Q&A: How to get the look of a vine-covered house?

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Feb• 10•08

VinecoveredhouseThis is my own dilemma:

Question: I love the look of vine-covered houses, which look to me like storybook houses. But my husband hates it. We do have invasive ivy growing on our house, and it’s awful. It pushes its way under the roof rafters and into the house. And it gets full of dust and bugs.

But I wonder if there might me another way for me to get the look I like. Is there another vine you could recommend or something else I’m not thinking of?

For inspiration, I turned to Pamela Berstler, an outdoor living expert who appears often on TV home shows, and co-owner of Flower to the People in Los Angeles:

Answer: The type of vine is only one element to consider when covering house walls with greenery. Another, perhaps even more important consideration, is how the greenery attaches itself to the wall, if at all.

Any vigorous grower that is suitable for covering a large vertical space like a wall or fence will have some unsavory characteristics like wanting to push through stucco cracks or under roof tiles, or around window trim; this behavior is not limited to the non-native invasive species that we would NOT want to use anyway like English and Algerian ivy or creeping fig. Even beautiful climbers like purple or red trumpet vine, passionflower, chocolate vine or hardenbergia can be inconsiderate guests if allowed to attach themselves directly to the wall of the house.

We use different attachment methods, depending upon the vine and the type of wall (stucco, brick, wood or cementitious siding, metal). In almost all cases, we want the vine to APPEAR to climb up the wall without actually touching it.

By using a metal trellis (either solid mesh or wire grid), we are able to keep the vines climbing vertically 2" to 3" away from the actual exterior surface of the house. A trellis can be hooked at the top and bottom to be held in place. The vine then climbs the trellis without touching the walls. The vine is significantly easier to trim and keep in check while it is on the trellis, AND the entire structure — trellis plus vine attached — is easy to remove temporarily if you want to paint the underlying wall or make a repair without having to cut back the entire plant.

Trellises that hold plant material a few inches away from the structure are particularly effective on west-facing or south-facing walls because the air gap helps keep the wall warm in winter and cool in summer.

We try to avoid using wood trellis because it tends to decay faster when covered with vines, but metal or thick gauge wire holds up for many years.

If the vine under consideration is one that is deciduous, like Boston ivy, then we just let it attach directly to the wall and rely on the winter months for easy plant pruning and cleaning of the wall — there aren’t any leaves then, and the structure of the vine is easy to visualize.

Before selecting any vine for a vertical application, take heed about how the vine blooms. Some vines, like pink jasmine and potato vine only bloom on the new growth. After a year or two, there will be a big build-up of unattractive, tangled, brown undergrowth on which you will never get another bloom. The vine will have to be sheared back in order to restore it to the glory of its first year. This kind of vine generally is unsuitable for vertical applications because it requires too much maintenance to keep in top form.

Any more ideas for me?

(Photo: KPR)

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4 Comments

  1. Tarara Boomdeay says:

    Only half a story – the missing half would have plant recommendations with pictures.

  2. modernemama says:

    I love Wisteria, you can get it in different colors from white to deep mauve, but it does take a long time before it becomes established and blooms.

  3. h says:

    I like Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) because every 3 years or so you can easily peel it completely off the wall, cut it all down to the ground, clean the wall, paint if necessary, and the Boston Ivy will all grow back. It does have a fairly large root system, but it isn’t too bad. Since it grows so flat to the wall, and because it is deciduous, it does not provide a nesting area for rats, a very serious drawback that other vines like true Ivy (Hedera), Wisteria, and Campsis are prone to.

  4. Matilija says:

    Cat’s claw vine (Macfadyena unguis-cati) clings to rough surfaces with structures like little bird’s feet– no suckers or rootlets. It’s so easy to peel off that a high wind can pull it down, and it leaves nothing behind on the wall. It has showy yellow trumpet flowers. Also it’s so drought tolerant that it can get by on seasonal rainfall, though it will look lots better with some irrigation.

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