Beware of vines that could damage your house!

It’s question time again. With spring just around the corner, many readers are sending me questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping.

 QUESTION: “I need a very fast growing vine, shrub, or ivy to cover the outside wall of our house. It looks bad and it stands about 10-15 feet tall. Any suggestions?" – Lance Tanner

ANSWER: Many of the faster growing vines can cause permanent structural damage to a house. My recommendation, if you do decide to use a vine, is to put up a trellis or wiring for the vine to attach itself to as this will help to prevent damage to your home’s exterior. I would stay away from Boston Ivy and Wisteria especially for that reason. Consider English Ivy or Clematis. If you were to put a ready made trellis over the exposed area of your house, it would automatically improve the looks and then you could use a deciduous vine like the Clematis or even climbing roses. Then you might even get by with having shrubs growing to hide the lower portion of your house with the trellis covering the upper portion. For year round coverage, you will need evergreen shrubs. You should visit your local garden center for their selection of evergreen shrubs and vines or do an online search.

QUESTION: “I regularly read your column and I am always looking for ideas and info I can use in my gardening. Today I have two questions: I have ordered two different kinds of apple trees: two Honey Crisp and two Fireside apple trees. My first question is: How far apart do the trees have to be from each other and how far apart do the Honey Crisps have to be from the Firesides? Would they cross pollinate? “Actually I have a third question: is it okay to plant them in the same vicinity as butter nut trees? I don't have a lot of planting space with a lot of sun, so I would like to plant all four trees in the same general area, and I already have butternut trees in that area. I could move the butternut trees, as they are not very big yet. Thank you for your help; and thank you for writing the ‘Plant Man’ articles in the paper.” – Vi Leff

ANSWER: The simple answer is that you can plant all the apple trees at a distance of about 20 feet from each other, assuming they are “standard” trees. (Dwarf varieties can be planted closer together.) There is no reason to separate the Honey Crisps from the Firesides, and if they are within about 60 feet of each other, there’s a possibility that they’ll cross-pollinate. As for the butternut, I suggest you place it off by itself as they sometimes do not cohabit well with other trees.

QUESTION: “I just read a recent column of yours and I'm interested in taking a soil sample in my yard/garden. Although my turfgrass is healthy, a few of my trees & shrubs (river birch, burning bush, phlox, & dwarf lilac) exhibit poor or “off” color compared to similar plants around town. I'm good about watering (but not over-watering) and fertilizing. Can you help educate me as to the proper steps in taking a (multiple, if needed) soil sample and where to send it?” – Mark Adams

ANSWER: It is quite easy to take any soil sample yourself and determine the pH of your soil with even a small kit that can be found online. If you’re having trouble locating one, send me an e-mail at For a more extensive type of sample you can contact your local soil and water conservation district office. To find the closest one to you go to this link: Under normal conditions the trees you mentioned will do well under a neutral pH of around 7.0, give or take. My advice would be to try the easy way first and then if you need more information go to the conservation district office.