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Plants That Can Damage Your Property

Zenyx Griffiths

Written by

8th Sep 2021 (Last updated on 23rd May 2022) 9 minute read

There are several plants that can damage your property which your surveyor will highlight if they’re found during the property survey. The main plants to be aware of are:

  • Japanese Knotweed
  • Bamboo
  • Oak, Willow and Poplar Trees
  • Lime and Pine trees
  • English and Common Ivy

The main goal of any property survey is to highlight any issues or damage that will affect the property you’re interested in and it’s overall value. If you’re concerned about any plants that are or could damage your property, then it would be wise to compare surveyors and have a property survey conducted so that the issues can be highlighted.

This article will cover the following:
  1. Japanese Knotweed
  2. Bamboo
  3. Oak, Willow and Poplar Trees
  4. Lime and Pine Trees
  5. English and Common Ivy
  6. Learn More About Surveying

Japanese Knotweed

The main plant that can damage your property is Japanese knotweed or Reynoutria japonica (previously known as Fallopia japonica). Japanese knotweed can grow as fast as 10cm a day and is capable of exploiting cracks in concrete, foundations, walls and drains.

Although you are under no legal obligation to remove Japanese knotweed from your property, you could face fines of up to £5,000 and/or up to 2 years in prison if you allow contaminated soil or plant material to spread into the wild. Also, bear in mind that if you allow knotweed to spread across your property’s boundary, neighbours can file a civil lawsuit if the weed can be sourced back to your garden.

You also have a legal duty to disclose whether your property is “affected” by knotweed when you come to sell and giving false information can result in expensive claims for misrepresentation.

Identifying and Removing Japanese Knotweed

The plant can be identified by its white flowers and bamboo-like stems which grow as high as 3m in the summer. It also has zigzag-shaped and purple speckled stems, making it stand out amongst the rest.

Japanese knotweed grows quicker during the summer and will fade over time during the cold winter months. However, Japanese knotweed can survive from any root the size of a fingernail so complete removal is necessary.

How to Remove Japanese Knotweed

A specialist contractor is required to remove this plant as Japanese knotweed is controlled by the UK government. All parts of the plant and any contaminated soil are classified as controlled waste and must be removed in the correct manner. However, if you’re looking to prevent any initial signs of Japanese knotweed from spreading or growing larger, Environet recommend the following:

  • Physical Removal - Excavation and removal of the underground root and rhizome system. This is a permanent solution.
  • Herbicide Treatment - This treatment will help control the knotweed and is less effective on mature rhizomes.
  • Combination Methods - The recommended solution is to combine a physical removal and herbicide treatment.

Japanese Knotweed Detection Dogs

If you're buying a house with Japanese knotweed, you should get an assessment carried out by a specialist. It’s not always easy to tell if knotweed is present, especially during the winter months when the plant's above-ground growth dies back, it’s in a state of herbicide-induced dormancy, or if it’s been deliberately concealed by the seller.

To tackle that problem Environet UK has trained a team of Japanese knotweed detection dogs to identify the unique scent of Japanese knotweed rhizome, even in small quantities hidden beneath the ground. The dogs can cover a garden in a matter of minutes and will freeze when knotweed is detected. This is the most accurate method available to determine whether knotweed is present and can be carried out at any time of year, giving homebuyers the assurances they need to proceed or renegotiate the price if knotweed is discovered.

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Bamboo is a species that can be invasive if left unchecked, with many varieties of the plant to keep an eye out for. Certain varieties can extend up to 30ft below ground and it's the second most damaging plant for buildings.

In recent years, bamboo has become a big problem for homeowners, with many sellers facing difficulties selling their home if the plant is present. Bamboo can also cross boundaries and potentially cause disputes with neighbours.

Identifying and Removing Bamboo

The main 2 types of bamboo are "clumping" and "running", with running bamboo being the most problematic. The main way to identify bamboo is by its thick stems, officially known as culms, and the plant's multiple joining nodes.

How to Remove Bamboo

Bamboo is difficult to contain and impossible to kill with herbicide. The recommended method of removal is the energy depletion method. You'll have to cut the canes down to ground level prior to arrival of new leaves, and repeating this process for many years. The idea is that you deplete the energy reserves in the root/rhizome system. For an easier fix, hire a professional to remove the bamboo. Professional services to remove Bamboo can be costly however, with quotes up to £1750.

Oak, Willow and Poplar Trees

Oak, willow and poplar trees growing close to your property can cause subsidence, structural damage and blocked drains. They are just a few of the many trees that can damage your property. Much like Japanese knotweed, tree roots have the capacity to exploit cracks in concrete and can even affect amenity use. Buildings up to four storeys, built before the 1950s, are most at risk of subsidence caused by a tree roots due to their comparatively shallower foundations.

Trees can dry the soil out in the surrounding area in both spring and summer, potentially causing ground shrinkage under your home’s foundations. Shrinkage is not too common but could cause the costly issue of subsidence if your property is within proximity to the tree. If the subsidence becomes too dangerous, the only likely solution is underpinning which is rather expensive.

Roots will always grow to where there is water and drainage pipes are no exception. Roots can usually find a way into drainage systems, causing damage to underground piping and potentially flooding your garden. Oak trees further than 30m from your property are more than likely within a safe distance and won't affect your home, but it's important to check with a professional.

Identifying and Removing Oak, Willow and Poplar Trees

There are a few signs that allow you to tell if you’re dealing with an oak tree. The leaves are often lobed, symmetrical and growing acorns, whilst the bark is rather scaly. Oak trees will also have a thick trunk and can grow up to 21m in height.

Willow trees often grow near water and have distinctive narrow leaves cascading down the vines that are usually between 5-10cm long. The leaves can even grow as long as 15cm, depending on the type of willow tree it is.

There are more than 25 species of poplar, which grow in a variety of different ways. The most common poplar tree is the cottonwood, which grows tall and thin and can often be used to create hedgerows. Cottonwood trees can reach a height if 100 feet with a thick trunk but uneven and weak branches.

How to Remove Oak, Willow and Poplar Trees

To remove the tree, you’ll most likely have to hire a tree surgeon who will safely remove and kill the roots using a specialist fluid to ensure nothing continues to grow. If you are unsure about whether your tree might be an issue, a property surveyor will usually pick up on any cause for concern, providing you with advice on how to resolve the issue.

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Lime and Pine Trees

Lime and pine trees are notorious for secreting sap on whatever is below. Parked cars, patios, driveways and even your house could all be subject to the sticky residue that falls from these trees in the spring and summer seasons.

Although it’s not advised to remove these trees unless you absolutely must, it’s important to keep an eye on its surrounding area. The residue that falls on your property can easily cause damage to paintwork and become a safety risk on patios if not dealt with. The roots can also cause subsidence like the other dangerous plants on this list. However, if a lime tree is further than 20m from your property, it may be within a safe distance.

Identifying and Removing Lime and Pine Trees

Lime trees can be identified by their small, downward-facing, yellow-white flowers that grow in spring and summer underneath long and narrow leaves. The Common Lime species has red leaf buds that grow into heart-shaped, dark green leaves that grow to about 6-10cm in length.

Pine trees are often thin, tall trees that often grow pine cones that will fall to the ground in autumn. Pine trees are easily identifiable from their branches which are covered in small pine needles that grow up to 16 inches long. The needles often grow in clusters, with the number depending on the specific type of pine tree it is.

How to Remove Lime and Pine Trees

Although it’s possible to remove these trees yourself, we recommend hiring a tree surgeon who will kill the roots with specialist fluid. This ensures that the lime or pine tree will not grow back over time. To remove these types of trees, you will often have to remove the physical stump which is why professional help is recommended. Most types of property survey should highlight if the tree and tree roots are a danger to your home.

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English and Common Ivy

English ivy is known to lift roof tiles and pull away guttering. These climbing plants support themselves with aerial roots that penetrate cracks or joints in your masonry and can cause your interior walls to become damp. Ivy can climb as high as 50 ft and blankets bricks, blocks and wood. As it continues to climb, the roots take hold of whatever it touches and it becomes difficult to control.

Alongside these issues, it should be considered that all forms of climbing plants can be used by small wildlife like spiders and rodents as access into your home.

Other self-clinging plants such as Boston ivy and Virginia creeper do not cause any damage to your property. But it’s still recommended to contact a surveyor if you have any concerns.

Identifying and Removing English and Common Ivy

While English or Common ivy may look similar to Virginia Creepers from a distance, this pesky plant can be identified by the dark berries growing alongside it in both spring and summer.

English ivy is usually green or light grey, whereas Virginia Creepers and Boston ivy can be green, red and even purple. English ivy leaves are often heart-shaped, waxy and with pointed lobes. It can reach a thickness of 10 inches and can be rather bumpy in texture.

Removing English and Common Ivy

When undertaking work or removing ivy from your home, make sure that there are no birds nesting beforehand. It’s an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it’s in use or being built.

Ivy can be removed from your building by hand, but remember to kill the roots in your brickwork and any roots that are grounded otherwise the ivy may return. A simple weed killing spray should be enough to kill the roots of the ivy.

Learn More About Surveying

This has been part of our surveying guide. In our next article, we look at ceiling and wall cracks and when they're structural. To learn more, read Ceiling Cracks, When to Worry.

Zenyx Griffiths

Before Compare My Move, Zenyx once wrote lifestyle and entertainment articles for the online magazine, Society19 as well as news articles for Ffotogallery.