Edible vines are incredibly beneficial to any homestead: they take up less growing space in a garden because they grow vertically, and can be used as a natural screen – perhaps covering an unsightly shed that stores your rainwater tank.

Also, as the name implies: they produce edible food! Here are eight of my favorite edible vines for your garden and how to plant and care for them.

Most of these vines you can plant in the tropics or in temperate climates (for summer growth or autumn harvests) and enjoy the fruits of your vines year-round.

  1. Sweet potato vine

Difference between Sweet Potato and Sweet Potato vine

Sweet Potato vines and sweet potatoes are the same species. The vines are often considered ornamental because they are nice-looking. However, they are edible, too. 

The roots of the sweet potato vines aren’t as sweet as typical sweet potatoes, grown only for the root vegetables. You’ll find them bitter – but try eating the leaves, not the tuber roots. This is where you’ll get all the good nutrition.

How to Grow

Sweet potato vine needs warm temperatures, so this is one to plant in a pot and bring indoors if you live in a climate that experiences cold winters, or even just frost.

You’ll likely want to propagate your sweet potato vine from healthy cuttings or the tubers themselves. Plant directly in the soil, or a large pot. You can grow from seed, as well, but if you do so, it is advised to soak the seeds in room-temperature water for at least 8 hours prior to planting.

Sun Requirements: Sweet potato vine prefers full sun or partial shade.

Soil: Will grow best when planted in a mix of loamy soil and compost.

Maintenance: They are fast-growing and can grow over 10 feet in height in just a single year – so you should prune your vines to keep the growth to a manageable level.

If you plant in a pot, make sure there is sufficient drainage (or add additional holes to the bottom of your container), otherwise, the plant might develop root rot.

Give your potato vines a strong trellis for vertical gardening. 

  1. Squash

Squashes are some of the best edible vines to plant. While these are usually considered a seasonal vegetable in temperate climates, there are some year-round squashes that thrive in tropical climates. 

Three of my favorite varieties to grow in Hawai’i are Kambocha, Luffa, and Gourd.

Kombucha Squash

This is a common squash and it thrives almost anywhere with a little moisture and fertile soil. It doesn’t require much maintenance, but make sure the soil is well-draining. 

If the squashes sit on top of moist soil for too long, they can start to rot, so be sure to prop them up on something once the fruits begin to take shape.

Luffa Squash

You don’t grow a Luffa Squash to eat, but it does produce valuable fruits.  The luffa squash produces, that’s right you guessed it, Luffas.  You know, those natural sponges that are all the rage these days.  

Save yourself a couple of bucks per month and help out the environment by growing your own sponges.

Gourd, or Ipu Squash

This is one of my favorite squash vines to grow.  Once they get going they are prolific.  This vine produces wonderful-looking gourds that can be turned into bowls, carrying cases, drums and so much more.

Gourds grow well in the tropics and are very hardy against pests, unlike most squash varieties typically grown on the mainland.

How to Grow

Each of the squash varieties listed above is incredibly easy to plant from seeds – just reserve the seeds from an organic squash, allow them to dry for a few days, and plant directly in the soil.

Sun requirements: All of the squashes on this list prefer full-sun.

Soil: You want well-draining soil for squashes. Don’t allow standing water, as the vegetables themselves will rot if the soil is too moist.

Maintenance: It is important to water the base of the plant, and not get too much water on the leaves, which are prone to fungi if left wet. 

Here is a great opportunity to recycle your (non-soapy) greywater, running it directly to a pipe underground in your garden – just avoid over-watering your squash (i.e.; don’t send 3x daily greywater to your zucchini or clabaza squashes, just 2-3x a week).

  1. Lilikoi

How to Grow

Lilikoi is the Hawaiian name for passionfruit, and one of the best fruit vines to grow on your tropical homestead. It is very easy to grow, too – just be careful where you plant it, as it can smother small trees.

You can plant Lilikoi from seeds (just remove them from the fresh fruit, wash them off, and allow them to dry before planting), or seedlings, which you can find at a local plant nursery.

Sun requirements: Lilikoi likes full sun, but can tolerate some shade, too.

Soil: Well-draining soil, but water frequently for the juiciest fruits.

Maintenance: It is important to prune your passion fruit, and be careful where you plant it. This vine can take over areas, especially small trees (and eventually kill them). 

Make sure you plant near a trellis or a large, mature tree and direct the growing vine with lines to grow in the direction you want – not wildly.

  1. Grapes

If your first thought was that grapes don’t grow in the tropics, I beg to differ!  You can successfuly grow grapes in the tropics – but you have to plan a little.

The grapes grown in tropical environments tend to be less sweet, more tart. A popular variety in Hawaii is the ISabella grape. They grow continuously, but rainy seasons can have a negative effect on the plants and therefore, the fruits, too.

Sun requirements: Shade. Since grapes are not naturally a tropical plant, make sure to keep them out of full-sun and avoid humidity – higher elevations are usually better in tropical climates for this reason.

Soil: Well-draining soil, mixed with fertilizer and plenty of compost. A grapevine’s root system is pretty shallow, so it’s suggested to use loamy soil. Add additional compost at the base of your vines every 6 months, at least.

I cannot emphasize well-draining soil enough here, because excess water (during the rainy season especially) can be a big nemesis to your grapevines in a tropical region.

Maintenance: After the first year, you’ll want to regularly prune your grape vines for a higher quantity of grapes, otherwise, you’ll have very few fruits to enjoy.

While grapes are seasonal in other regions, in the tropics they are ever-bearing.

Stake your grape vines. Planting each cutting near a sturdy stake in the ground, usually connected by wires or lines between each stake, to give the vines direction.

If you want to learn more, check out this post about growing grapes in Hawaii.

  1. Chayote

Chayote is another favorite squash, but it gets its own headline because it has some different growing methods and uses than the ones listed above.

First of all beyond the squash itself, the leaves and tubers of chayote are edible – add them to sauces, stews, or pastas.

Also, chayote leaves make for excellent pig feed.

How to grow:

Take a fruit and stick it halfway into the soil.  Before long it should start to sprout.

Sun requirements: Chayote prefers to grow in full sun.

Soil: Give your chayote plants well-draining soil, preferably mixed with some compost. Water as needed – if it is raining regularly check if the soil is moist before giving any additional water.

Maintenance: Chayote is a climbing vine, so give it a trellis for best growth.  I have mine growing over a fish pond to provide shade for my little guys.

  1. Malabar Spinach

Malabar spinach is an awesome heat-tolerant green that you can grow in full sun.

Start with a few cuttings, but be prepared so that this plant can easily spread.

Sun requirements: Grow Malabar spinach in full sun.

Soil: Give your plants rich soil with plenty of compost, and keep it moist. If the soil dries out, the spinach is likely to flower, and then the leaves will taste bitter.

Maintenance: Malabar spinach is a twining vine, meaning that it twists around as it climbs up, so needs poles, vertical lines or a trellis with vertical poles to grow best.

  1. Winged Beans

What are Winged Beans?

Native to tropical regions of Southern Asia, Winged beans are also grown in Mauritius and Madagascar. Other names include Dragon Bean, Princess Beans, and Goa Beans (as in, Goa, India).

A cool fact about these beans is that the whole plant is edible: leaves, beans/legumes, and even the tuber roots!

How to Grow:

Winged Beans are a variety of pole beans and love hot, humid climates – except they need cool weather to bloom. Therefore, it’s best to plant these beans during the coolest months of the year.

Also, the seeds need to be soaked in order to germinate. You’ll want to grow from seeds, but thankfully, Hawai’i is one of the easier places to get the seeds for planting.

Sun requirements: Winged beans need full sun, even in the tropics for best growth.

Soil: Make sure your soil is well-draining, and give adequate water, plants are not drought-tolerant. If you’re getting sufficient rain, that might be enough for thriving beans.

Maintenance: Plant in soil mixed with fertilizer – but then add another dose of fertilizer at the base of each plant after pods appear, too.

Winged beans need to be grown on poles or a trellis for better harvests.

  1. Perennial Lima Beans

Lima beans love warm weather! 

For these tips, make sure you’re planting the vining variety of limas, not the bush variety. Both can grow in the tropics, but my tips are for the vining lima beans.

Sun requirements: Limas grow well in full sun.

Soil: Limas are pretty hardy plants, so they won’t need much fertilizer or extra watering. Don’t let the soil be overly dry, but sufficient rain in tropical regions is usually enough that you don’t need to do additional watering.

Consider adding drainage if it’s the rainy season, though, to not flood your lima plants.

Maintenance: Plant seeds after you have created the climbing structure, not before (you don’t want to damage the little seedlings). For limas, a traditional trellis or a ‘pole-bean tee-pee structure works the best.

So there you have it, a few edible vines for you to consider adding to your tropical food forest.  Just keep in mind that unless you are using a trellis, vines should be introduced into a food forest once the trees are big enough to act as a support structure.  Vines can be very damaging.

Vines can also be very beautiful and can provide you with more food from unused spaces in your food forest.  So if you design right, vines can be a valuable ally in the garden.