What is this vine and how do I prune it?

(Question)

I’ve moved and the new house has a vine growing up an arbour and is badly overgrown. It loses it leaves in winter and I have an ugly mess of tangled woody stems to look at. It’s about 8′ tall and 4′ wide. See picture – I can email more views if needed but it will only let me post one.
Can you tell me what the vine is? How to prune it to get control of it? How fast will it recover if I cut it right back? Any other info you can provide. Thank

(Answer)

What you have is an Akebia quinata, or 5-Leaf Akebia, also known as Chocolate Vine because its small reddish brown flowers have a faint chocolate fragrance. It is a very aggressive grower, as you have discovered and wants to be 30 or 25 feet in each direction!  Keeping it small enough just to cover an 8 x 4 arbour will be a challenge.

The best time to prune it is in late spring / early summer right after it flowers. Ideally, you simply trim it back for shape.

  • Prune one stem section at a time until you’ve cut out all you want to remove.
  • Cut to healthy wood if removing dead, diseased, or damaged growth.
  • Cut back to a lateral shoot or bud.
  • Cut to a bud or stem that is pointing in the direction you want the vine to go.
  • Cut cleanly and don’t leave a stub, which is an invitation to bugs and diseases

That said, if this vine has ‘got away on you’ and is a tangled mass that is much larger than you wish, you can rejuvenate it by cutting the leader right back to about 12 inches above the ground and then training the new  growth.

Note that it naturally tends to grow vigorously at the top and lose its lower leaves. In order to maintain the rejuvenated plant, you will need to prune it back regularly to to encourage lower growth and an orderly habit, following the points above.

You may also wish to consider replacing the Akebia with a vine that is more appropriate for the size of the arbour.