Creeping fig can dress up any brick home with just a few plants.
Low-Cost Charm: Creeping Fig
Creeping fig, here gracing walls and steps, thrives in the Lower Coastal, and Tropical South in sun or shade.
| Credit: Ralph Anderson

Elsie Taylor Owens and husband Jimmy have a soft spot for historical architecture and gardens, but when they finished building their Federal-inspired home, funds for landscaping were nearly exhausted. Inspired by Charleston's vine-covered facades, Elsie opted to plant creeping fig rather than shrubs to save some money. The Columbia, South Carolina, couple got the charm they sought for a fraction of the cost. How much did they spend? About $5.

That's right—the evergreen vine you see trained in Palladian fashion adjacent to the door is the same vine that wraps the steps and extends up the wall around the lion's head. One quart-size plant is responsible for this much beauty. Protected from hot, frying sun, which is strongest in areas with southern or western exposure, the vine grew fast. Elsie says it filled in within four years.

Planted just left of the steps, creeping fig (Ficus pumila), which clings by aerial roots (gluelike disks), was allowed to spread to the desired height prior to being trimmed with scissors using the brick joints as a guide. (Box cutters also work for making nice, straight lines quickly.)

"I trained it into a rectangle first, but it looked blah, so I added the arch on top, sketching my shape with chalk," she says. "Mistakes were easy to correct with a squirt from the hose."

To keep the creeping fig looking good, Elsie says, "shear it like a sheep." Other folks may prefer theirs more natural and loose. "At first, I groomed three times a year; now it takes six," she adds. The older the vine, the faster it grows.