in a cool place until you want to plant the seeds. The plants you grow from saved seed will usually look like Cardinal Climber, although you may get an occasional odd looking plant.

If you enjoy watching hummingbirds try planting some lovely Cardinal Climbers near a porch or patio. Cardinal Climbers are also attractive to some butterflies.

Here are some additional articles you may want to read.

How to grow Morning Glories

Plant sex secrets revealed

How to tell if sweet corn is ready to eat

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