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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Do Not Mulch Cat Claw Vine?

Q. I believe in one of your columns regarding cat's claw to avoid mulching the base of the plant.  Of course I had already done this and the plants are struggling where I very much want them to thrive and go nuts with no issues. 
Six plants were planted 2 summers ago; they are on a drip system, and I hope to wean them from regular water once the granite mulch is covered; they receive full sun. 

A. I don’t remember telling people to mulch cat claw. Cat claw vine is a very vigorous tropical and semi tropical vine that is one of those rare plants that does well in the tropics and the desert. In fact it is considered an invasive plant in much of the southeastern US to east Texas.  It has been declared a huge pest in coastal Australia where it climbs over everything and in places where there is 43 to 40 inches of water a year minimum it will begin to suffocate neighboring plants by climbing all over them.

Not so in the desert where we can restrict its growth with drip irrigation. It can tolerate a wide range of soils. They may have some trouble getting established on really hot walls during summer months. But once they cover the wall they will do a good job shading it and reducing the reflected heat from that wall and glare.

It does like to grow along waterways and so would be a pretty bad pest if it escaped along the Colorado River or any of our surface waterways in lower elevations of southern Nevada. It is a beautiful vine, it is aggressive and nearly pest free. It may die to the ground during cold winters or just drop its leaves when it gets below freezing.

It will do well in rock mulch provided it gets adequate water. I would not allow it to climb on stucco or house siding for more than a couple of years. When it does, pull it off and cut it back and let it regrow a different direction. This should be trained to cinder block walls or the like. I would not plant this vine in wet climates.

In your particular case I would pull the wood much away from the trunk at least a foot until it gets firmly established. Fertilize once a year in the early spring to push new growth. It loves the heat so fertilizing lightly during summer months will not hurt it.

As it gets older it tends to get woody at the base revealing wood stems. To reinvigorate it cut off one of the older stems and let it regrow with new leaves to cover bare areas. Also as it gets older it will get top heavy and fall back on itself creating a very interesting look. You can also cut it back to the ground in late winter after it has been established a few years. The underground tubers will send up new shoots that will start the vine all over again. It can be propagated by these tubers as well.

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