Scaling Ivy ... Friend or Foe?

It's a common sight: Trailing ivy scaling the sides of homes. It can elicit an Old World feel and many homeowners like the look of ivy on their homes. But is it wise to have ivy growing on the home? It depends.

Ivy roots take hold in crevices and cracks. Generally, ivy is not strong enough to cause the cracks itself, which makes it safe for use on siding surfaces that are strong and secure. However, ivy can loosen siding materials that are already compromised, leading to trouble.

There are certain places where ivy growth should be avoided.

* Stucco: Removal of the ivy after time can also pull off chunks of stucco, leaving behind bare patches and discoloration of the stucco.

* Older brick homes: The mortar used in the past wasn't as strong or durable as that used today. Ivy can knock out mortar in older brick homes, leading to pest or water infiltration.

* Wood surfaces: Ivy may harbor wood-eating insects. Also, the roots may penetrate the grain of the wood, causing potential rot.

* Siding or shakes: Siding with seams can be vulnerable to ivy roots, causing damage while it is growing and should the ivy be removed later on.

* Flimsy structures: Ivy tends to be heavy and can pull down unsecured or weakened structures.

For homeowners who choose to plant ivy, choose species that are not overly invasive. English ivy, for example, is very invasive and can quickly spread from one home to another. Only plant ivy to grow on strong, secure masonry surfaces. Keep the ivy trimmed and trained so it will only grow where desired.

Those who have existing ivy and want to remove it should consider the following tips.

* Be gentle when pulling off vines. Go slowly so that mortar or pieces of the surface to which the ivy is attached will not pull off in the process.

* Ivy roots are tiny and hairy and adhere to surfaces like glue. Even after the main vines are pulled off, homeowners are likely to be left with tendrils of roots remaining in place.

* These roots will need to be gently scrubbed off. However, don't rub so hard that the housing surface is damaged. One may simply have to live with the remaining ivy roots rather than damage the home. Test the scrubbing method in an inconspicuous spot to check for damage.