English Ivy Plant Profile

A Vigorous and Sometimes Aggressive Vine

English Ivy

Mokkie / Wikimedia Commons / CC by SA 3.0 

English ivy (Hedera helix) is a very vigorous and aggressive woody evergreen vine. Outdoors, English ivy is used as an ornamental ground-cover or elegant green covering for stone or brick walls. This is the plant that gave Ivy League colleges their name. English ivy is also a very popular indoor houseplant for hanging baskets. A European native, English ivy was brought to the New World by colonial settlers, but soon naturalized into the wild. 

English ivy is frequently used as a dense ground-cover in places where turfgrass and other ground-covers do not readily grow. It is also used as an ornamental climbing cover for fences, stone walls, and brick facades. English ivy will grow as much as 100 feet outward as a ground-cover or upward as a climbing vine. As a ground-cover, the plants stay about 6 to 8 inches tall.

Botanical Name Hedera helix
Common Name English ivy
Plant Type Perennial woody evergreen vine
Mature Size 6 to 8 inches high; up to 15 feet long as a vine
Sun Exposure Filtered sun or partial shade
Soil Type Rich soil with plenty of organic material
Soil pH 6.0 to 7.8
Hardiness Zones 4 to 8, USDA
Native Area Northern Europe and western Asia
Ivy on a wall of Villa Cimbrone, Ravello
Buena Vista Images / Getty Images

How to Grow English Ivy

Before planting it as an outdoor specimen, consult local nurseries and a university extension agent to make sure English ivy is acceptable in your region. It is so aggressive that it is regarded as invasive in some regions, such as the Pacific Northwest, where it can choke out native species. Therefore, 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 since it is considerably more finicky indoors than it is outdoors. Ivy doesn't really like the artificially warmed, dry air found in most heated homes. It's also not a big fan of air conditioning. Nevertheless, ivies continue to be seen throughout garden centers because of their beauty. Properly grown, ivies make wonderful trailing plants, climbing plants, and even indoor topiaries.

The trick to growing healthy ivy is to provide cool nights and moist, humid conditions. H. Helix varieties typically have aerial roots that cling, so the plant can be trained up supports or allowed to trail from hanging baskets. Remember to frequently mist your ivy for best results, especially during dry winters.

Light

In both winter and summer, ivy likes bright light, but avoid direct sunlight in summer. In winter, plants may 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 loose, well-drained potting mix.

Water

Potted ivy prefers moist, humid conditions, but not soaking. Don’t let the soil dry out and keep it evenly moist, which encourages attractive red foliage in the fall.

Temperature and Humidity

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

Ivies grown indoors prefer cooler nights, often below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Many species can overwinter outside in pots and will grow back from their stems. During hot summer days, mist frequently.

Fertilizer

This vigorous plant requires little feeding. A small feeding in early spring is about all that's needed, and in ideal conditions, even this is unnecessary. During the growing season, feed with controlled-release fertilizer or biweekly with weak liquid fertilizer.

Hedera helix, trailing plant in a pot
Matthew Ward / Getty Images

Repotting

Repot small ivy plants into fresh potting soil every year, or every other year for larger plants. Old, tired plants can be refreshed and planted back into their same containers with fresh soil.

Propagating English Ivy

Ivies propagate readily from stem cuttings. Because they are trailing plants, ivies benefit from trimming—use these trimmings to propagate your plants. Take cuttings 4 to 5 inches long and place them in water until a good network of root hairs has developed, then plant in potting soil. Spreading stems on the ground will root wherever they touch the soil; these stems can be severed, dug up, and replanted

Varieties of English Ivy

The vast majority of ivies seen in garden centers are so-called true ivy, from the genus Hedera. There are actually 15 species of Hedera, but H. helix is the star as far as cultivated plants are concerned. It has been extensively hybridized into a number of interesting leaf patterns and shapes. Growth requirements for all Hedera ivies are similar.

Pruning

To keep an ivy compact and bushy, pinch off the growing tips. Vigorously cut back plants every three or four years to rejuvenate the growth. When planted as spreading ground cover, ivy can be trimmed but cutting away the edges with a spade.

Common Pests/ Diseases

Aphids and spider mites are the most common pests. Chemical insecticides or pesticidal soaps are the best treatment. 

The most serious diseases include Xanthomonas (bacterial leaf spot) and Rhizoctonia root rot. Bacterial leaf spot is identified by brown or black spots on the leaves, and severe cases will cause stems to become twisted and distorted. Affected plants should be removed and destroyed, and remaining plants can be sprayed with a solution of 1 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. Diseased plants will need to be discarded, and remaining plants should be treated with a fungicide containing triflumizole.