Advice on growing ivy and climbers on house walls

There is a widely held belief that self-clinging climbers, in particular ivy, can cause damage to the walls of your house and garden. In fact, there is no evidence to suggest that ivy poses a threat to sound masonry.

Moreover, research conducted by Oxford University on behalf of English Heritage found that a good covering of ivy can offer some benefits to the fabric of old buildings. As a thermal screen it buffers extremes of temperature at the surface of the building and also diminishes the detrimental effect of pollution.

However, while self-clinging climbers do not require training or wires, they still need management.

Things to consider

  1. Climbers should be kept clear of any fixtures and fittings such as windows, gutters, roofs, soffits etc. These should be checked and cleared annually. For this reason, do not let self-clinging climbers grow too high to be feasibly reached for maintenance.
  2. Any existing fissures or cracks in masonry may be widened by ivy if it’s allowed to colonise. A covering of ivy may also mask the development of structural issues in a wall as they occur, so make sure that your masonry is sound and re-point if necessary.
  3. Climbers can increase the wind stress on a structure. This is particularly a problem when ivy is allowed to top a garden wall. Once it reaches the top of a structure and can climb no more, ivy produces shrubby, flowering growth that can become quite substantial. This should be trimmed back annually after flowering – ivy flowers offer a good late nectar source for bees.
  4. There is a theory that climbers can cause damp in house walls by slowing down the drying process after rain. However, research also suggests that climbers can have a drying effect and prevent moisture getting in. If you are concerned, keep southwest facing walls clear as these are likely to be the most adversely affected.
  5. Large, established climbers may pose a risk to a wall, so speak to a chartered surveyor who can tell you whether the roots are affecting the foundations.