How To Grow Cardinal Climber for Spring to Frost Color

The Cardinal Climber is a glorious plant to behold, and it truly is what it says it is.  It’s red color, you will immediately notice, is precisely the red that cardinals wear, and it can climb elegantly up a trellis or drape itself beautifully over a wall, or even grow in containers. The trumpet-shaped blossoms make a fine display, and pollinators such as the hummingbird add to a charming vision when their long slender beaks reach the stamen inside the trumpet-like bloom.

Look at the bright green of the triangular-shaped leaves that give an impression of a delicate laciness about this plant.

Love Child – Hybrid

To say that the Cardinal Climber is a love child isn’t all that far-fetched. It is the ‘offspring’ of a union between a cypress vine and a red morning glory. This took place over a hundred years ago when a man by the name of Logan Sloter decided to create this hybrid, and he spent eleven long, painstaking years on this project!

Just One Seed

How’s that for passion and dedication! He was rewarded, though, when eleven years later, one of the plants produced a seed.

Just one seed. But it was enough. It was planted, and subsequently, over some time, there were 500 others produced, and that heralded the birth of a new species! It was named after one of its parents, also called Cardinal Climber.

Eleven Years of Work

That’s all history now, people say, and they’re right; it is history. This man Logan Sloter started this sometime in 1897. He handled the whole thing himself and the eleven years it took was worth it to him to produce a new species and make history.

Full Sun

This plant prefers full sun but will tolerate part shade. Otherwise, it’s reasonably tolerant and will grow is average to poor soil and needs about a weekly inch of water, good drainage, and then the liberty and space to explore. In other words, as all good climbers do, it wants to attach itself to various pants and items in your garden and display itself in the best manner.

Beautiful Blossoms

Its blossoms are about one-inch across and could reach a height of between 6 to 12 feet tall if given sufficient room to spread. A point to note with this plant is that it’s a self sower, so you need to keep a tight rein on its growth, or it will become invasive in no time. The best way to do this is by deadheading during the dormant season to prevent it from self-seeding.

How to Grow It

If you think you’d like to have this in your garden, this is how to grow it. It is an excellent plant to have because it’s easy to grow and is reasonably tolerant. Begin ahead or immediately after the last frost.

  • First, start the seeds off indoors (in your potting shed) or wherever you handle your seedlings in the early growth time. Ideally, they need to be started about 4 – 6 weeks before the last frost date.
  • To begin, the seeds have a tough shell, so you should scarify them a little with sandpaper or a nail file, and then, the night before you intend to sow them, soak them overnight in warm water. They will germinate within a couple of weeks.
  • Do not forget to wear gloves and use caution as the seeds are toxic to humans and pets.
  • Porous egg cartons are quite useful.
  • Put several seeds in each block.
  • Cover those seeds gently and lightly with about one-quarter of an inch of your potting mix
  • The next part requires common sense – water the seed blocks but not to the point where they become soggy –keep them moist.
  • As the seedlings continue to grow, they will produce one set of real leaves. When this happens, thin out the seedlings and keep the strongest one from each block.
  • Now they are ready to be planted out in the garden.
  • Prepare the soil where you have chosen to plant them by digging down about six inches. Work all that surrounding soil loose and remove any weeds.
  • Gently transplant the entire block, not just the seeding, into the garden (or large container) with a depth of at least 12 inches. It’s essential not to handle the seedling – especially around the root area – which is why you must work with the whole block as the roots are too fragile at this stage of growth.
  • Make sure there’s a space of between six to 12 inches between the planted seedlings.
  • The critical point is that this plant doesn’t take well to transplanting – its root system is too delicate. Therefore, there is the option of waiting till after the frost and then sowing directly into the ground. This could well be the best idea because it prevents the need to transplant as it gets past the seedling stage.
  • Don’t forget to keep an evenly maintained moisture level of about an inch per week until the plants are established. Also, refrain from fertilizing yet.
  • Remember at all times that this plant you’re growing is a vine, a climber, so you need to give it some support for growth such as a fence or trellis or an Arbor.
  • However, once the seedlings are established and in growth, they will get on with their natural growth pattern and won’t require any babysitting from you.

Signs of Growth

Whatever plant you’ve chosen to grow at any one time, this is the stage that’s most delicate in that you’ve already seen signs of growth, so at this point, you usually want to do more for the plant to help its development.

Don’t Overdo Things

What follows are a few growing tips to keep you aware of the dos and don’ts of helping this plant grow.

  • This particular plant, the Cardinal Climber, is likely to fail if you fuss over it!
  • Don’t use fertilizer. Often, when the soil is too rich, this particular climber will not flower. It sounds strange but it’s happy getting on with its own life, and a little neglect on your part seems to suit the plant perfectly!
  • During the stages of germination, seedling, and transplant, give it the exact same amount of water – one inch weekly – enough to keep it moist but not soggy.
  • Transplant the entire starter blocks and don’t damage the sensitive roots. Reconsider this and remember the option of planting directly into the garden after the frosts have passed.
  • Give it plenty of room to grow.
  • Remember, this plant is self-seeding and has a vigorous growth pattern so, be prepared for its invasive nature.
  • This plant works very hard at producing blossoms and, on average, produces more blooms than most other climbers.

No Pampering

Some people have planted the Cardinal Climber and complained that it didn’t do well. They complained of no blossoms, yellow leaves, and generally poor growth. However, on further examination, it has been discovered that the owners had pampered the plants so much that the poor things just gave up in every case.

As long as the plant has everything it needs to grow, it will do the rest of the work itself. When it gets too much attention instead of bursts of growth and copious blossoms, it performs less and less well until it eventually fails.


Another advantage to this plant is that there are no pests or insects in particular that are attracted to it.

Once it’s in full growth, it will have become a strong and sturdy plant, and partly because of its thickness, it’s not a conducive situation for weeds to grow, and therefore there is no potential for any form of insect infestation.

It attracts birds, butterflies, and bees; it can tolerate drought and enjoys poor quality soil.


An essential point to note is that its seeds are extremely toxic to humans and pets. But don’t let this deter you – just take the necessary precautions.

Useful Plant

It’s a very useful and beneficial plant – you could even use it as a ground cover. It also has some fascinating functions; for example:

  • Being a fast grower, it covers things quickly.
  • It’s a wonderful camouflage.
  • It covers rusty chain-link fences.
  • It gives you garden privacy by climbing and creating a lattice screen or a trellis.
  • It’s very decorative for tired porch posts.
  • Hanging baskets of Cardinal Climbers with the plant itself cascading down to the ground is a beautiful sight.


It cannot be sufficiently emphasized that all parts of this plant are poisonous to humans and pets. Therefore it’s vital that you keep it out of the way of children and any family pets to avoid anything dangerous from happening and when you’re handling it, always wear gloves.

Don’t Be Put Off

Don’t let this put you off from growing a really useful and tolerant climber that is also a fantastic looking plant full of beautiful blossoms and an asset to any garden.


Patricia Godwin


Patricia Godwin

Patricia has many years of experience as a content writer on various subjects, but her first love is gardening. She’s never met a plant she didn’t like and, consequently, she writes about every type of plant you can think of. Once an avid gardener with a herb garden, a succulent rockery, and a rose garden – to mention a few. Nowadays, she’s constantly on the move searching for interesting plants to bring to your attention; and explain to you all the details you need to grow, care and maintain these plants.

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