Thursday, May 25, 2017

FAQ: We want to cover walls with evergreen plants to hide the brick.

Q. We have an outside patio behind our house and we want to cover two of the house walls around the patio with an evergreen plant, just to hide the brick that's pretty old. Is Creeping fig (Ficus pumila) a good plant for that? Will it destroy the brick wall? Should we run some fishing nylon strings on the wall so that plants' roots attach to the nylon instead of the wall? Or would you recommend another plant altogether?  We're in New York.

A. Creeping Fig wouldn't survive the winter in your area. It is cold-hardy to USDA climate zone 8. You are in climate zone 7. When I visited Washington Irving's home - Sunnyside - in Tarrytown a few years back, I was impressed by the wisteria and trumpet creeper that had overgrown it, but I personally wouldn't recommend the wisteria. 

Photo of Trumpet Creeper roots
Trumpet creeper is a possibility. My wife insisted on planting a Campis radicans (Trumpet creeper) against a wall. It also attaches by little roots, but I've been able to pull juvenile vines off the wall without damage to the wall. Mature vines leave some of their roots attached.

Boston ivy is often used to cover walls of buildings and highway sound barriers, but it is a species of Parthenocissus which has little discs at the ends of modified roots that look like suction cups. They vines are very difficult to remove from a wall once attached (if you ever decide to remove the vine). It is deciduous.

Hedera helix (English ivy and such) produces little roots that find cracks and crannies in the wall and worm their ways into them. This can cause damage when removing the ivy.

Arctic Kiwi (Actinidia kolomikta) is a beautiful vine and produces edible fruits, but it is deciduous. Five-leaf Akebia (Akebia quinata) could be a good choice, but is deciduous. So are many of the other vines popular in your area such as hops, clematis, trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens which is evergreen in the south but probably not in the north), climbing hydrangea, Schizophragma, etc.

One option would be to plant a climber next to your wall, let it grow and don't plan on pulling it off. Growing on the wall doesn't necessarily harm it; pulling it off does. After all these years, Sunnyside is still standing. Maybe the vines are holding it up.

Now that I'm thinking about it, you might consider a shrub or tree espalier to cover the walls.

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