The Danger of Creeper Plants Growing Against Your House
A while back, I inspected a house in an older part of Johannesburg. From the road, the house was very pretty with an ivy creeper growing on the house and boundary walls. However, having plants winding their way up your outside walls can cause actual damage to your house. Therefore, you should think twice before allowing creepers to grow on any wall in the first place.
In fact, the best advice is not to have any gardens within 1 metre of your home! Watering gardens against your home can cause uneven settlement of the foundation and cracks in your house.
The worst plants to plant against your house are destructive plants known as “self clingers”.
Self clinger creeper’s rootlets go into existing fine cracks and fissures, using them to enhance adhesion and occasionally penetrating the interiors of buildings through them. The mortar between bricks can be loosened through this activity and is often torn away from the wall when a creeper is removed. The same strong adhesion can result in chunks of plasterwork being pulled away, and attached to the creeper vines.
In addition, on roof structures, creeper tendrils and rootlets can work their way under roof tiles and other roofing materials. Unless you remove the creeper maintenance, like painting and roof repairs, is impossible.
Moreover, any plants and shrubs with their foliage against your home may even dislodge gutters and roof tiles and can hold damaging moisture against wall surfaces causing moisture to penetrate into the wall and roof structure of your home.
Some articles and posts claim not all climbing plants are bad for your house and some can provide “genuinely benefits”. However, the detrimental effect of having these climbers on your walls far outweighs any benefits they may have. Moreover, some climbing plants are very aggressive in the way they attach themselves to your walls and, if left unchecked, can cause serious structural problems.
Which creepers to avoid?
Ivy is a prime example. The sort of plants to avoid having grown up on your wall is often the ones that have “suckers” or little mini branches like spikes, that burrow under the paint into the plastered walls and into the mortar joints of the face brick walls for a foothold.
There are many different species. According to my local nurseryman, these are some of the worst:
- the trumpet vine;
- Climbing hydrangea;
- Star jasmine;
- all types of Ivy (15 species);
- Tickey creeper or climbing fig;
What other damage can a creeper do?
If it is a large plant with a very thick “trunk” or base, and it is very close to the wall, the roots can cause settlement or undermine the foundations, resulting in expensive structural repairs.
Roofs and gutters are very vulnerable and any plant or tree should never be allowed to grow to the height of the eaves. They can crack, dislodge tiles and roof timbers and deposit leaves and debris on roofs and gutters resulting in roof leaks and rotting timber. In addition, they encourage birds, bats, insects and other vermin to invade your roof!
However, it’s not all bad news if you have, or you would like, plants trailing up the outside walls of your house.
How to enjoy creeper plants without ruining the house.
A creeper locks itself to the wall as it climbs, so to avoid that damage, it is necessary to provide some sort of frame for the plant to climb, and lock on to. Instead of the wall, a supporting trellis is ideal for this. But, keep it some distance from your walls. Additionally, how are you going to paint and maintain the house walls if your house is covered by creepers?
Which creeper to grow?
If a creeper must be grown onto your house or garden walls, my nurseryman has suggested that a Japanese creeper, also known as Boston Ivy, should be planted.
Boston Ivy is fast growing and although the suckers do not penetrate into the wall. However, they must be kept away from growing up to the roof level as they can dislodge gutters and roof tiles. These creepers are safe as long as you control them.
Which creeper plants would enhance rather than harm your home?
Your local garden nursery should be able to give you advice on creepers that will enhance your home but not cause any damage.
My nurseryman advised planting the following:
- Virginia Creeper
- Climbing rose plants (preferably helped by a trellis)
- Traveller’s joy or Old man’s beard
How to remove creepers from the walls
Creeper Removal Tips
- When removing creepers, pull them VERY gently off the wall. Don’t worry about the stems that break and stay stuck. Furthermore, if the roots have grown into cracks, you don’t want to damage your mortar joints or plasterwork by yanking too hard.
- Over time the roots will harden and be nearly impossible to remove. The sooner you can clean your walls, the better.
- Loosen any whole roots and stems that are still attached by using a wooden or plastic scraper. However, be careful not to damage the mortar or plasterwork further.
- You can start scrubbing once just the hairy tendrils are left. Use a dry nylon household scrubbing brush and loosen as much dried material as you. If there are still tendrils remaining, loosen them with water and mild detergent. If the scrubbing brush isn’t doing the job, try a stiffer brush, or a scrubbing sponge. However, the stiffer the brush, the more likely you are to damage your wall.
- If all else fails, you can use a propane torch to burn away the remaining roots. Be sure to wear goggles and keep the flame away from wood or flammable materials.
Painting after creeper removal
At this stage, leave whatever remains. Patch or replaster and repaint plastered walls.
Unfortunately, when you remove a creeper from a wall it often leaves behind suckers which are very difficult to remove. Often, if it is a plastered wall, painting it with normal paint, will not get rid of the marks left on the wall by the suckers.
However, a thick textured wall coating may be thick and durable enough to hide the marks from the suckers.
Rejointing faced brick walls
You will need to repoint the joints in the brickwork that has been removed or damaged. Furthermore, this will avoid moisture penetration into your walls and house.
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