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Mr. Smarty Plants - Are vines harmful to bricks and mortar?

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Friday - July 09, 2010

From: Denton, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Vines
Title: Are vines harmful to bricks and mortar?
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

I am really fond of native vines such as crossvine, coral honeysuckle, American wisteria and carolina jessamine. I love the look of vines on walls and I would like to add this to a landscape design. I often hear some people warn against using vines and ivies on brick walls--that tendrils and damage the mortar, and that it harbors insects. However, since certain churches, castles, and universities have been covered in vines for centuries, I am curious what the big deal is. Also, if I choose native plants, I assume that while certain insects might use the vines for shelter and food, a) many of the insects would be beneficial, and b) that predatory insects, birds, and bats would help control the insect population. So the question is: are vines as horrific to brick and mortar as some people make them out to be? Thanks!

ANSWER:

The short answer to your question is no.  But, Mr. Smarty Pants likes to expound...

For the most part, vines do less damage to bricks and mortar than the abounding rumors would have you believe.  However, climbing vines can cause some problems in certain circumstances.  To help you understand the issues involved, a little description of vine morphology is prescribed.

Vines usually do their vinely thing by employing one or more of four methods: climbing by scrambling, climbing by stem twining, climbing by the use of twining tendrils or climbing by the use of holdfasts.  Other, less common, methods not mentioned here are used by some other vines.

Scrambling vines may be thought of as upright plants with very weak stems.  They climb simply by growing up and over the tops of nearby vegetation and structures.  Scrambling vines ("climbing" roses are a well-known examples) are usually poor candidates for wall vines unless trellises are used.

Some vines climb by wrapping their stems around supporting vegetation or structures.  Honeysuckles are classic examples of vines that typically employ this method of getting from down here to up there.

Vines that climb by the use of tendrils include most grapes.  They climb by attaching themselves to supporting structures with the use of twining tendrils.  Again, trellises, wires or similar support structures are required for this type of vine to cover walls.

Finally, some vines, for example Virginia creeper, have specially modified tendrils with flattened tips called holdfasts which quite literally glue themselves to supporting structures like tree trunks and cathedral walls.  This is the method employed by Boston ivy (a relative of Virginia creeper) and English ivy in attaching themselves to Ivy League dormatories and certain Chicago baseball park outfield walls.

Now, the problems.  If you've had a vine attached by holdfast attached to your wall for some time and you then decide that you really don't want it there anymore, removing it can be a chore and often a very messy process.  Typically, such a "cleaned" wall will be covered with tenacious holdfasts and bits of tendrils and vines for some time.  Some chipping of bricks can also occur in the cleaning process.

Many people don't like vine-covered walls and won't purchase a house with viney walls.  Thus, resale may be an issue.

Some vines don't necessarily want to stop growing when they reach the eaves of a building and can sometime damage eaves, gutters, shingles and/or slow-moving children.  The weight of vines can cause structural failure in some cases, though that is not typically an issue with masonry walls.

Clinging vines should not be used on walls with wood or composite siding since they will hold moisture on the wall and hasten rotting of the siding.

Vine-covered walls do provide habitat for insects, birds, reptiles and other creatures.  Probably the biggest problem with critters in vines is wasp nests during the summer months.

On the plus side, a vine on a south or west-facing wall can make a big difference on air conditioning costs.  A deciduous vine on one of those walls will cut cooling costs in the summer while allowing for sun penetration and reduction of heating costs in the winter.  Now, that's pretty cool.

 

 

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