I have a bed of English ivy (Hedera helix) growing up a stucco wall leading to the entrance of my home. Can I leave it there, or will it eventually ruin the stucco?
Helen Lamm, Andover, MA
Ivy's aerial rootlets will remain in a stucco wall long after the vine is gone.
Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Blume
Lee Reich, horticulturist consultant in New Paltz, New York, and a contributing editor to Fine Gardening replies: English ivy is one of the vining plants that can climb walls by using small aerial rootlets to attach itself to vertical surfaces. These rootlets act as miniature suction cups, fastening the vine securely to the wall it’s climbing.
Generally, scaling vines do not ruin brick, stucco, or rock walls as long as the masonry or brickwork is in good condition. In fact, climbing vines can protect these walls by shedding rain water and shielding them from direct sunlight and rapid swings in temperature.
However, there are also a few negative factors. If the masonry or brickwork is cracked, a searching ivy stem will find its way into one of the cracks and cause even more damage. I advise keeping ivy away from any wooden shingles for the same reason. Also, if the masonry or stucco is not securely attached to the substrate backing it, the weight of the vines can cause it to collapse.
It’s also important to be aware that when you remove ivy from the walls it’s climbing on, or when the vines get heavy and fall off, unattractive rootlets and bits of stem will likely be left behind, and they are almost impossible to remove.