Take care when planting ivy on your house.
I like the look of ivy growing up the side of my house, but I’ve heard that it can damage brick and other structures. Is that true?
The answer is both yes and no, depending on the type and condition of the material the ivy is growing on. Ivy roots take hold in cracks and crevices, but they generally aren’t strong enough to create them. This means that solid, well-constructed masonry walls usually can handle ivy (and the ivy even helps keep it cool and dry), but the invasive roots can cause considerable damage to other surfaces.
Where to Avoid Growing Ivy
Surfaces and materials to keep ivy away from include:
- Weakened Brick: Crumbling mortar, cracks, and loose bricks can be invaded by ivy roots, which can widen existing cracks and allow moisture to penetrate.
- Dry-Stacked Walls: Mortarless stone walls naturally have plenty of cracks and crevices for ivy to take hold, and if you pull off the ivy, you run the risk of pulling down stones or even destroying the wall.
- Old Brick Homes: The quality of mortar has improved over the years, so the older the home, the greater the risk of weakened mortar. Homes built before 1930 need particular caution, as older, lime-based mortar is softer than modern, cement-based mortar.
- Wooden Walls and Fences: Ivy can easily work its way between boards, opening the joints and damaging the structure. The roots can also penetrate small weaknesses and cracks in the wood grain, increasing the risk of rot. And, if that’s not enough, ivy can harbor wood destroying insects and other pests.
- Siding: Any siding or shakes with seams are vulnerable to penetration by ivy roots, which can cause damage both as the ivy’s growing and when it’s pulled off.
- Stucco: The main problem with stucco comes when the ivy is pulled off, because it can pull off paint or even chunks of stucco, and the tiny roots can permanently discolor the surface.
- Painted Surfaces: As with stucco, the ivy roots may damage your paint when pulled off.
- Unsound Structures: Ivy is very heavy, and it can pull down weakened or improperly-built structures.
Tips for Growing Ivy on Your Home
If you want to add ivy to your home or landscape design, it’s best to:
- Grow on Masonry: Limit ivy to well-built, solid masonry walls. Make sure there are no cracks or loose bricks.
- Avoid Invasive Species: The common English ivy is so invasive that it is banned in some communities. Look for less invasive species (or even alternatives like climbing roses) that won’t threaten neighboring trees, woods, and houses.
- Protect Wood: Keep ivy pruned away from wooden trim work, gutters, and windows. If you’re growing ivy on a wooden structure, keep a close watch and remove any invading stems.
- Keep Contained: Remember that the tiny, hairlike tendrils will take firm hold on textured surfaces and leave a hard to remove residue behind, so keep ivy trained only where you want it.
- How to Control English Ivy (article)
- How to Remove Ivy from Walls (article)
- Growing Ivy on Old Brick Masonry (article)
- Removing Climbing Plants From Stone and Masonry (Chicora Foundation)
- Ivy on Brickwork (Brick Industry Association)