Plant Profile: English Ivy

English ivy
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English ivy (Hedera helix) is a very vigorous and aggressive woody evergreen, a perennial vine that outdoors is well suited for USDA zones 4 to 9, where it may serve as a ground-cover or climbing vine. Along the ground, it stays about 6 to 9 inches in height and can spread to nearly 100 feet. It has clinging tendrils that can also shoot up walls and trees to a height of 50 to 100 feet, and is so aggressive that is regarded as invasive in some regions, such as the Pacific Northwest, where it can choke out native species.

A European native, English ivy was brought to the new world by colonial settlers, but soon naturalized into the wild. 

English ivy is widely sold as an ornamental plant—used outdoors as a ground-cover or elegant green covering for stone or brick walls. This is the plant which gave Ivy League colleges their name. English ivy is also a very popular indoor house plant for hanging baskets.

As an Outdoor Plant

Before planting as an outdoor specimen, consult local nurseries and a university extension agent to make sure English ivy is acceptable in your region. If it is considered invasive, take into consideration how you will keep the plant under control and confined to your property. 

  • Landscape uses: English ivy is frequently used as a dense ground-cover in places where turf grass and other ground-covers do not readily grow. It is also used as an ornamental climbing cover for fences, stone walls, and brick facades. 
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: Engilsh ivy grows robustly in USDA zones 4 to 9. 
  • Preferred soil conditions: 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. 
  • Height and spread: Will grow as much as 100 feet outward as a ground-cover or upward as a climbing vine. As a ground-cover, plants stay about 6 to 9 inches tall. 
  • Sunlight: English ivy does best in indirect sunlight or mild shade. 
  • Feeding: 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. 
  • Care: Vigorously cut back plants every three or four years to rejuvenate the growth. 
  • Pests and diseases: Aphids and spider mites are the most common pests. Chemical insecticides or pesticidal soaps are the best treatment. 

As an Indoor Houseplant

Ivy is a common houseplant, which is somewhat surprising since it is considerably more finicky indoors than it is outdoors. Ivy doesn't much like the artificially warmed, dry air found in most heated and air-conditioned homes today. 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.

  • Light: In both winter and summer summer, ivy likes bright light but avoid direct sunlight in summer. In winter, plants may accept a bit of direct sunlight. 
  • Water: Potted ivy prefers moist, humid conditions, but not soaking. Don’t let the soil dry out and keep evenly moist.​​
  • Temperature: Ivies grown indoors prefer cooler nights, often below 60ºF. Many species can overwinter outside in pots and will grow back from their stems. During hot summer days, mist frequently.
  • Soil: Loose, well-drained potting mix.
  • Feeding: During growing season, feed with controlled-release fertilizer or biweekly with weak liquid fertilizer.]
  • Propagation: 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. 
  • Repotting: Repot small ivy plants every year into fresh potting soil, or every other year for larger plants. Old, tired plants can be refreshed and planted back into same containers.
  • Varieties: 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.
  • Grower's tips: 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. To keep an ivy compact and bushy, pinch off the growing tips.