Growing Ivy and Other Climbing Vines on Old Brick Masonry

By: Julie Day
House with ivy growing up the brick walls.

Older mortar in bricks can be damaged more easily by climbing vines like ivy.

Our brick home was built in 1904 and has had many external repairs that are visible in the brickwork. We’d like to use climbing vines to improve the appearance, but we’re concerned about ivy damaging the mortar in a house this old. -Heidi

By themselves, vines don’t really damage well built masonry, other than leaving tendrils that can be hard to clean off. However, the problem with homes built before 1930 is that the mortar may not contain Portland cement, which means that it is more likely to erode over time. And if the structure is covered with ivy or vines, you may not notice it.

As the mortar wears away, aggressive vines such as English ivy can infiltrate cracks and weaknesses. And if it’s ever pulled away, it may bring the wall down with it. Granted, some ivy covered buildings have been standing strong for over 100 years, but eventually you have to wonder if the ivy is actually holding up the structure! If you’re planning to add vines to your older home, it’s best to choose wisely.

Here are some tips to help you use vines to improve an older home’s appearance:

  • Inspect Mortar: Vines generally don’t damage solid masonry, they just exploit weaknesses that are already there. Before you begin, have your brickwork inspected by someone experienced in historic preservation. Cementless mortar looks and feels different from modern mortar, so you need to find someone who can suggest appropriate repairs before you plant anything. It would also be helpful for you to learn what kind of mortar you have, and what types of damage to look for, so you can keep an eye on it in the future.
  • Think Permanent: Climbing vines can be very difficult to remove later, so it’s best to consider them as a permanent installation. If you’re worried about your brickwork needing future repairs, you may not want to cover it with self-adhering vines like ivy and climbing hydrangea. Also consider your home’s resale value before planting, as vines may or may not be attractive to future buyers.
  • Consider Less-Aggressive Vines: Rather than planting English ivy, whose aerial rootlets not only attach themselves to the brick but can find their way into cracks, consider friendlier vines that have less tendency to cause damage. Boston ivy and Virginia creeper are popular choices for older buildings, since their adhesive suckers don’t attach quite as aggressively as English ivy.
  • Consider Non-Attaching Vines: Another solution is to plant vines that don’t attach directly to the masonry. Climbing roses, jasmine, clematis, and wisteria are all beautiful vines that twine up supports, rather than clinging to surfaces. You’ll need to install trellis, lattice, or wire to hold up these vines, but the advantage is that they can be pulled away from the house to inspect or repair the masonry behind them.

Julie

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2 Comments on “Growing Ivy and Other Climbing Vines on Old Brick Masonry”

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  • Matthew Duer Says:
    November 15th, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    Is it better to remove or leave alone the ivy growing on top of unattended old flatstone/mortar wall Thank you



  • jan Says:
    June 13th, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    What ivy do you recommend for growing in the shade. Does winter effect the growth? I live in Illinois.
    thank you

    Jan


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