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English Ivy

Ivy is beautiful, and great on the wall at Wrigley Field, but it in no way has a symbiotic relationship with a home’s building materials or live trees.

English Ivy is prolific in the PNW.  It is considered an evergreen so it does grow all year, albeit with different seasonal growth rates.  It can be tempting to leave in place because it is an evergreen, but it is invasive and very destructive if left unchecked.  I hope this information helps if you are shopping for or own a home with ivy on it. 

There are four main subspecies in this area and you should do your best to keep them away from your home or off of tree species you want to keep for the long term.  This plant has the ability to change its root base to adapt to growing conditions.  This plant can also climb to great heights because the root adaption allows the hairs to expand and serve as attachment points to anything vertical.  Once this begins to happen it triggers the plant to secrete a fluid from the root hairs that literally acts like glue.  

Whether it is a living tree or the components that make up our homes, once the ivy is established and begins concealing surfaces with its leaves the effects on a tree trunk or homes are similar:

  1. Ivy can easily work its way between joints in structures, opening joints, and forcing connections to become detached. It can damage masonry, so wood and other building materials are of little match over time.
  2. Thick coats of ivy will hold moisture, detritus, and fungal spores that will introduce Wood Destroying Organisms to the home and affect the health of larger old trees.
  3. Heavy growth will provide a great habitat for rodents and pests.


Note how the ivy has grown under the siding.
I was able to remove approximately 3 linear feet of ivy from under the siding with one pull.
This shows how ivy has penetrated the siding, framing, and window.

If you do decide to remove it, cut the vines at the base and let it die. Let the roots become brittle and begin to rot.  Once this is achieved remove the vines.  It will be ugly for a period of time, but it will require far less effort and follow up work in the end.  If you try to remove ivy while it is alive, it will not be easy and you will end up with the root hairs visible on all the surfaces that were not previously visible.  Additionally, depending on how developed the ivy is, if you try to remove it while it is alive you have the potential of pulling away chunks of whatever it is attached to further damaging that material.

In summary, ivy is unlikely to be a reason you wouldn’t buy a home, but if it is on the property you have to have a maintenance plan to keep it from causing problems.  I would recommend to remove it from any structure or tree that could become a fall hazard.  If you’re looking to buy a home with ivy covering a portion of it, ensure your agent and inspector are aware of how prolific Ivy can be. 

**The pictures above are from a home that had an offer review this week.  Little care was taken to clean the side of the home and you can see how extensive the ivy growth was.  To drive my point home about the first bullet point.  You will see how the ivy grew under the siding, through the framing, into the window well.  Based on the conditions, one would have to assume that the ivy growth under the siding on this home was extensive and likely deep into the framing of the home. **

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