A refreshing change from common vines, solanum is a shrubby climber with an almost perpetual flush of petite, fragrant blossoms from summer to frost. It's grown as an annual in cold regions and hardy in Zones 9 to 11 where it is semi-evergreen. Solanum is also called potato vine (not to be confused with sweet potato vine). Its blossoms vary from white to lavender to deep purple.
Solanum is a versatile vine. Plant it at the base of a sturdy trellis and it will quickly scramble toward the sky. Grow it on a fence or wall to bring the vertical surface to life with flowers and foliage. Many types of solanum are semi-evergreen and will add interest nearly year-round. Solanum tolerates part shade, making it useful in the dappled light of a patio. Tie it to a post of an arbor or pergola to encourage it to climb where it will provide additional shade below the structure.
Solanum Care Must-Knows
Solanum grows best in full sun or part shade and moist, well-drained soil. It will tolerate brief periods of drought after it is established, but it's best to water regularly for continuous flowering. Fertilize your plant twice during the growing season with an all-purpose fertilizer, following label directions. Where solanum is hardy, prune it in the fall to control its size.
Prepare for solanum to climb quickly after planting by placing a trellis nearby or siting it where it can scramble up a fence or pergola. Attach sturdy cables to a fence or wall to give solanum something to twine around and climb up. Gently bend the stems around a pergola or arbor post to encourage climbing.
More Varieties of Solanum
Solanum rantonnetii 'Royal Robe' bears rich purple fragrant flowers spring to fall on a plant that can reach 8 feet tall. Often grown as an annual, but it's grown as a shrub in Zones 9-11.
Solanum quitoense offers large, velvety leaves with purple hairs and orange-yellow spines with fragrant white flowers and fuzzy orange fruit. While it's usually grown as an annual where it grows about 3 feet tall, it is an 8-foot-tall shrub in the tropics.
Solanum Companion Plants
Plant a castor bean and then stand back. This is one of the fastest-growing, giant annuals in the garden, rivaled only perhaps by giant sunflower. By midsummer, you'll have a huge (it can hit up to 20 feet) tropical plant sporting burgundy foliage. It's a great plant to grow with kids. Be careful, though. The seeds are extremely toxic. Wait to plant it outdoors after all danger of frost has passed; castor bean hates cool weather and won't grow well until temperatures heat up in summer.
Elegant, silvery licorice plant is so useful to set off flowers in blue, white, purple, and other colors and to add contrast to plantings where you want more than just a mass of green. It's especially good in containers, where you can admire it up close and show off its spreading habit to best effect. Technically a tropical shrub, licorice plant is usually grown as an annual in the United States. It does best in full sun and well-drained soil.
When lantana blooms, it really puts on a show with clusters of flowers that can be purple, red, orange, white, pink, or yellow. Lantana can tolerate some of the hottest, driest spots in your yard, and like solanum, it'll also attract pollinators like hummingbirds and bees. Plant in full sun and well-drained soil.