Growing an edible, urban ecosystem one backyard at a time

12 Edible Vines to Grow More Food in Small Spaces

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Are you looking for just the right edible vines to train up your garden arbor, trellis, fence, or even a tree trunk? Maybe you want to maximize your garden space with vertical gardening, or maybe you’re looking to fill in that seventh layer of your fruit tree guild or food forest. 

If you’re searching for a plant to grow up rather than out, one or more of these vines may be just what you’re looking for. All of the vines listed here grow in climate zones down to at least USDA Hardiness Zone 6. Some are annuals, others are perennials. Some like full sun and some tolerate, or even prefer shade. Most are vines with edible fruit. Some are vines with edible flowers or leaves.

Remember to consume these plants only at your own risk. I have researched from reputable sources, however, it’s always a good idea to confirm edibility and identity before consuming any new plant. See my full disclaimer.

Now let’s get on with the list. First I’ll give you the full list, then I’ll break it down by category and explain a little about each vine below.

11 Edible Vines (and 1 Bine) for Zone 6 or Colder

Common Name
Botanical Name
Hardiness zone
Sun or shade
Hardy Kiwifruit
Actinida arguta
4-8
 full sun to part shade
Chocolate Vine
Akebia quinata
4-8
full sun to part shade
Melon
Cucumis melo
Annual
full sun
Cucumber
Cucumis sativus
Annual
full sun
Squash
Cucurbita spp.
Annual
full sun
Hops (bine)
Humulus lupulus
4-8
full sun
Maypop
Passiflora incarnata
down to 6
full sun to part shade
Scarlet Runner Bean
Phaseolus coccineus
Annual
full sun
Pea
Pisum sativum
Annual
full sun to part shade
Magnolia Vine
Schisandra chinensis
4-8
full sun to part shade
Nasturtium
Tropaeolum majus
Annual
full sun to part shade
Grapevine
Vitis spp.
varies by spp.
full sun
Table of edible vines for cold temperate climates with sun and shade preferences.

Annual Edible Vines

Below are six annual edible vines great for verticle gardening. Grow them on trellises, up fences, posts, or even well-pruned fruit trees.

Melon

Annual edible vine Melon

Melon vines take up a lot of garden space when allowed to sprawl on the ground, a feature that makes some gardeners perceive them as impractical for small gardens. But growing them vertically by training them up a trellis or fence is easy to do. 

Because the fruits get quite heavy you’ll need to add supports to prevent them from falling off the vines early. Simply cut lengths of nylon from an old pair of tights or pantyhose and tie them to the trellis to make hammocks for the fruit. Each adult-sized leg can make two cantaloupe-sized hammocks. This support method can even be done for large watermelons. For larger fruit use a larger hammock and make sure your trellis is sturdy enough to support the weight of the fruit-heavy vines.

Cucumber

Annual edible vine cucumber

Like melons, cucumbers take up much less garden space when grown vertically on trellises or fences. Growing this way also improves air circulation, making for healthier, plants. Unlike melons, they don’t need artificial support to keep the fruits from falling off the vines prematurely.  

Cucumbers are sensitive to frost but mature quickly, in about sixty days, so plant them at least two weeks after your last average frost date. To save even more garden space, interplant cucumbers with peas along the same trellis. By the time the peas are done early in the season, the cucumbers will be maturing. 

Cucumber growing tip: Harvest cucumbers quickly and frequently, because once one fruit goes to seed, that entire vine will stop producing. Keep picking to keep the plant producing longer.

Squash

Annual edible vine squash

Another fruiting annual vine that takes up gobs of space when grown horizontally in a garden is squash. These also grow beautifully on trellises, where they take a fraction of the ground area they would when grown horizontally. Smaller varieties like zucchini, yellow summer squash, and acorn squash don’t need any added support for the fruits. Larger varieties like butternuts and spaghetti squash may need support hammocks the same as melons.

Scarlett runner bean

Annual edible vine scarlet runner bean

Scarlet runners are often grown as ornamentals, with their beautiful scarlet red flowers and purple beans. But these vines are much more useful than just looking pretty. The young beans are edible raw, and the dried beans are edible after soaking and cooking. These beauties also feed the soil by fixing nitrogen which is released into the soil when the plants die back in winter. On top of all those things, as if we could ask anything else of a single plant, scarlet runners also attract pollinators to your garden, particularly hummingbirds. All of these stacked functions make scarlet runner beans one of my favorite annuals to grow.

Pea

Annual edible vine pea

Peas are cooler season nitrogen-fixing annual vines that like a little bit of shade. Two of the tastiest pea varieties, in my opinion, are stringless snap peas and snow peas. Peas don’t like being transplanted but are somewhat frost tolerant so seeds can be planted directly outside four to six weeks before your average last frost date.

This makes them an excellent crop to interplant with frost-sensitive cucumber. When the summer heat becomes too much for peas, cucumbers will fill in and thrive. The extra nitrogen added to the soil by the peas will also benefit the cucumbers. 

Nasturtium

Annual edible vine nasturtium

I fell in love with nasturtiums in South Australia where they are ubiquitous in urban gardens as both groundcover and climbing vines. The leaves and orange, red, or yellow flowers are edible with a sharp peppery flavor making a nice accent in salads. Plant nasturtium at the base of a fruit tree where it will climb the trunk and repel pests. Nasturtiums are annuals but will reseed themselves each year.

Perennial Edible Vines

Here are five perennial edible vines (and one edible perennial bine) perfect for training over an arbor, pergola, sturdy fence, or wall.

Grape

perennial edible vine grape

Grapes are probably the best-known edible vines. They come in many cultivars for a range of different climates. Pick a variety suited to your climate and one that you love the taste of. Grapes make wonderful shade plants to train over a pergola or gazebo. Because they are deciduous, losing their leaves in the winter, they work wonderfully grown on a pergola outside a sun-facing window. In the summer they provide shade to outdoor living spaces and sunny windows. Then in the winter, they lose their leaves to let in much-desired sun for warmth and daylight. 

Hardy kiwifruit

perennial edible vine hardy kiwifruit

Hardy kiwifruit differs from tropical kiwifruit, with smaller, flavorful, fuzz-free fruits that you can eat whole. This high-growing woody vine is sprawling and vigorous, growing from twenty feet to one hundred feet long. If you plant hardy kiwifruit, be ready for it by having a robust structure for it to climb already in place before planting. Hardy kiwifruit is tolerant of a range of sun conditions but may need afternoon shade when sunlight is intense. 

Chocolate vine

perennial edible vine chocolate vine

This vine native to China and Japan gets its common name from the chocolate-like scent of its flowers, which range in color from deep purple to white. It tolerates a wide range of sunlight conditions, from full sun to full shade, although it may not set fruit in full shade, and might scald under intense full sun. With profuse, semi-evergreen foliage chocolate vine is great for covering a wall or a fence or for training up a trellis, arbor, or pergola. Its edible fruits have light blue rinds with clear, sweet pulp and black seeds inside.

Maypop

perennial edible vine maypop

Maypop is the only edible fruit-bearing hardy passionflower. It’s named for the popping sound the fruits make when stepped on. Although maypop grows in hardiness zones 5-11, it dies back and regrows seasonally in colder climates. In Warmer climates it becomes woody. One warning about maypop is that it is a high-fire-risk plant and shouldn’t be planted near structures in high-fire-risk areas.

Magnolia vine

perennial edible vine magnolia vine

Magnolia vine is a high-growing woody vine for zones 4-8. Its edible, bright red berries grow in grape-like clusters and can be eaten fresh or made into juice, tea, or wine. Also called five flavor berry, it’s said to have all five flavors—salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. Native to Asia, it’s a fundamental plant in Chinese medicine, with many medicinal uses and health benefits. Magnolia vine tolerates partial shade but prefers moist soil.

Hops

perennial edible bine hops

An herbaceous vine (technically a bine) growing 30 feet to 50 feet, hops are known for flavoring beer. It also has edible greens, can be steeped into a tea, and has medicinal uses. Hops climb by wrapping their entire stems in helix forms around whatever it’s climbing, rather than using tendrils to grab on. This is what makes hops a bine rather than a true vine. Grow hops from rhizome cuttings. Hops can be grown straight up tall fences or against the sunny side of a building on sturdy cords. Or, grow hops up the poles of a large teepee frame.

Edible Vines for Shade and Part Shade

Edible vines for cooler temperate climates that tolerate (or in some cases prefer) shade include hardy kiwifruit, chocolate vine, maypop, pea, magnolia vine, and nasturtium. These are all perennials except for pea and nasturtium, which reseeds itself, so once you get them established they’ll provide you with food for years, even when growing in shady or partly shady areas. Peas may reseed themselves as well if the seeds don’t freeze. In colder climates, you may need to save the seeds for replanting the following spring or buy new seeds each year.

Conclusion

The selection of edible vines for cooler climates may seem limited, but there are actually quite a few options to choose from, from the standard grapevine to the more unique and unusual chocolate vine and maypop. And don’t forget about annual edible vines to add a third dimension to your veggie patch.

For more information on these vines and how to grow them in a permaculture garden, check out the resources below, which I referenced to write this post.

Happy vertical gardening!

References

Edible Forest Gardens

Gaia’s Garden

One Green World Nursery – Shade Tolerant Plants

NC State Extension – Passiflora incarnata

University of Nebraska Lincoln – Schisandra chinensis Magnolia Vine


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