How to Grow English Ivy

English Ivy

The Spruce / Phoebe Cheong

English ivy is a vigorous and aggressive woody evergreen vine native to Europe and parts of Russia. When planted outdoors, English ivy is used as an ornamental ground-cover or elegant green covering for stone or brick walls, which can often be spotted on stately old homes or on the buildings of many Ivy League college campuses (hence their unique moniker).

English ivy is best planted in the fall and will grow rapidly, eventually reaching up to 100 feet in length in some instances. It's considered a potentially invasive species in much of the United States, including the West Coast, a portion of New York and New Jersey, and many national parks. Because many growers still want to enjoy the vine, it has also gained popularity as an indoor houseplant or for use in outdoor hanging baskets.

Botanical Name Hedera helix
Common Name English ivy
Plant Type Vine
Mature Size 20–80 ft. tall, 3–50 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun, partial shade
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Acidic
Bloom Time Fall, early winter
Flower Color Yellow, cream
Hardiness Zones 4–9 (USDA)
Native Area Europe
Toxicity Toxic to dogs and cats
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Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for English Ivy

English Ivy leaf detail
The Spruce / Phoebe Cheong 
Ivy on a wall of Villa Cimbrone, Ravello
Buena Vista Images / Getty Images
English Ivy grown in a container
The Spruce / Phoebe Cheong

English Ivy Care

Before planting English ivy outdoors, consult local nurseries and a university or county extension to make sure English ivy is not on the invasive species list in your region. It is such an aggressive grower that it can smother and choke out other nearby native plants. Therefore, you must take into consideration how you will keep the plant under control and confined to your property.

Ivy is also a common houseplant, which is somewhat surprising because it is considerably more finicky indoors than it is outdoors. The artificially warmed, dry air found in most heated homes as well as cool air-conditioned environments are not ideal for ivy. Nevertheless, ivy continues to be available in garden centers because of its beauty. When properly grown, English ivy can make for a wonderful trailing plant, climbing plant, and even indoor topiary.

The secret to growing healthy English ivy is to provide it with cool nights and moist, humid conditions. Most varieties have clinging aerial roots, which enable the plant to grow up supports—you'll want to provide your plant with an approved item (like a trellis) or structure (like a shed) to grow up, lest it finds something on its own that you don't like. Remember to frequently mist your indoor ivy for best results, especially during dry winters.

Light

In both winter and summer, English ivy requires bright light. That being said, you should avoid exposing the vines to direct sunlight in summer, when the weather is already hot and the strong sun could burn the foliage. In winter, plants can accept a bit of direct sunlight, such as when placed in south-facing windows.

Soil

Fertile, moist, but well-drained soil is ideal for English ivy. In hotter, drier climates, the ground should be heavily mulched to keep it cool and moist. Indoors, English ivy likes a loose, well-drained potting mix. Soil pH isn't overly important to English ivy, but it thrives best in a slightly acidic blend.

Water

English ivy prefers moist, humid conditions, but does not like to be soaking wet or waterlogged. Don’t let the soil dry out and keep it evenly moist. Your English ivy can tolerate minimal drought-like conditions but will produce the most vibrant color in evenly moist soil. When watering your ivy, aim your hose at the base of the plant so you avoid drenching the leaves and thus making the plant vulnerable to fungal diseases.

Temperature and Humidity

Outdoors, English ivy does best in moderate conditions and should be protected from both harsh winter winds and excessive summer heat. Very humid conditions in the summer months can even encourage root rot and bacterial leaf spot.

Ivy grown indoors prefer cooler temperatures, with nights often below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Many species can overwinter outside in pots and will grow back from their stems. During hot summer days, you should mist your indoor ivy frequently to increase humidity levels (outdoors, plants will likely get enough humidity from the environment, unless you live in a desert-like climate).

Fertilizer

This vigorous plant requires little feeding. A light feeding in early spring is all that's needed and, if planted in ideal conditions, even this is unnecessary. During its growing season, feed your English ivy with controlled-release fertilizer or biweekly with diluted liquid fertilizer.

Pruning English Ivy

If you choose to plant English ivy outdoors in your landscape or garden, you are assuming the responsibility to prune it to ensure that it remains contained to your lawn and doesn't become dangerously invasive to the surrounding plants or area.

To keep your English ivy compact and bushy, pinch off the growing tips. Otherwise, you can plant to vigorously cut back plants every two to three years to reshape, contain, and rejuvenate its growth. When English ivy is planted for use as a spreading ground cover, you should cut away the edges with a spade in order to trim it.

Propagating English Ivy

All varietals of ivy propagate readily from stem cuttings, and English ivy is no exception. Because it is a trailing plant, English ivy benefits from trimming, and you can use these trimmings to propagate additional plants.

To do so, take cuttings that are 4 to 5 inches long and place them in water until a good network of root hairs have developed (about six weeks). At that point, you can then plant them in potting soil, either in a container or straight into your garden. Stems sprawling on the ground will root wherever they touch the soil, but can eventually be severed, dug up, and replanted elsewhere if you choose.

Common Pests and Diseases

Aphids and spider mites are the most common pests most ivy plants contend with. Organic insecticides, insecticidal soaps, or natural applications (like neem oil) are often the best treatment. Because of ivy's dense foliage, you should aim to treat any signs of infestation swiftly and completely, as they can otherwise easily spread throughout the plant.

The most serious diseases English ivy may become inflicted with include bacterial leaf spot and root rot. Bacterial leaf spot is identified by brown or black spots on the leaves, and severe cases will cause ivy's stems to become twisted and distorted. Affected plants should be removed and destroyed, and the remaining plants can be sprayed with a solution of one part vinegar mixed with 10 parts water.

Root rot is common in humid, warm conditions and eventually can cause the plants to wilt and die. Discard any visibly diseased vines and treat the remaining plant with a fungicide.

Article Sources
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  1. Hedera Helix. Fire Effects Information System (FEIS), U.S. Department of Agriculture

  2. English Ivy. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Plant Disease Handbook.

  3. English Ivy (Hedera Helix): Identification and Control of Diseases in Commercial Greenhouse Production and in Landscapes. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

  4. What's That Crawling on my Ivy. The American Ivy Society