The evergreen vine English ivy (Hedera helix) has heart-shaped, leathery leaves, and is attractive for topiaries or as an easy-care houseplant. When planted outdoors, ivy uses aerial rootlets to cling to buildings, trees, and trellises. If left to scramble on the ground, it forms a dense ground cover that crowds out weeds and other plants.
English ivy is sometimes planted in shady areas under trees where grass won’t grow. However, its vigorous growth is invasive in some parts of the country. Left to grow unchecked in wooded areas, it will climb tree trunks and prevent sunlight from reaching leaves. Before planting English ivy outdoors, check whether it’s on the invasive species list for your area.
Common name: English ivy
Botanical name: Hedera helix
Plant type: Woody-stemmed, self-clinging climber
Height: 20 to 80 feethigh as a vine; 6 to 9 inches as a ground cover
Zones: 5 to 11
- Sun: Green-leafed cultivars are shade-tolerant. Variegated cultivars prefer more sun, but need protection from strong summer sun, especially in warm climates.
- Soil: Humus-rich, well-drained soil
- Moisture: Evenly moist
- Mulch: If planted as a ground cover, place a layer of organic mulch around plants to discourage weeds until ivy covers the area.
- Fertilizing: Indoors, use a balanced liquid fertilizer monthly.
- Pruning: If you’re using English ivy as a ground cover, mow over the area to control growth of the vine.
- ‘Baltica’ has smaller leaves than the species.
- ‘Glacier’ has midgreen leaves with silver-gray variegations and white margins and is an attractive houseplant.
- ‘Purpurea’ has leaves with a purplish cast in the summer and darker or bronze in winter.
- Cover trellises and pergolas with English ivy. Plant where there is some protection from heavy winds that cause winter desiccation.
- Use in hanging baskets as a trailing plant.
- Grow indoors as a houseplant and topiary. Four or more hours a day of direct sunlight is best, but it will accept indirect, bright light.
- Round black drupes appear in fall and ripen over winter.
- Compounds in English ivy are somewhat toxic when ingested and can cause dermatitis for sensitive individuals.
Pests and diseases
- Leaf spots, aphids, and mites attack ivy.
- Slugs and snails will nest in very thick foliage.
- Root cuttings from spring to fall.
All in the family
The Araliaceae family includes the umbrella plant (Schefflera actinophylla), used throughout the world as a houseplant. Grown indoors, it likes bright filtered or indirect light. In its native setting in New Guinea and northeast Australia, it grows 40 feet tall. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is one other familiar plant in this family. It bears star-shaped, white flowers in summer and is hardy in Zones 3 to 9.
Text by Mary Pestel, photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder.