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 inspired the Ivy League colleges nickname. English ivy is also a very popular indoor houseplant or for use in outdoor 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 can reach 100 feet in length as a ground-cover or upward as a climbing vine. As a ground-cover, the plants grow 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|
How to Grow English Ivy
Caution: before planting English ivy outdoors, consult local nurseries and a university or county extension agent to make sure English ivy is not on the invasive species list in your region. It is so aggressive that it is regarded as invasive in some regions, such as the Pacific Northwest and Midwest, where it can smother and choke out 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 is not ideal for ivy. Nevertheless, ivies continue to be available in garden centers because of their beauty. Properly grown, ivies make wonderful trailing plants, climbing plants, and even indoor topiaries.
The secret to growing healthy ivy is to provide cool nights and moist, humid conditions. H. Helix varieties typically have clinging aerial roots which enable the plant to grow up supports or they can be allowed to trail from hanging baskets. Remember to frequently mist your ivy for best results, especially during dry winters.
In both winter and summer, ivy requires bright light, but avoid direct sunlight in summer. In winter, plants can accept a bit of direct sunlight, such as when placed in south-facing windows.
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.
Potted ivy prefers moist, humid conditions, but not soaking. Don’t let the soil dry out and keep it evenly moist..
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.
This vigorous plant requires little feeding. A light feeding in early spring is all that's needed, and in ideal conditions, even this is unnecessary. During the growing season, feed with controlled-release fertilizer or biweekly with a diluted liquid fertilizer.
Repot small ivy plants into fresh potting soil every year, or every other year for larger plants. Old, tired plants can be refreshed and replanted 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. Stems sprawling 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.
To keep an ivy compact and bushy, pinch off the growing tips. Vigorously cut back plants every three or four years to rejuvenate growth. When planted is in use as a spreading outdoor ground cover, cut away the edges with a spade to trim it.
Common Pests/ Diseases
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. Discard diseased plants and treat remaining plants with a fungicide.