Ivy creates a beautiful backdrop on hillsides or along garden walls and homes. It comes in many varieties from all over the world, and it’s surprisingly easy to grow both indoors and out. Learn more about this ornamental plant and what sets it apart from other types of vines.
For many of us, the word “ivy” brings to mind the beautiful greenery that creeps up a garden wall or the side of a house. Flip through glossy brochures for private schools and elite colleges and you’re likely to see stunning photos of buildings gracefully adorned with the leafy plant. (As you may have concluded, this is how Ivy League schools got that designation). If you’ve had a bad run-in with a certain type of plant, you might think of poison ivy.
A member of the Ginseng family, ivy (Hedera helix) is a perennial evergreen vine. You can grow it indoors and out — a plus if you live in an apartment or don’t have yard space for a garden. While we usually think of the plant as climbing, several types of ivy make lush groundcover.
Most of the time, you can easily distinguish ivies from other greenery by the shape of their leaves. An ivy leaf tends to be lobed; although each type of plant has its own distinct features.
Here’s an overview of the different types of ivy.
Several types of ivy lend themselves well to growing outdoors.
Also known as Hedera helix, this type is a flowering, clinging evergreen plant. Despite its name, it flourishes in many countries beyond the UK.
This majestic plant is always climbing. In fact, it can reach up to 100 feet, and its leaves can grow up to 4″ (10cm) long. This plant does especially well in shady areas; it’s not suited for direct sunlight.
English ivy is often a hotspot for bees and butterflies, as its flowering capabilities extend from late summer to late fall. By that time, most other plants are no longer flowering.
Since they can grow to such great heights, it would seem that English ivy wouldn’t be the best choice for houseplants. But they can flourish indoors under the right conditions. You can also place them in a hanging basket on a porch. For optimal growth, they should have moist soil. If growing indoors, make sure they have bright light, but not direct sunlight.
Besides the aforementioned Hedera helix, there are several other common types of English ivy.
This is called a variegated ivy because of the different-colored edges of its leaves. Its leaves are smaller than Hedera helix and the edges are gold or bright yellow. If you’re looking for an indoor plant, this is a good choice.
With its smart, sharp-pointed leaves, needlepoint English ivy makes a good groundcover. It also looks decorative in any room of your home, or in hanging baskets.
This makes a low-maintenance decorative houseplant, but it’s also an outdoor climber. Its leaves are shiny, curly, and green.
The Latin name for Algerian ivy is Hedera algeriensis, but it also goes by the monikers North African ivy or Canary Island ivy. Its leaves have large lobes and it is definitely a climber, reaching up to 40 feet (12 m). However, because it grows so quickly, it can be an invasive plant.
Like some other types of ivies, it sometimes comes in variegated varieties. One of these is Gloire de Marengo. The large, heart-shaped leaves are greenish-gray with creamy white edges. Ivy-growers like to train this plant to climb up walls and trellises because the leaves are so striking.
Usually, though, the leaves of Algerian ivy are dark green. While it’s considered a flowering plant, the plants are tiny.
Algerian ivy flourishes in moist soil. If you grow it in sunny conditions, it’s especially important to keep the soil well-watered. Otherwise, it probably won’t be able to reach its full height or will grow more slowly.
Irish Ivy Vine
Irish ivy (Hedera Hibernica) lends itself well to climbing or groundcover. What sets Irish ivy apart from others is its glossy, dark green leaves. Because of its rapid growth rate, it can become invasive. To prevent it from taking over your garden, you’ll probably want to trim it back each spring.
Another type of ivy with a woody vine is Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata), also sometimes called Japanese Creeper or Woodbine. Technically, it’s a type of vine, but not a real ivy. It’s categorized with ivies because of its leaves and inclination to climb. The leaves are large, three-pointed, and green, reaching a width of 2″-8″ or 5-20 cm. It climbs so well and provides so much coverage that people often grow it along the sides of homes and other buildings to provide shade.
Japanese ivy Plant
Native to Asian countries, the Japanese ivy plant (Hedera rhombea) has somewhat of an exotic look. Its large, dark green, heart-shaped leaves have white veins crisscrossing through them.
Japanese ivy is known for its small, umbrella-shaped flower. After the flowering stage, the plant bears round, black fruit. While it has climbing capabilities, Japanese ivy typically doesn’t reach the heights that some other kinds do.
Also native to Asia, Himilayan ivies (Hedera nepalensis) can grow at high altitudes — up to 3,000 meters above sea level. Similar to the Japanese variety, these plants are characterized by dark green leaves with light-colored veins. The triangular leaves can either be exceptionally small (1″ or 3 cm long) or much larger (6″ or 15 cm).
This ivy is especially hardy because of its woody vine and can grow up to 100 feet (30 m).
With its large shiny leaves, Persian ivy (Hedera colchica) is one of the fastest-growing ivies. The leaves are so large — reaching between 6″-10″ (15-25 cm) — that this type of plant is sometimes called the “Bullock’s Heart”. The leaves are glossy and green.
One type of Persian ivy that creates a stunning backdrop in the landscape is Sulphur Heart. When it’s flowering, its large, yellow, and lime green leaves are bedecked with bright gold blooms.
Because of its name, it’s easy to confuse this type of plant (Hedera canariensis) with the one named for the Canary Islands. Canarian, though, is a species all its own. This is a good choice if you’re looking for greenery that affords dense cover. Although it’s a climber, if there are no walls or trellises around, it can flourish on the ground, too. If you install it in your garden, you can maintain it as bushes or shrubs. This plant variety is known for its large foliage and its ability to reach 100 ft (30 m).
Another ivy-imposter that’s not a real member of the “family” is Swedish ivy, or Plectranthus verticillatus). Swedish ivy is actually related to mint and sage. It has green leaves and can be considered a trailing plant, so it looks good in hanging baskets. However, despite its name, it can’t trace its origins to Sweden. It’s fitting then, that since it’s not a real ivy, it goes by other names, such as Creeping Charlie (although it doesn’t cling to anything) and Swedish begonia.
What sets Russian ivy (Hedera pastuchovii) apart from other kinds is its thin, light green leaves that often have wavy edges. While Russian ivy can climb, it grows better as ground ivy. Long, climbing stems grace its vines.
A close relative of the Canarian kind, Morrocan (Hedera marocanna) is an ivy variety that grows in the Canary Islands. This climbing vine tends to make its way up tree trunks or put down roots as a groundcover on rock faces.
If you want to spruce up your home with a little greenery, several types of ivy are well-suited to growing indoors, especially varieties of English ivy. You can put them anywhere, even in the bathroom. If you’re looking for a variegated ivy plant, many of these fit that description adding an ornamental element to any room in your home. They’re easy to care for and they grow quickly, so you can get a good reward without having to put in too much effort.
Various varieties of English ivy plants are especially conducive to indoor growing.
This type features small green ivy leaves that grow in the shape of…you guessed it — duck’s feet. It yields red stems and small green leaves.
You can recognize this variety of English ivy by its yellow broad leaves and yellow-green buds that emerge annually.
Every year, this variety yields blackberries and flowers. As the name suggests, the leaves on this plant are small and shamrock-shaped.
Manda’s Crested Ivy
This is a type of climbing ivy that grows as a shrub. What’s unique about it is the ways its leaves transform with the seasons. The dark green, wavy-edged foliage turns bronze in the winter.
Tips for Tending Ivy Outdoors
First, before you plant anything, it’s a good idea to talk to someone at a nursery or to check municipal regulations where you live to see if it’s even practical to cultivate ivy. In certain parts of the United States, such as the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, there may be rules about growing it.
Because it grows so fast, it can choke native species of plants, flowers, and other foliage. You may need to be prepared to take aggressive steps to control its growth so it doesn’t invade your neighbors’ property.
Outside, ivies need cool nights and humid conditions, with partial shade during the day. They get their climbing propensities from aerial roots that easily cling to surfaces. To enhance those climbing and trailing abilities, it’s important to keep those roots moist, even during dry winters when you might not think of tending plants.
Care and Feeding of Indoor Ivy
Most ivies tended indoors are cultivars of the English variety. A cultivar is a plant that is produced via selective breeding. Ivies, and other plants with especially desirable traits, are propagated to pass those qualities on to the next generation. Here are some tips for tending your indoor foliage.
Having the right lighting is essential. For most varieties, you need bright light. Variegated ivies can tolerate moderate levels of lights, but their stand-out leaf colors may become less pronounced in dimmer conditions. You’ll know if your plants aren’t getting enough light when they start to look…well..sick. In that state, they’re more vulnerable to pest infestations, too.
Check the soil before watering. The top layer should be dry to the touch before you supply any more H2O. Standing water or overly wet soil can lead to root rot and other issues. Therefore, adequate drainage is a must, too.
While most of us may not think of fertilizing an ivy houseplant, it’s a good step to take. Feed your greenery with a water-soluble nitrogen fertilizer once every month during the spring, summer, and fall. Don’t fertilize during the winter. During this season, the vines are dormant, so fertilizer can actually harm them since they’re not absorbing and processing nutrients as they normally do throughout the rest of the year.
To cleanse the leaves of pests and dust, give your indoor plant a bath once in a while. To do that, just place the ivy in the shower for a few minutes. For more serious pest invasions, you may need to hold the plant closer to the source of the spray to thoroughly knock out the bugs.
The soil for Hedera helix should always be moist, well-drained, fertile, and loose. If you’re growing the greenery in a dry, hot climate, keep the soil thoroughly mulched so it stays cooler. Too much moisture can be harmful too, making the plants susceptible to bacterial leaf spot and root rot.
English Ivy grows best when it is not exposed to temperature extremes. However, even after a brutal winter, it will usually grow back as its stems come to life.
Ivies need bright light to flourish, provided it’s not direct sunlight. In the summer, they can tolerate a small amount of direct light; it’s almost inevitable that they wouldn’t encounter it during the long days of that season.
This plant doesn’t require much in the way of feeding. A little dose of fertilizer in early spring should be enough to get its growth on track. It’s really only necessary if growing conditions are less-than-ideal. Likewise, during the summer, if you want to give your foliage a boost, use a controlled-release fertilizer. Or you can spread diluted liquid fertilizer around the ivy every couple of weeks.
To keep small or indoor plants thriving, consider repotting them every year. To rejuvenate the vines, prune outdoor ivy bushes every three years. Pinch off the tips to keep shrubs looking “bushy.”
How to Prevent Root Rot and Other Plant Problems
Root rot can be difficult to spot since the first signs emerge beneath the soil where they’re not easy to detect. Root rot can happen to a houseplant as well as outdoor foliage, but it’s especially likely to happen when plants are kept in containers. Without proper drainage, the roots can easily be exposed to too much water.
Healthy root systems are firm and white, but when root rot sets in, they become soft and brown. This happens because the wet soil creates perfect breeding grounds for fungus. It isn’t long before these spores overtake root systems.
When roots are affected, they can’t absorb the nutrients they need. Soon, root rot begins to take a toll on foliage, causing it to turn yellow and eventually fall off. The fungal invasion can slow plant growth and delay blooming. By the way, fungi can also cause another plant disease called powdery mildew.
With large, outdoor plants, it can be more difficult to combat root rot. It’s necessary to dig up the roots so you can inspect them. If they’re completely mushy and brown, it’s probably too late to salvage them. If any healthy parts remain, use sharp scissors to cut away all dead parts. Gently rinse the roots under running water to get rid of any remaining spores.
Then, within a few hours of uprooting, replant the roots in fresh, healthy, aerated soil. To prevent spreading mold spores to any other plants or gardening items, sanitize the scissors in a solution of one part bleach to three parts water.
This process is likely to be easier with a houseplant since it’s likely smaller and easier to dig up.
What to Do About Bacterial Leaf Spot
Leaf spot or, in its extreme form, leaf blight, is caused by Xanthomonas campestris p.v. hederae cichorii. You’ll know that this bacteria has infected your English ivy when you see yellow-brown or black splotches or spots on the leaves. The blemishes are sometimes ringed by a yellow border. At first, these will probably be confined to the spaces between veins. But the spots can soon run together until the leaves wilt and drop from the vine.
Cool, wet conditions make the pathogen highly likely to spread (with temperatures between 77 and 86°F or 25-30°C being especially ideal). The destructive bacteria can also be carried on individual seeds. To prevent the disease from spreading, you can use a copper fungicide. In order for it to be effective though, it has to be used soon after the onset of the bacterial takeover.
Pull any diseased leaves from your English ivy to keep the bacteria from making their way to healthy leaves. If you’ve had to remove an infected dead plant, don’t plant something new in the same spot. There is no “cure” for bacterial leaf spot.
Ivies are also susceptible to infestations of mites of aphids. To keep these in check. You can use an organic insecticide or insecticide soap.
Where You Can Get Ivy Plants for Your Home or Garden
If you want to cultivate this ornamental plant, it’s definitely not difficult to come by. You can buy ivy plants at your local nursery or hardware store. They’re also available through online retailers.
If you want to plant ivy, buying a lot of it can get pricey. As a cheaper alternative, you can also propagate ivy from an existing vine. Once you cut the vine, there are two ways to grow the cuttings. More on that in a second, but first, here’s how to prepare the cuttings.
- Use a clean set of shears or a sharp knife to cut a section of ivy vine — it can be up to four feet long.
- Cut the vine into several smaller pieces, with each consisting of one or two leaves. Each cut should be above the leaf and the are below the stem be trimmed to one inch in length. To give your plants a little extra help, you can dip the end of the stem in hormone rooting powder. From there, you can opt to place the stems in soil or water. Here’s what you need to know about each process.
Load up a planter with either sand or a mix of sand and soil. Poke holes in the dirt for planting. Place one stem (hormone powder side down) into each hole. Gently surround each stem with sand or soil.
Place the planter in a plastic bag so it can better retain moisture. Keep the leaves well-watered. Check the bag periodically — once a week is recommended — to make sure the soil is moist. It won’t be long before the little twigs start sprouting. In about 6-8 weeks, your small plants will be ready for a more permanent place to finish growing.
Place cuttings in a water-filled glass jar on a windowsill where they can get plenty of light. While you can cultivate ivy this way, soil or some other solid growing medium is the preferred method. It’s also worth noting that transplanting young ivy shoots from water is more of a challenge.
What To Do If Ivy Overtakes Your Property
So far, we’ve looked at how to grow ivy as an ornamental addition to your outdoor and indoor spaces. But since it’s an invasive plant, it can get out of control quickly. So what if you don’t want ivy on your property, or you want to take extensive measures to control its growth? Here are some steps you can take to stem its growth or nip it in the bud altogether.
This process works well for small young plants or in areas where herbicides aren’t recommended. You will need to dig up the whole plant — roots, runners, and all. For especially young plants with minimal root development in loose soils, you may be able to pull out the ivy growth by hand. Be warned though, that if you don’t get all of it out of the ground, whatever is left will grow right back.
As a non-chemical alternative, you can spread mulch wherever ivy growth is small and not extensive. Spread several inches of the fertilizer over the entire area that’s infested with the creeping foliage. Mulch can consist of hay, wood chips, grass clippings, and the like. Wood chips may be the best material to use though because grass clippings can still carry ivy seeds.
To make the impact of mulching more effective and longer-lasting, consider covering the affected area with cardboard. Keep the mulch in place for at least two growing seasons. For good measure, you’ll probably need to replenish the supply as it breaks down.
For an especially large takeover, cut the stems as close to the root collar as you can. This is also a good option if you can’t or don’t want to use chemical herbicides. While remnants of cut vines will live on for several years, highly-frequent cuttings will eventually exhaust the root systems until they eventually die off.
You can use this technique in areas where the ivy has sprouted among plants that you want to preserve. Here are two ways to go about it.
- Triclopyr. Two inches (5 cm) above ground level, sever the stem. Apply a 25% solution of water and triclopyr to the cross-section of the stem right away. This treatment will hold up at cool temperatures (under 60F), provided the ground is not frozen. Keep in mind, too, that subsequent applications of foliar may be needed to keep new seedlings from emerging.
- Glyphosate. Cut the stem so it reaches no more than 2 inches (5 cm) above the ground. Right afterward, the stem should be given a 25% solution of the herbicide diluted with water. This process will work best at temperatures at or above 40°F. Regardless of the temperature, you may need to spray the site with foliar at some point down the road to curb any new growth.
Before applying foliar, you may want to begin with the stump method to ensure you don’t inadvertently destroy a plant you want to keep. Foliar is designed for larger ivy invasions. In fact, the best time to spray is after any surrounding plant species have fallen dormant.
- Triclopyr. If you have native grass interspersed among the ivy, this is the better method to use because it will target the invader while sparing the grass. Wet the ivy completely with a 2% solution of triclopyr and water. You can pair this with a 0.5% non-ionic surfactant so the herbicide can completely permeate the leaf cuticle. As with glyphosate, this herbicide recipe should be used when temperatures are above 65°F.
- Glyphosate. The best time for this method is when the air temperature is above 65°F. Prepare a 4% solution of glyphosate and water, along with a 0.5-1% non-ionic surfactant. The idea is to thoroughly moisten the invasive greenery, but not to the point that the herbicide is dripping off the leaves. When it’s dropping, herbicide can land on and kill neighboring plants).
Is Poison Ivy “Real” Ivy?
And now, as this article draws to a close, a quick word about something that was mentioned at the beginning: poison ivy. Just what is it, anyway?
This annoying, rash-inducing plant is not a member of the Hedera family. Its scientific name is Toxicodendron radicans. Given its allergenic properties, “toxico” dendron seems to be a highly appropriate name. Oddly enough, this troublesome growth is part of the pistachio and cashew family. With all the discomfort it causes, it shouldn’t be related to something as tasty as pistachio or cashew. It seems like it should be in a class all its own.
The itching you may experience when coming into contact with the plant is caused by urushiol, a clear liquid contained in the sap. Although the weed is harmful to us, many animals eat it without consequence, and birds feed on the seeds.
Where does ivy come from?
Ivy was originally brought to North America from Europe back when the Americas were often referred to as “The New World.” Since ivy is especially aggressive, it didn’t need much help taking root. It flourished in the wilderness as well as in well-tended gardens.
Is ivy toxic to pets?
Hedera helix is toxic to dogs. Ingesting the plant can lead to a rash, breathing problems, coma, paralysis, and even death. There is another type of plant that is not part of the Hedera family but nonetheless is called an ivy — devil’s ivy, to be exact. It’s also called Epipremnum aireum or pothos. For dogs and cats, the plant really lives up to its name, causing irritation of the mouth and tongue, increased salivation, difficulty swallowing, and vomiting.
Ivy is also a bad idea for cats. Considered moderately toxic, it can still lead to serious health problems. Eating the plant can cause fever, muscle weakness, vomiting, breathing problems, drooling, and diarrhea.
What are some uses for English ivy?
Hedera helix was brought to the United States from Europe because of its ornamental properties. Besides being grown in and around homes, it is sometimes used for roadside beautification projects, It can also help to keep erosion in check, although it’s not the best choice for this purpose. Its roots don’t go down deep enough to effectively stop erosion in, especially steep places.
What other plant species are similar to ivy but not part of the Hedera family?
Other native plants that aren’t ivies but have impressive climbing abilities include Dutchman’s pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla) and wild grape (Vitis sp.) Another species that isn’t native but nonetheless has climbing capabilities similar to ivy is the cinnamon vine (Dioscorea oppositifrolia).
Is ivy found everywhere throughout the United States?
You can find Hedera helix in 28 states. While it’s prevalent in places like the Northwest and Midwest, it even grows in Hawaii.
The Spruce: English Ivy Plant Profile
Gardening Know How: Bacterial Leaf Spot On Plants: How To Treat Bacterial Leaf Spot
University of Maryland Extension: Bacterial Leaf Spot and Bacterial Leaf Blight on English Ivy – Groundcover
Pennington: How to Identify, Fight and Prevent Root Rot
Leafy Place: Types of Ivy
Gardening Know How: Information on Caring for Ivy Plants
Weddington Animal Hospital: 10 Houseplants That Are Dangerous For Your Dog
Gardening Know How: Ivy Plant Propagation