How to Grow and Care for Your English Ivy

English ivy is a beautiful and easy care plant that provides texture and color in your interior and outdoor spaces. It has gained a bad reputation as an invasive species or noxious weed that chokes tree trunks across boundaries.

English ivy, in controlled settings, is a good plant for beginners and experienced gardeners alike. Its unique shape and variegated green leaves make a good addition to your indoor garden or cascading over the sides of pots on your front porch.

What is English Ivy?

English Ivy Plant CareView in gallery

The English ivy plant, also known as hedera helix, is an evergreen vine. It has three to five-lobed dark green to medium green leaves. Its climbing stems cling to walls, columns, and the ground with ease. It makes an attractive addition to pots and hanging baskets because it spills over the sides to create a lush look. English ivy also works well as a ground cover. 

According to the expert gardeners at Monrovia, English ivy complements contemporary, cottage, Mediterranean, and rustic style homes and gardens.

English Ivy Quick Facts

Botanical nameHedera Helix
LightAdaptable, but prefers partial shade
WaterWater once every week for new plants. Taper off as plants become established.
FertilizerAll purpose plant food every two weeks during spring and summer
PestsAphids, mealybugs, scales, spider mites
DiseasesRoot rot, anthracnose, bacterial leaf spot, powdery mildew
SoilWell-drained soil with average loam
Growing ZonesHardy in Zones 5-11
SizeVarious size vines up to around 15 feet
FoliageThree to five-lobed dark green leaves to medium green leaves with variegated forms
ToxicityToxic for animals and humans

English Ivy Care Needs

English ivy plants are low maintenance, but they thrive best in certain conditions.


Light Needs

English ivy light requirements are adaptable according to the location. These plants thrive best in partial shade outdoors and bright indirect sunlight indoors. They will also grow in direct sun to full shade.


Water Needs

The English ivy water requirements are more specific. Water your ivy vine to keep the soil just moist if it is indoors. You can let your soil dry between waterings, but don’t overwater as the roots of English ivy plants hate sitting in water. Keep your ivy plants in a pot with drainage holes to make sure they don’t sit in overly wet soil.

For outdoor ivy plants in pots, you will water less often. During the warm months, make sure that you water new plants at least once a week to keep the ivy happy. If you have an established plant that is in the ground, you will not need to water unless you live in very dry conditions.


Soil Conditions

The best soil for English ivy is well-drained with a slight loamy consistency. While it adapts to various soil qualities, it does best in soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5. 

If you are planting English ivy outdoors or indoors, you can test the pH of the soil. If it is too acidic, below 6.0, raise the pH of the soil with a mixture of pelletized limestone to the soil. If the soil has a higher pH than required (above 7.5), lower the pH level with elemental sulfur, aluminum sulfate, or sulfuric acid.


Atmospheric Conditions

English ivy is a native plant from north and central Europe. It grows best in temperatures between 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 5-10 degrees cooler at night. English ivy loves humid climates. For English ivy grown indoors, make sure to maintain a humid atmosphere around the plants. Roots should never sit in standing water, but you can put the plants on a bed or pebbles with some water if your home is dry. You can also mist the ivy leaves if they seem dry.


Fertilizer

Experts debate the best fertilizer for English ivy. Fertilize with an all-purpose plant food around every two weeks to once a month during the spring and summer when there is vigorous growth. During the winter when the growing season is over, do not fertilize at all.


Pests and Diseases

The most common pests for English ivy are aphids, spider mites, and scale insects. The most effective treatment of these common pests is neem oil. Spray neem oil on the leaves to smother the insects and their eggs.

Common diseases for English ivy include various forms of root rot. This is often an overwatering issue. If the leaves of your English ivy turn greenish yellow, try repotting in well draining soil. If your ivy develops brown spots, it may have developed anthracnose. Try neem oil or sulfur dust to combat this disease. 

Bacterial leaf spots can be mitigated with a copper-based fungicidal spray. Powdery mildew is another issue caused by overwatering. Repot and increase circulation around the plant. Also, spray neem oil on the plants to combat mildew.


Propagation

Propagation of this vigorous grower is easy. Use sharp, clean pruners or shears to snip cuttings of about 5 inches. Cut the stem right below a leaf node, and trim off the lowest leaf. Dip the end of the stem into a rooting hormone and place in a moist rooting medium in a small pot. 

Pat down the rooting medium beside the stem. Place a plastic bag over the pot to maintain high humidity while the stem is taking root. You will see new growth in about one to two months.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

Does English ivy improve air quality indoors?

NASA published a report in 1989 in a study to evaluate the effect of indoor plants on air quality. They found that within a small test chamber, houseplants including ivy, did improve air quality by reducing the levels of VOCs in the air. Other experts are skeptical of this claim. They say that within a normal environment houseplants will have no more than a nominal effect on air quality.

How poisonous is English ivy to animals and humans?

The foliage of English ivy and its berries are toxic for animals and humans to ingest. It can cause vomiting, diarrhea, breathing issues, coordination problems, and hallucinations. The sap in English ivy can cause skin irritations, so it is best to wear gloves when working with ivy.

Why is it controversial to plant English ivy cultivars outdoors?

English ivy is a species with aggressive spreading capabilities. It wraps around trees and will kill them if not cut away. It spreads more in some areas than others. Check with your local extension office to see if you can or should plant it in your area. In some areas of the USA like the Pacific Northwest, it is considered an invasive species. In Oregon, it is illegal to buy, sell, or even transport English ivy.

How can I stop the spread of English ivy?

The best way to stop the spread of English ivy is to plant it in pots and hanging baskets where it cannot spread. This way, you can enjoy the beauty of English ivy without worrying that it will take over your yard.

Conclusion

English ivy is a controversial outdoor plant because of the way that it grows and takes over the surrounding area. Yet, it is also a beautiful plant that helps to soften the look of walls, fences, and columns.

There are ways to grow this plant in ways that are responsible including buying a sterile variety of English ivy that does not spread or creating container gardens with companion plants like geraniums or petunias. If you like English ivy and want to use it for your home, there are ways to reap its benefits while controlling its worst effects.