By: Jackie Carroll
English ivy plants (Hedera helix) are superb climbers, clinging to almost any surface by means of small roots that grow along the stems. English ivy care is a snap, so you can plant it in distant and hard-to-reach areas without worrying about maintenance.
Growing English Ivy Plants
Plant English ivy in a shady area with an organically rich soil. If your soil lacks organic matter, amend it with compost before planting. Space the plants 18 to 24 inches (46-61 cm.) apart, or 1 foot (31 cm.) apart for quicker coverage.
The vines grow 50 feet (15 m.) long or more, but don’t expect quick results in the beginning. The first year after planting the vines grow very slowly, and in the second year they begin to put on noticeable growth. By the third year the plants take off and quickly cover trellises, walls, fences, trees, or anything else they encounter.
These plants are useful as well as attractive. Hide unsightly views by growing English ivy as a screen on a trellis or as a cover for unattractive walls and structures. Since it loves shade, the vines make an ideal ground cover under a tree where grass refuses to grow.
Indoors, grow English ivy in pots with a stake or other vertical structure for climbing, or in hanging baskets where it can tumble over the edges. You can also grow it in a pot with a shaped wire frame to create a topiary design. Variegated types are especially attractive when planted in this way.
How to Care for English Ivy
There’s very little involved with English ivy care. Water them often enough to keep the soil moist until the plants are established and growing. These vines grow best when they have plenty of moisture, but they tolerate dry conditions once established.
When grown as a ground cover, shear off the tops of the plants in spring to rejuvenate the vines and discourage rodents. The foliage regrows quickly.
English ivy seldom needs fertilizer, but if you don’t think your plants are growing as they should, spray them with half-strength liquid fertilizer.
Note: English ivy is a non-native plant in the U.S. and in many states is considered an invasive species. Check with your local extension office before planting it outdoors.
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Life cycle/information: English ivy is an evergreen, perennial vine.
Growth habit: Fast growing and invasive. Leaves are dark green, waxy, and alternate along the stem. Leaf form is variable usually three-lobed with a heart-shaped base. Mature leaves can be un-lobed and spade-shaped. Grows as a dense groundcover (juvenile stage) and a climbing vine (adult stage). Dense foliage blocks sunlight and restricts growth of other plants. Heavy vines cause damage and death to mature trees by loosening the bark and holding moisture against the trunk, making a good environment for fungal disease and decay. Heavy vines can take trees down in wind, snow, and icy conditions. English ivy also serves as reservoir for bacterial leaf scorch, a disease in maples, oaks, and elms.
Photo:Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org
Reproduction: Spreads by seeds and vegetative runners. Mature vines produce flowers and seeds, which are dispersed by birds.
Photo: Jan Samanek, Phytosanitary Administration, Bugwood.org
Conditions that favor growth: Prefers semi-shady, moist soil but grows in many environments – woodlands, fields, forest edges, roadsides, and coastal areas. It also grows on and damages building façades.
What to plant instead: Groundcovers: Foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia), lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina), wild ginger (Asarum canadense) Vine: Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
Owning an English ivy (Hedera helix) is like getting a Valentine every time you look at it: The plant produces multitudes of heart-shape leaves that come in a variety of colors, from dark to light green, as well as variegated forms.
English ivy s a vining plant that smothers buildings and races across the ground. Ivy is beautiful but is also considered an invasive plant in some places because of its aggressive growth habit.
Raising ivy as a houseplant
As a houseplant, ivy will never get out of hand. With the right light, water, and care, it can be one of the most beautiful indoor plants, exelling in containers and cascading from hanging baskets.
One of the most commonly asked ivy care questions are “Why does my ivy have brown leaves?” or “Why is my ivy dropping leaves?”
Symptoms such as drying, browning, and dropping leaves are a plant’s cry for help. But MANY things (and a combination of things) can cause ivies to freak out and produce brown leaves. Plants can get too much of a good thing: too much water, fertilizer, or sun. Or they can get too little of a good thing: too little water or humidity.
With so many diagnoses for the same symptoms, where do you start? Understanding what your English ivy wants is the first step. Here are 5 things you need to know about growing English ivy indoors -- their likes and dislikes.
1: Ivies LIKE the right light: medium and bright.
Ivies like medium light best, but will also do well in bright light. While you can grow ivies in low light indoors, they won’t like it and won’t last as long.
If you have an ivy variety with white variegation on the leaves, it likes less direct light than those with green leaves, so if you have lower light levels you may try varieties such as 'Ingrid Liz', 'Little Hermann', and 'Nena.' Variegated leaves are more susceptible to damage from too much sun.
2: Ivies DON'T LIKE to be overwatered.
Try not to be over zealous when watering your ivy. Ivies don’t like wet soil. Wait to water until the top inch or so of the potting mix dries out. It's best to keep this houseplant a little too dry than little too wet. (This is true for most houseplants.) Also, make sure that the pot the ivy is growing is has drainage holes.
So, here’s a thing that will throw you: If you overwater your ivy, the leaves will turn brown and dry on the edges. This symptom seems like the plant needs more water. The reason the leaves turn brown is that the plant roots are too wet and are basically drowning. Overly wet roots can’t deliver nutrients or, oddly, water to the plant. So, keep your ivy on the dry side.
3. Ivies LIKE humidity.
While ivies don’t like overly moist soil, they do like moist air. You can increase the humidity in your home—or at least around your plants. To do this: Add pebbles to a saucer, then add water. Set your ivy on the pebbles and the water will evaporate, raising the humidity around the plant.
4: Ivies DON'T LIKE to be under watered (because it can lead to pest infestations).
A too-dry plant is a stressed plant. And a stressed plant is susceptible to insect infestations or disease. Winter is especially rough on ivies. Lower light levels and dry air from furnaces and fire places stress out plants. And when plants are stressed, pests, such as spider mites. might attack. These little suckers (they literally suck the juices in plant leaves) like warm and dry conditions. If you have spider mites, you’ll know it: watch for little weblike structures on the undersides of leaves. The mites themselves are tiny and black—like little specs. They reproduce very quickly so you could have an infestation before you know it. To get rid of spider mites, spray them off the leaves with water or apply Neem oil.
5. Ivies LIKE temps on the cool side.
Ivies are native to cooler climates, originating in central and northern Europe. (English ivy is not a native plant it was brought to the United States by colonial settlers.) So, ivies don’t like really hot temperatures indoors as some tropical plants do. They do best in cool rooms that remain between 50 to 70°F (10 to 21°C).
Growing English Ivy Indoors vs Outdoors
Whether the Ivy is being grown inside or out can have a significant influence over how quickly it grows. English Ivy that is grown indoors can grow quicker indoors if you make the conditions ideal.
Different Growth Stages
English Ivy loves a long growing season, mainly through the spring/summer months. This plant doesn’t do well through harsh winters, this is where growth will be the most stunted. So growing the plant indoors will avoid this situation and growth can be stimulated all year round.
Growing outdoors means there will be plenty of pests to irritate your ivy, this will stunt the growth – plus growing indoors will also prevent birds from eating the berries. Again, by growing the plant inside you will have more control over this and be able to help prevent pests like these from hindering the health of your plant.
If your English Ivy is healthy, the growth will be far superior than that of a plant struggling with various health problems or inferior growing conditions.
Does Ivy Grow In Winter?
Winter is when Ivy’s growth is the most stunted, it doesn’t fare well in harsh winters and prefers long growing seasons. Keeping it indoors helps avoid these environments and allows you to simulate the ideal environment to promote growth.
How Fast Does English Ivy Grow On A Fence?
It will take around 3 months for the Ivy to become established on your fence, once that has happened the growth rate will significantly increase. You can expect your ivy to grow up to 9 feet annually and the leaves to grow up to 3 feet, so your fence will be covered quicker than you realise.
In a discussion of ivy, it is important to distinguish between English ivy, the trailing or vining plant form belonging to the genus Hedera, and Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata), the vine often found growing on brick houses, as well as Wrigley Field. English ivy is a truly versatile plant. It is used as a ground cover, in topiary displays, in hanging baskets, or sprawling over a windowsill as a houseplant. There are many types of ivy, ranging from rampant climbers to tiny miniatures. Most of them are tolerant of extreme conditions and can survive shade, poor soil, and atmospheric pollution.
English ivy (Hedera helix) and its many cultivars belong to the ginseng family (Araliaceae). There are more than 400 varieties of English ivy in cultivation, but only a few of these are hardy as outdoor plants in the Chicago area. The rest can be planted as houseplants here. English ivy is found in the wild from Japan to the Azores and from Scandinavia to North Africa. Its preferred habitat is a shady or semishaded woodland, and its natural growth habit is a creeping ground cover. Available in all shades of green, English ivy is also found in gray, yellow, cream, pink, and purple. The leaves often display interesting patterns of streaking, marbling, or veining. In milder climates, variegated forms can reflect light even in the darkest, shadiest corner of the yard.
In autumn, the flowers of English ivy become visible. They are tiny and greenish yellow, soon followed by blue-black berries. When English ivy begins to flower, the leaves change their shape from the pointed lobes of the juvenile stage to the more rounded lobes of the adult stage.
Climbing English ivy adds a unique vertical dimension to gardening. Through the use of its many rootlets, it clings to brick, mortar, wood and stone and becomes virtually a maintenance-free plant. Fences, pillars, trellises, and posts of all sorts are perfect forms against which ivy can grow. It is perfectly suited to a north wall with the exception of the yellow-leaved varieties and those with yellow variegation. These types need light to bring out their color. 'Buttercup' and 'Goldheart' are varieties that should be grown on an east or west wall.
In open, exposed sites, English ivy is better grown as a ground cover than a climbing vine. Extreme dieback might occur when the vine is exposed to the bitter cold and wind often associated with midwestern winters. On a protected, warm wall, however, this vine can perform admirably.
When planting the climbing English ivy, space the plants 2 feet away from the wall and keep 1 to 2 feet between individual plants. Autumn and spring are the best planting times. Water well during the first year and mulch to keep down competitive weeds.
As a ground cover, English ivy grows in difficult spots where other plants would fail. It is a good choice beneath shrubs or trees, covering stumps or climbing a steep hillside. While many of the English ivy cultivars available are not winter-hardy here, 'Thorndale' is particularly recommended for midwestern gardeners.
As an outdoor annual container plant, English ivy combines beautifully with any colorful annual or perennial. Its trailing habit complements arrangements in hanging baskets, decorative containers, or window boxes. A few cultivars suitable for pots include 'Brokamp', 'Cascade', 'Ceridwen', 'Domino', 'Irish Lace', and one of the best variegated forms, 'Sagittifolia Variegata'. Because pots tend to dry out quickly in summer, water every day and use a dilute fertilizer every two weeks.
When English ivy is grown indoors, it will prefer cooler temperatures of 45 to 60 degrees. Locate in bright indirect light and try to maintain a humid environment around the plant by daily misting. Interestingly, English ivy is often touted as an environmentally beneficial plant because it neutralizes benzene, a carcinogen present in paints, solvents, and cigarette smoke.
Ivy is easily propagated by cuttings taken in the fall. Rooting is quick when the cuttings are planted in a peat and sand mixture or a ready-mixed potting compost. Some gardeners place small plastic bags over the newly planted cutting to preserve moisture, taking care that the sides of the bags do not touch the leaves.
In winter, you may think of English ivy as the decorative addition to your houseplant arrangement or the lovely little-leaved variety as part of a topiary. Remember too that there are larger-leaved varieties that are perfect for accenting outdoor structures and serving as an evergreen ground cover.
Best Types of Climbing Ivy for Outdoors
Ivies are the perfect outdoor plant if you need to hide unsightly features, cover arbors, or provide shade in your garden. All varieties of outdoor ivies or vines are low-maintenance plants and tolerant of many soil conditions.
So, what are the best types of ivy for your garden? Here are a few that are great climbers:
- English ivy is a great all-around ivy for growing in your garden. The climbing vine grows tall and its large leaves provide great coverage. Plant English ivies in areas of your garden that enjoy partial shade.
- Irish ivy grows similar to the English ivy but has shinier, glossier dark green leaves.
- Algerian ivy is a hardy type of climbing ivy that can tolerate some sunshine and grows well in most types of soil.
Most ivy varieties are good for ground cover as they spread quickly. However, you need to make sure that they don’t become too invasive.
How to care for outdoor climbing ivy vines
Ivies are good to plant in areas of your garden where other outdoor plants have difficulty growing.
For all types of ivy vines to grow well outdoors, they should be planted in well-drained soil. Most varieties of ivy can withstand a range of pH levels, however, they grow best in slightly alkaline soil.
In the first year after planting your ivy, water it regularly to help establish it. Once the climbing vine is established, you only need to water it when the weather is especially dry. Try to make sure that the soil is always on the dry side and that it doesn’t become soggy.
You will need to cut back your ivy every 3 years or so to keep it under control and encourage healthy growth.
If you want to prevent climbing ivy vines from becoming too invasive, plant them in containers and place them where you want them to grow. The container pots will contain the roots and prevent them from spreading.