Contact Us Host an Event Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

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.

 

More Diseases and Disorders Questions

Yellow-orange fungus on Ash tree in Ohio
July 14, 2009 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I have a large ash tree which started growing some yellowish orange fungus around the base this spring. With this fungus there are also black bugs with a orange marking near i...
view the full question and answer

Bark problems with Monterrey oak from Austin
September 15, 2012 - I planted a 65 gallon Monterrey Oak (White Oak) in my front yard in February of this year. I water it once a week. All of the leaves and branches appear very healthy and there is no discoloration....
view the full question and answer

Webs on tree trunk, probably bark lice
August 19, 2009 - webs on tree trunk and creeping up. See no spiders or worms. what could be. very fine, thick web
view the full question and answer

Problems with fruit of Mexican Plum from McKinney TX
May 19, 2013 - MY Mexican plum tree (about 5 years old) has small fruit on it. Some of them are severely deformed, and look rotten almost. They are bumpy and ragged looking. Or they are pasty white,rotten and dried ...
view the full question and answer

Live oak leaves turning yellow after planting in Houston
December 19, 2011 - We bought a 65 gallon live oak in early October, and have been watering fairly heavily three days a week. It seemed OK, then all of a sudden lots of the leaves are turning yellow. Is it getting too ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.