Plectranthus Australis--Growing Swedish Ivy

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Swedish ivy grows in upright stalks with pale lavender flowers. Photo © Flickr/Far Out Floral

The P. australis, or Swedish ivy, is a simple houseplant that grows well indoors and requires little effort on your part in order to thrive. The ivy produces thick stems that grow erect before cascading, making the plant an ideal option for hanging baskets. In a garden, the plant can also grow as a carpet beneath canopy-forming trees. Swedish ivy’s foliage is quite beautiful: rounded leaves with scalloped edges grow from its stems, and many varieties of the plant have variegated leaves.

Also commonly called the creeping charlie, P. australis blooms in the late spring or early summer and produces white or pale lavender flowers. It generally grows to about a few feet as its foliage drops, and it lives for three to five years. The ivy is ideal for indoor growing: average room temperatures and humidity will be great, although it can also be moved outside in the summer. Many gardeners also grow these on decks or balconies. Swedish ivy tolerates pruning very well and its individual branches can be pruned at any time without significant damage to the plant itself. Prune it regularly to help it develop new branches, keep it in moderate humidity, and fertilize it and the Swedish ivy will prove a great houseplant for new gardeners.

Growing Conditions

  • Light: Moderate, indirect light throughout the year is fine.
  • Water: Its soil should always be at least slightly moist, especially during the growing season from the beginning of spring until fall: make sure to avoid overwatering in winter, though.
  • Temperature: Average room temperature is fine: about 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid freezing temperatures: frost will kill the Swedish ivy.
  • Soil: A peat moss based potting mix is best, but any good potting soil should be fine.
  • Fertilizer: Fertilize during the growing season every few weeks with a balanced houseplant fertilizer like 20-20-20. It shouldn’t be fertilized during winter. If its leaves become dull and droopy, its fertilizer intake can be slightly increased. Too much nitrogen fertilizer can prevent the plant from blooming, though; if your ivy fails to bloom, consider switching to a low-nitrogen fertilizer for the next growing season.

    Propagation

    Propagate by stem tip cuttings, which can be taken in the summer after the bloom. Once its flowers have faded, pinch back its stem tips and then root them in damp potting soil. The ivy can also propagate through division, though cultivation through cuttings is recommended.

    Repotting

    The Swedish ivy grows best in a hanging basket, but it also will grow in pots. Repot in fresh, peat-based soil annually, or more often if its soil has become exhausted or the plant has begun to wilt.

    Varieties

    Though P. australis is generally solid green, the popular ‘Variegata’ cultivar has white markings around its leaf edges. Several other species of Plectranthus are also commonly cultivated: the P. argentatus, or silver spurflower, has bright and silvery foliage, while the P. amboinicus is grown for its oregano-like flavor and smell.

    Grower’s Tips

    Though the Swedish ivy doesn’t generally suffer from major pest or disease problems, it is susceptible to the mealybug, which forms white material on its stems and leaves. If your plant is infested, remove the mealybugs with cotton swabs by hand and treat with insecticide. Spider mites can also be a problem: watch out for pale leaves and webby mass on the underside of the leaves.

    Make sure to keep this plant out of freezing temperatures and in fairly moderate conditions: if its leaves have begun to droop, it could be getting too much light. This is an easy houseplant, perfect for a hanging basket: not much maintenance is required.