We’ve got wisteria growing up the front of our house, it produces lovely light purple flowers in the spring and summer – plus these weird runner bean like pods that dry and crack onto the ground in the Fall. I train the tendrils along a thin piece of wire and prune it once a year so it doesn’t get out of control – which I’m sure it would if we left it unchecked. So just how much damage can climbing plants do in this context?
Left to grow untended, climbing plants can damage walls, houses and fences. There are many different types of climbers, some are harmless and others are not, so learning what not to plant is key – as is discovering how to properly care for your climbing plants so they don’t cause damage.
In this article we’re going to consider in greater detail how the various types of climbing plants attach themselves to your house, walls or fences – and what we can do to limit the harm they create. We’ll also discover how to get rid of them if they start doing too much damage.
What Types of Vines Grow on Walls, Houses & Fences?
There are several ways that climbers climb. Self-climbing vines support themselves with twining stems, tendrils, aerial roots, or adhesive disks (aka hold fasts).
Vines that use twining stems will wrap their trunks around supports. Some stems twine clockwise and some counterclockwise. The direction they twine is characteristic.
The trunks may start out thin and small but can grow into trunks as large as your arm. Vines with twining stems need strong supports and you may eventually take over the support structure. Wisteria and honeysuckle are good examples.
Tendrils are thin and leafless. Grapes are a classic example of a vine that self supports with tendrils. Tendrilled vines grow best with the help of supports like trellises, chain link or wires.
Vines that use aerial roots like climbing Hydrangea, English ivy or Baltic ivy use small, root-like structures that grow out of the stem. Vines with aerial roots like rough, textured surfaces to cling to, like bricks or wood.
Another self-supporting vine type uses its adhesive disks or pads on any smooth surface, including cement, metal, and vinyl. Boston ivy and Virginia creeper are popular examples. The adhesive disks secrete a compound that acts like cement.
There’s another category of climber which doesn’t actually climb, but rather grows so tall it can drape itself over most other plants. It’s called a scrambler. “Climbing” roses are scramblers. They need support, like a trellis, for their long canes.
Vines can also be broken into the categories herbaceous or woody. Herbaceous vines can be either annuals, biennials, or perennials. Whether the vine is an annual, biennial or perennial depends mostly on your climate.
Woody vines (aka lianas) have stems like tree-trunks.
Here’s a website with beautiful colored photos of climbing vines, and here’s a great video on how to choose a climber.
Are Climbing Plants Bad For Your House?
Some climbers are bad for your house, but some aren’t. It will depend on the type of vine you choose and how diligent your maintenance is. All plants need some care, but climbers need more. Whether climbers are bad for your house also depends on your facade and your climate.
Climbers growing on wood siding on a shady wall in a damp climate are the worst offenders. Boston ivy uses adhesive pads to self-support. The pads allow the ivy to grow everywhere and trap moisture, which rots the wood siding.
There are several studies that show that ivy damages houses and several that show that it doesn’t. If your house has brickwork, consider climbers that self-support with tendrils and not aerial roots, then help them with trellises.
Whether a climber damages brickwork or not seems to depend a lot on the age of the brickwork. Climbers with aerial roots can force their way into cracks in mortar or brick. This is a problem with homes constructed before 1930, as these homes have a lime-based mortar.
Homes with new brickwork, however, can be strong enough for climbers – some even benefit from it. Climbers can act as thermal blankets. One study suggests that planting a “green wall” can lower the wall temperature in summer by as much as 36%. Cool!
If you have something smooth like vinyl siding, planting climbers with adhesive disks may be a problem. If you decide you don’t want the climber and try to pull it down, it may have attached so strongly that it may pull your siding off.
Same thing with metal guttering, stucco, or stone. Painted walls can become chipped if you pull off adhesive climbers.
Before you plant climbing vines or consider buying a house with lots of climbers, consider the upkeep. If the climbers are on a wall with windows, then you will have to prune yearly. If the vines climb high, you will have to prune while standing on a ladder.
Here is Grumpy Gardener’s Five Monster Vines You Must Never Plant.
Can Ivy Roots Damage House Foundations?
Some experts say yes, English ivy can damage your foundations. The ivy can lead to damp interior walls and then structural damage, over time.
Do Climbing Roses Damage Foundations?
Climbing roses don’t actually climb – they scramble. If roses are planted near a foundation, experts say that their root systems aren’t stout enough to displace cement.
Do Climbing Plants Damage Fences?
Vines hold a surprisingly large amount of moisture, even the woody kinds. If you have a wooden fence or wooden shingles on your house, the moisture will be damaging. If you live in a wet climate, the moisture from climbers may encourage algae, too.
Vinyl and aluminum fences aren’t as susceptible to the moisture. They are low maintenance and can handle the moisture and structural damage of climbing vines. Look up coral honeysuckle or clematis, two perennial climbers.
If you have a wooden fence but still want some climbers, try annual vines. You will have to remove them in the fall, but you can enjoy them all spring and summer. Check out climbing nasturtium, sweet pea, moonflower, or morning glories.
If you have wooden fences but really, really want beautiful and graceful flowering climbers, check out arbors. Arbors and pergolas are gorgeous showpieces. Many are made of vinyl, a better choice for destructive climbers. Trellises may also help confine climbers.
Or consider adding fence posts a few feet in front of that existing wooden fence. Then, add some lattice or a wire in between your new posts. Climbers will grow along the wire and add color just in front of the wooden fence.
Do Self Clinging Climbers Damage Walls?
Yes, they can damage wood, vinyl siding and masonry walls.
Bricks and stones are porous and aerial roots love them. They will grow right into them. Old mortar is especially vulnerable.
Wood is also vulnerable from vines. Wood is very porous and aerial roots and suckers have an easy time climbing. Vines collect moisture and can shade walls, making them susceptible to rot.
How Do I Get Rid of Unwanted Climbing Plants?
Here’s the rub. To get rid of unwanted climbing plants, you will have to cut them down at the ground level and dig up the roots. That’s the easy part. The hard part is getting them off the bricks, metal, vinyl siding, guttering, fencing and everything else they are clinging to without damage to those things.
There is plenty of advice out there for how to get rid of unwanted vines. You can cut them down near the ground and smother the roots with mulch, use salt and duct tape on the remaining stem, use Agent Orange (just kidding), or vinegar and boiling water.
If you can, pull up the roots and bag them or burn them. If they have been invasive, don’t put them in your compost bin. You can get a lot of helpful tips from your agriculture extension office. Sometimes, they’ll even visit you.
After you have cut off the vine’s roots, it will dry up wherever it’s spread and should be easier to remove. Wait until it’s good and dead and then try to remove the vine – gently! Easy does it, and don’t worry about all the little pieces.
The next part will require some elbow grease. For the small bits that are left, you can try brushing them off with a dry bristle brush, or with a plastic scraper. If you are cleaning up a masonry wall, then you can try a butane flame – but be careful.
Depending on the type of climbing plants you have growing on your house, garden walls or backyard fences – they will do either no damage, some damage or a lot of damage to the structure they are climbing up.
However, the more harmless climbers such as Wisteria can be an attractive addition to your home or outbuildings, so in this case you can let them grow if you care for them and maintain them properly and regularly.
As I mentioned, the wisteria on our house looks amazing in summer, but it would soon get out of control if we didn’t strategically prune it. So this is just another chore to add to the list I’m afraid. 🙂
Homeowner and property investor Larry Jones founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >