Climbing, spreading and trailing are only a few words that describe the growth habit of ivy vines. Botanically classified “true” ivies belong to the genus Hedera, but there are other commonly named ivy vines that are outside this group. Not content to stay in one spot, ivy vines sport long stems that reach in all directions to fill in bare areas and form a solid wall or carpet of green leaves. To climb structures, the vines attach themselves with holdfasts or adhesive discs, which are root-like appendages along the stems that adhere to flat surfaces. Although the stems of some species may grow as long as 100 feet, most species are less than half that size. Leaves on evergreen species are typically solid green, but some species sport variegated leaves, which brighten dark spots, and other deciduous species have leaves that turn vibrant red in autumn. Depending on species, ivy vines grow as perennials across USDA plant hardiness zones 4-11 and as houseplants in all zones.
Even though ivy vines grow best in moist soil, they are remarkably drought-tolerant once established. One of ivy’s best attributes is how it thrives in dense shade. Ivy vines excel in shady locations, and they often prosper in places where other plants struggle. You won’t have to wait for years before fast-growing ivy vines fill in challenging landscape areas.
• Groundcover/Turfgrass alternative. If you have shady areas in your yard where turfgrass grows sparsely (or doesn’t grow at all), you can plant ivy vines to create a lush evergreen “lawn.”
• Erosion control. On steep banks or sloped areas in your yard, ivy vines grow quickly to hold the soil in place.
• Topiaries. Ivy vines are the consummate topiary plant, covering wire forms or stakes to take any shape you prefer. Simply keep the vines snipped to follow the lines of the topiary.
• Containers. Trailing from hanging baskets or other containers, ivy vines can be used as a standalone plant or as a “spiller” specimen in a mixed plant grouping.
• Trellises/Fences/Arbors/Pergolas. Weave ivy vines through the upright supports of arbors or pergolas to create a fast-growing shady retreat. Train ivy vines on trellises or fences to make evergreen privacy screens in your yard or garden.
• Structures. You can even train ivy to grow on masonry structures, such as a cottage or potting shed.
• Tip: Don’t allow ivy vines to attach themselves to wooden structures. Moisture may build up between the ivy’s holdfasts and the wood, causing the wood to rot.
Planting & Care
• Ivy vines thrive in shady locations, although some species can tolerate partial sun. If the sun is too intense, ivy leaves may scorch or curl.
• Moist soil is best for growing ivy, but established vines can tolerate short periods of drought.
• If your soil is poor, work organic matter, such as well-aged animal manure or compost, into the soil before planting ivy.
• Space ivy vines 24 inches apart.
• As ivy grows, you may need to cut it back to keep it in bounds. Use a mower, string trimmer, hedge trimmer or a long-handled lopping shears to prune the length and/or height. If pruning will leave bald spots, cut ivy vines in spring so the new growth fills in quickly.
Ivy Vines as Houseplants
Ivy is typically a durable houseplant that needs minimal care. Place pots or hanging baskets in a low- to bright-light location, but not in full sun because this can burn the foliage. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, in containers that allow ivy vines to be slightly pot-bound so the soil drains well. Use a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer during periods of active growth, following label directions for frequency and rate of application. In winter, the air inside most homes is dry, which adversely affects some ivy vines. Cluster houseplants together to hold moisture around the leaves, or place pots containing ivy on pebbles in water-filled trays, making sure the water level stays below the pebbled surface.