English Ivy

English Ivy

Beloved of some and bane to others, English Ivy, Hedera helix, is a groundcover/climber that I happen to love. It is on the PCA “Least Wanted” List,  so caveats are sprinkled through this profile.  One way I love to use English ivy is in containers, they will readily grow in any type of plant container; indoors as well as out. Good as groundcover, especially where bulbs are planted, I would not use it in areas where delicate plants are wanted- the ivy is just too vigorous. So don’t place it in your rock garden, as it will swamp everything. It has long been used in urban areas, and a pool of it underneath a city tree always has a classic appearance.

I have had it wend its way to the inside of a building, however, so be careful about its tendency to grow up the walls. There is  actually a situation where I allowed the ivy to get a little too comfortable on a wooden wall. At first, my intention had been just a few strands climbing artistically along a wall to frame a window. But the other day I noticed a bit of ivy on the INSIDE of my house, poking its way through the frame. Now that is letting something get a little too comfortable, when it starts coming inside, eh? Just so you know when you plant English ivy that it can be aggressive (which is true of all those vines that have “stayfasts” …like Virginia Creeper and Boston Ivy)

One of the attractive things about English ivy is the Old World feel that this deep green groundcover can lend to a landscape. Foliage color and weight can give a presence to your garden design. The deep green, almost heavy, look of ivy and taxus bushes are something characteristic to the English gardens. But borrowed by Americans throughout our suburbs in foundation plantings,  these two plant items can be a drab and tired look. I like to think about this like black and white in a picture or interior design. It is the contrast that is exciting, and the dark green of a plant like ivy operates as “black” … a contrast … a background for something light or bright … giving depth and seen by the eye in a way that “shadows” appear. It feels dignified, having an established ambiance from the graceful cover with curled tendril arms embracing a tree or winding along the ground.

variegated ivy

variegated ivy

[ The Look ]

There are many variations available in ivy cultivars, from the iconic green with white veins with white or gold variegation, of different leaf forms, and growth patterns. The generic deep green with three lobed leaves is very hardy, the others may not be.

This is a plant that creeps and climbs, it can give a very solid look to a wall or fencing. It has many interesting forms to its leaves as well as the different colorations. Tiny pointed leaves on the ‘Needlepoint’ variety, heart shapes like ‘Sweetheart’  (Deltoidea), curly types like ‘Manda’s Crested’ give interesting texture and variation. This is one of its charms. Not all forms of English ivy are hardy in Ohio, so it is useful to check the hardiness zone, anything of greater number than Zone 5 is risking loss in one of harsher winters, unless you have a protected spot.

ivy aerial root

ivy aerial root

As it climbs you will notice root-like “holdfasts” or “stayfasts” that will carry the plant upwards in the trees and on the walls of buildings. These are rootlike formations which anchor the plant to rocks and other structures. Ivy’s holdfasts collect nutrients and can climb as high as 50 feet. Many people no longer like it for this quality.

[ To Grow ]

Easy to start from cuttings, in soil or water; or divisions.

  • 6 to 8 inches tall, growing along the ground.
  • Zones 5 to 10
  • tolerates air pollution
  • prefers slightly alkaline soil, part sun to shade
  • needs moisture to start with, but quite tolerant of poor conditions and soils.
  • a woody perennial vine

[ Fun Facts ]

Ivy appears in English ChristmasVisit Christmas pages, read about Christmas caroling carols and songs, as it is used for traditional holiday decorations; “Holly and The Ivy

Descartes used the symbolic meaning of ivy in its negative sense of its dependence on the supporting structure.

“We see that it hardly ever happens that the followers of an ancient philosopher surpass Ÿhim; and I’m sure that most of Aristotle’s disciples of today would be happy to know as much about nature as he did, even if that meant never knowing anything that he didn’t. They are like ivy, which doesn’t tend to climb higher than the tree that supports it, and often even grows downward after reaching the tree-top.”

Ivies make wonderful, quick growing topiaries

Very helpful info on growing ivy.



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