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Tuesday - October 06, 2015

From: Van Nuys, CA
Region: California
Topic: Non-Natives, Diseases and Disorders, Vines
Title: Ficus pumila on Stucco Walls
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

Can the creeping fig vine damage the stucco covered walls?

ANSWER:

Joshua Siskin, garden columnist of the Los Angeles Daily News writes of Ficus pumila (not a native vine by the way): Of creeping fig and similarly aggressive ground covers and vines, it has been said: "The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year it leaps." You have no reason to doubt that your creeping fig (Ficus pumila) will eventually perform as advertised. In fact, it may do so all too well.

I must confess to holding a grudge against creeping fig, having had to maintain it in certain impossible situations, such as when it has to be constantly trimmed to keep it from covering windows or when it grows into cracks and crevices in walls, causing all sorts of damage. Creeping fig adheres to paint and stucco so it is a given that, sooner than later, your creeping fig fences and walls will need resurfacing.

The best use of creeping fig is to cover and soften plain, cinder block or concrete walls. Plant at the base of partially shaded walls. Some gardeners, while planting, bend their creeping fig plants so that they are prostrate upon the ground, since roots will grow wherever stems touch the earth and, in this way, plants will establish more quickly.

Actually, creeping fig is delicate when it is planted and needs regular moisture to stay hydrated. Eventually, though, once roots are established, it is water thrifty.

Creeping fig roots can be highly invasive, cracking and lifting up patios and foundations. Root diameter can reach 4 inches and creeping fig will eventually cover shaded, adjoining lawn.

Provided with a root barrier, it actually makes an exotic lawn alternative for shady areas where grass won't grow. Creeping fig is also a favorite plant for topiary as it obediently grows over wire-framed shapes of all kinds. Although native to tropical East Asia, it survives temperatures down to 20 degrees or colder.

As long as it remains in a juvenile state, creeping fig shows off small, oval to heart-shaped foliage. If planted against a wall, all growth will initially be vertical. However, when creeping fig matures from juvenile to adult after several years of growth, it sends out horizontal branches. Upon these branches, dainty, clinging leaves give way to considerably larger, floppy adult leaves, which are accompanied by plum-sized fruit. Although this fruit resembles edible figs, it is not fit for consumption, even while its juice is made into jelly in Taiwan and Singapore. A vining hybrid between creeping fig and conventional tree fig, however, has yielded a vine with comestible fruit. To prevent creeping fig from transitioning to its adult stage, snip off all horizontal growth.

While the transition of creeping fig from juvenile to adult is marked by a change from vertical to horizontal growth, the opposite process is at work with ivy, the most widely planted ground cover. When ivy is in its juvenile stage, it wants to grow horizontally, even while it will veer skyward when given vertical support. Upon reaching adulthood, however, ivy stems shoot straight up, creating shrubs and even small trees where once there was a flat expanse of ground cover. Adult ivy foliage loses its sharp edges and triangularity as leaves become ovate and there is proliferation of chartreuse flower spindles.

Creeping fig and ivy share at least one regrettable trait: They love to clamber up tree trunks.

On a number of occasions, I have seen ivy suffocate and kill a tree. This usually happens in a side yard or toward the rear of a property where a small ornamental tree, such as a flowering pear, is neglected and, after a few years, completely engulfed by ivy.

 

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