Myth or Truth: Will Ivy Destroy the Exterior of Your Home?

Thinking of planting some ivy or buying a home with ivy-covered walls? Have you heard horror stories about aggressive climbing vines burrowing into bricks and siding? In this article, landscape designer Liz Jaros examines the controversy surrounding exterior ivy, takes a closer look at the most common varieties, and offers suggestions for preventing damage to your home.

A small white house displays a wall completely covered by ivy.


It’s the stuff of royal estates and French chateaux, historic town squares, and fairy tale cottages. A greenery-covered wall exudes charm and old-world style, drawing you in and filling you with wonder. But could all that glorious ivy destroy your home’s exterior?

Are you admiring an ivy-draped bungalow in an old neighborhood? Considering the potential of allowing some Boston ivy to ramble up the side of your Tudor? Maybe you’ve been getting mixed messages on the subject from friends and internet searches. Sifting through the facts about ivy can be an exhausting adventure in misinformation. You’ve come to the right place for clarity! 

Read on for a look at the pros and cons of ivy-covered walls. We’ll explore the different types of ivy and make suggestions for keeping your home and greenery healthy and happy. 

The Short Answer

Myth. Ivy will not destroy your home’s exterior if the building and the plant are adequately maintained. The genus will not inevitably cause damage to a wall or structure in good condition, whether brick, stone, wood, or vinyl.

The Long Answer

Partial truth. Ivy isn’t likely to ‘destroy’ your home’s exterior unless you leave it unchecked for the next hundred years. But there are plenty of ways this wily, whimsical vine might cause homeowner headaches and structural damage. There are also plenty of ways a well-kept house with a well-kept, ivy-draped exterior can benefit from the plant’s growth habit and classic appeal.

Let’s explore the risks and benefits to help you decide if an ivy-covered exterior is worthwhile and suitable for your home. Let’s also look at a few of the most prevalent ivy species and learn their habits and maintenance requirements.

Potential Problems

Two story house covered with ivy.
Although beautiful, ivy can cause destruction and damage to the exterior of your home.

Structural issues caused by ivy are usually the result of either home disrepair or improper plant care. Before you plant ivy near an exterior wall or purchase an ivy-clad home, fully commit to maintaining this aggressive vine.

Once established, it can quickly reach great heights and be tricky (and costly) to eliminate. Here are a few potential areas of concern:

It Can Cause Structural Damage

Thick ivy vines growing up the side of a crack and crumbling brick wall.
The ivy’s vines will eventually work their way into any small cracks or creases, creating more damage.

Ivy works its way into porous brick and stone materials, compromising the integrity of a home’s exterior walls. Since ivy is a self-adherent plant, its roots will indeed send clingers into a home’s nooks and crannies.

This usually causes problems only in homes that are overdue for tuckpointing or have facades with crumbling bricks or stones. It’s an important consideration if you’re not working with a building in tip-top shape. 

Clingers and suckers are a headache for older homes with charming but imperfect window and door frames. Cracks in the mortar and shifting foundations allow ivy to move in and exacerbate those problems.  

It Can Hide Structural Damage

Cement exterior wall with a large crack in it and a cluster of ivy growing up in front of the crack.
An excess amount of ivy on your walls can hide damage.

Perhaps a bigger concern than ivy exploiting a home’s exterior flaws is the plant’s ability to disguise them. Dense greenery hinders a thorough inspection.

It can be easy to overlook damaged window sills, foundations, gutters, roofs, blocked vents, and chimneys. An ivy-covered home that looks charming and perfect from the street may mask significant problems. Take a close look (or pay an inspector to take a close look) behind the green curtain. 

It Can Trap Moisture

Thick leafy vine growing up on a weathered wood fence.
Wooden structures can suffer from wood rot when there is an overgrowth of ivy.

You may have heard that ivy can trap moisture against a home’s exterior, leading to wood rot or potential mold problems. Homeowners or buyers are often concerned that the dense layer of greenery can prevent airflow and lead to major issues.

This can be a legitimate area of concern, particularly on a north-facing wall with little to no sunshine. You should consider your home’s exposure and exterior materials when deciding if this will be a potential issue.

An ivy-draped frame or sided home in a dense, wooded setting with little sunshine and limited airflow may be a legitimate cause for concern. In contrast, a brick home with decent exposure is not likely to have ivy-related moisture issues. 

It Might Shelter Critters and Insects

Small rodent peeking up over a bunch of bright green ivy.
Ivy creates a safe haven for several different unwanted critters and rodents.

Bugs and small mammals love the shelter and privacy that an ivy-colored wall provides. Within the safety of this protective layer, insects such as spiders, roaches, and ticks will cohabitate with snakes, mice, rats, and birds. Ivy gives them cover from the elements and protection from predators so that a whole little ecosystem can exist on just one wall. 

So, is this cause for alarm? Maybe. It depends on where you live and what you’re worried about.

In regions with significant mosquito populations, spiders might be welcome predators to have on the property. Snakes might also be welcome as rodent predators in certain situations. Conversely, you may not want to make them too comfortable in dense urban environments or southern regions where cockroaches are eager to enter your residence. 

It Can Be Costly to Remove and Maintain

Man standing on a ladder trimming green ivy away from the eves of the house.
Depending on the type of Ivy, it can be costly or overwhelming to maintain.

Before purchasing an ivy-covered house or inviting the plant to scramble up your home’s exterior walls, be aware that the costs can be pretty high. Removing ivy from a property can cost between $50 and $250 an hour, depending on height, scope, and hassle factors.

And even after you remove the ivy, you’re likely to play whack-a-mole with the genus for many years. Maintaining it can also be costly, as you’ll have to pay someone to scale a ladder every couple of years to keep your windows, gutters, and vents from being overgrown.  

Potential Benefits

House nestled in the woods, covered with manicured ivy and a large tree in front of it.
There are several benefits to having ivy on and around your home.

Now that we’ve explored the potential downside of owning a home with ivy-covered walls, you might wonder if there’s an upside. And the answer is yes.

There are plenty of reasons a homeowner would choose to buy and grow ivy on a building’s exterior walls. Here are a few upsides to consider:

It’s Beautiful

Small cottage house with green shutters around the windows and tons of green ivy growing up on the side of the house.
Ivy can add quite a bit of curb appeal to your home, making it cozy and inviting.

As enlightened humans often drawn to the romantic and impractical, many of us can appreciate the timeless charm of a home draped with ivy. Soft, lush, and mysterious, a wall of dense ivy exudes class and character.

This makes the plant visually appealing and valuable from a real estate perspective. Homes with ivy-covered walls are often perceived as more expensive and visually desirable than many plain-Jane peers. 

It’s a Good Insulator

Exterior wall on a house covered in dark green ivy, surrounding a wood, pained window.
In areas with cooler climates, ivy can act as an insulator and help keep heating costs down.

Ivy can also be an effective thermal neutralizer, acting as a blanket that protects your home’s interior spaces from extreme swings in temperature outside. This can have obvious economic benefits, such as reduced heating and air conditioning bills, but it also has some structural benefits.

As bricks and masonry are porous and naturally prone to retaining moisture, they are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the freeze-thaw cycles that are common in temperate climates. A thick layer of ivy can insulate your masonry and reduce the likelihood that building blocks will crack or crumble from the stress.

Places with warm climates may benefit as well. The ivy covering a wall can absorb the sun’s heat, reducing the need to cool it down during hot weather!

It Can Repel Moisture

Close up of wet, bright green ivy and a tangle of dense roots
Ivy can act as a shield from rain, keeping your structure protected from unwanted moisture.

A dense wall of ivy on your exterior is more likely to repel moisture than it is to retain it. Established ivy vines will typically deflect falling raindrops and act as a shield, moving moisture away from the masonry or wood frames to which they’re attached. This is particularly true when vines drape a window or doorway arch, creating an umbrella effect over some of a home’s more vulnerable access points. 

It Can Reduce Air Pollution

Close up of a vine with small heart shaped leaves growing on it and the sun setting in the background.
Like all plants, ivy can help create cleaner air and can act as a good sound barrier to any unwanted outside noise.

Ivy can act as a living barrier to absorb construction dust, pollen, car exhaust, smog, and smoke before it can negatively affect your home’s exterior. It can also dampen traffic sounds from nearby roadways and noise from neighbors and nearby businesses. Think of it as a carbon filter for your house.  

What Kind of Ivy Is The Most Damaging?

Exterior windows on a house with ivy damage on the paint, and ivy trimmed back and away from the window.
There are a couple of different species that can cause significant damage to your structure.

Ask a landscaper or home industry professional this question, and you’ll likely get one of two answers: Boston Ivy or English Ivy. You’ll find these vines rambling up the sides of most buildings, and the jury might never officially come in on which one is a more significant threat to your home’s exterior.

They are both creeping, woody plants that share similar growth patterns and characteristics but come from different genera and have a few key distinctions. Let’s have a quick look at each one. 

English Ivy

Close up of a wall of bright green star shaped leaves with white veins.
English ivy is slow-growing and slightly more manageable.
botanical-name botanical name Hedera helix
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial sun to full shade
height height 20 to 80 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 to 9

There are about 15 species of ivy in the genus Hedera. Native to Europe and Asia, ivy belongs to the ginseng family (Araliaceae). English ivy features small, relatively dark leaves and thick stems.

It grows slower than some of its peers, making it slightly easier to control and shape. It is the preferred ivy for north-facing walls or between crowded buildings, as it grows well in dense shade. Vines located in full sun may be prone to scorching, especially in warmer regions. 

English ivy produces small green flowers in fall and remains evergreen in winter. Its aerial roots grow above ground as offshoots from the woody stems. They are opportunistic and robust, which makes them potentially damaging to structures that have holes or cracks. And they are challenging to remove, leaving pock marks and possible mortar damage behind. 

English ivy has been deemed invasive in heavily forested regions such as the Northwest U.S. Growing, selling, or installing the species in some states is even illegal. As an aggressive spreader that can adapt to imperfect growing conditions and thrive in the shade, English ivy threatens native flora on the forest floor.

It can smother the foliage on mature trees, causing death. It also produces fertile berries that birds and critters can quickly spread at great distances. Members of this species should be planted very carefully with a commitment to diligent maintenance (see below) or disposed of responsibly. 

English ivy has dozens of cultivars. One of the most prevalent is ‘Glacier,’ which has mosaic, gray-green leaf bases with creamy, variegated edges. ‘Gold Heart’ has a yellow base that sets it apart from some of its more traditional peers. ‘Little Diamond’ has small gray leaves with white margins. 

Boston Ivy

Close up of a wall of three pointed leaves in shades of orange, green and yellow.
Boston Ivy is beautiful, but the fast-growing vines can become a nightmare.
botanical-name botanical name Parthenocissus tricuspidata
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 30 to 50 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 to 9

A member of the grape family (Vitaceae), Boston ivy has a similar profile to English ivy, with three-lobed leaves or leaflets, small early flowers that produce berries, and clinging aerial roots. Its leaves emerge green in spring but transition to brilliant shades of red and gold in the fall, and it can be appreciated on the outfield walls of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.

Boston ivy grows much quicker than English ivy and has to be maintained more diligently to prevent overgrowth. For this reason alone, many believe it to be significantly more aggressive and, therefore, a more significant threat to a home’s exterior walls.

On the other hand, Boston ivy’s roots cling by suckers rather than probes, so they are less likely to insert themselves into compromised structures than English ivy. Also, its leaves are deciduous or semi-deciduous (depending on where you live).

There will be times of the year when you can inspect more of a home’s exterior than you can with evergreen types. This is a definite bonus for anyone worried about a home with an aging stone façade. The Boston ivy cultivars often found on home exteriors include ‘Fenway Park,’ ‘Vetchii,’ and ‘Purpurea.’

Final thoughts

Ivy does not pose a major threat to a home’s exterior walls if the building is well cared for, but it does require diligent maintenance. The best way to prevent ivy from causing significant damage is to get ahead of its growth.

Be prepared to tuckpoint regularly on a brick or stone structure, and know that painting will be an expensive, laborious process on a frame or sided house. Plan to prune every year to keep windows, gutters, doorways, and vents from being covered in the first place, and you can avoid most of the headaches associated with this clingy but beautiful plant. 

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