Garden Q&A: Let crossvine make you happy with its evergreen foliage in winter and tangerine trumpets in spring

Q: The recent column about invasive evergreen vine removal got me thinking. I’ve taken some out recently that was covering a fence and part of the ground. Admittedly, I’m missing the lush evergreen leaves, even though I’m glad that particular scourge is gone. Is there anything I can substitute it with for winter foliage?

A: If you want an evergreen climber for a trellis or wall, crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) is a good option. It is much more widespread in the Southeast, but its native range does include Coastal Plain counties of Maryland, and it should grow well in most of Central Maryland too.

A mature crossvine can be covered with warm-toned trumpets in the spring.

Most of crossvine’s foliage tends to be retained except during the harshest winters, and the added insulation value of a wall or large tree trunk may help it to keep foliage. I’ve seen some specimens turn a rich plum-purple during winter, though I don’t know which particular environmental stressors caused the color change. Blooming anywhere between mid-April and late May, hummingbirds enjoy the plethora of flowers (if in full sun) and the foliage tends to remain fairly attractive all summer. These are vigorous vines, so give them enough space and support, even though stems stay thin when compared to their more rambunctious deciduous cousin trumpet vine (Campsis radicans).

Finding the plain native species may be challenging, but nurseries in the area may stock one or both of the common cultivars: Dragon Lady (mostly solid orange-red blooms) and Tangerine Beauty (tangerine-orange blooms with a yellower throat). Interestingly, the wild form tends to have the opposite color pattern — orangey-yellow trumpets with a darker red-orange throat.


If replacing a wintercreeper or English ivy ground cover, there are tons of options, though relatively few are evergreen. One popular choice is golden groundsel (Packera aurea), with its brilliant yellow daisy-like blooms in spring. For covering sizable areas, as with any mass planting, it will be both more visually interesting, potentially more ecologically beneficial, and better at resisting outbreaks of pests or disease if a diversity of species are used.

Q: Do birds in our area eat flower buds? I think I’ve noticed a pattern that when I have repeated visits from flocks of small songbirds in my flowering trees during winter, they bloom less that spring, or some branches have noticeably fewer blooms than others.

A: They can indeed eat flowers — both buds and open blooms or their petals — even though we tend to think of songbirds as just eating invertebrates, berries, and dry seeds. Reasons for eating flowers likely vary, but probably include limited alternative food resources at the time (such as after a snowfall or ice storm), a need for a nutrition boost (especially before breeding season), or it just being part of their normal diet that we don’t notice at other times of year due to the abundance of blooms and foliage.

A gold finch eats the seeds of a cosmos flower in a butterfly garden.

Common targets of bloom-eating include fruit trees (apple, cherry, plum, etc.), crabapple, red maple, elm, hophornbeam, river birch, and forsythia. The birds fond of foraging on them include finches, cedar waxwings, blue jays, mockingbirds, cardinals, and sparrows.

While you can’t easily discourage them from nipping some of your garden’s blooms, if you have the room, plant lots of native perennials, shrubs, and/or trees to offer the birds a variety of alternative food sources. The perk with this approach is that, with more plant activity in the garden overall, there should be more untouched blooms and foliage interest to distract you from any temporary lack of a particular plant’s flowers.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at Click “Ask Extension” to send questions and photos.