Boston ivy in winter

Boston Ivy Winter Care: Information On Boston Ivy Vines In Winter

If you’re looking for a dense, deciduous vine to cover a wall or trellis, climb a tree, or hide landscape problems such as stumps and boulders, you should consider Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata). These sturdy vines grow to lengths of 30 feet and give complete coverage to almost anything. They tolerate any light exposure, from full sun to full shade, and aren’t picky about the soil. You’ll find dozens of uses for this versatile vine. But what about keeping Boston ivy over winter?

Boston Ivy Vines in Winter

In fall, Boston ivy leaves begin a color transformation that goes from red to purple. The leaves cling to the vines longer than most deciduous plants, but eventually drop in early winter. After they fall, you can see the dark blue fruit. Called drupes, these berry-like fruit keep the garden lively in winter because they provide food for a number of songbirds and small mammals.

Boston ivy winter care is minimal and consists primarily of pruning. First year vines may benefit from a layer of mulch, but older plants are very hardy and don’t need added protection. The vine is rated for USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 8.

Does Boston Ivy Die in Winter?

Boston ivy goes dormant in winter and may look as though it is dead. It’s just waiting for changes in temperature and light cycles to signal that spring is on the way. The vine quickly returns to its former glory when the time is right.

There are a couple of advantages to growing perennial vines like Boston ivy that lose their leaves in winter. While the vines grown against a trellis or pergola provide good shade from summer heat, they allow sunlight in once the leaves fall in winter. Bright sunlight can raise the temperature in the area as much as 10 degrees. If you grow the vine against a wall, it will help keep your home cool in summer and warm in winter.

Winter Care of Boston Ivy

Keeping Boston ivy over winter is easy as long as the temperature doesn’t typically drop below -10 F. (-23 C.) in your area. It doesn’t need winter feeding or protection, but it does need pruning in late winter. The vines tolerate hard pruning, and that is just what it needs to keep the stems in bounds.

Besides controlling the growth of the vine, hard pruning encourages better flowering. Although you probably won’t notice the inconspicuous little flowers, without them you won’t have fall and winter berries. Don’t be afraid to make severe cuts. The vines regrow quickly in spring.

Make sure you remove damaged and diseased parts of the vine as you prune. The vine sometimes pulls away from the supporting structure, and these stems should be removed because they won’t reattach. Vines may break under their own weight, and broken vines should be clipped and neatened.

This fast-growing vine creates a wonderful covering of dark, glossy-green leaves which turn brilliant orange-red in the fall.

Boston Ivy grows rapidly clinging to walls and other means of support by tiny rootlets. If left alone will grow up to 50 feet tall. It can handle a great deal of shearing. Annual pruning of new growth will maintain desired size.

Boston Ivy is perfect growing along walls, fences, and up garden sheds. You can use Boston ivy as a low maintenance groundcover in large areas where its vigor in the landscape help conceal unsightly objects.

This deciduous vine is easy to grow and will do well in areas other vines would do poorly. While tolerating dry and poor soil, it does best with rich soil. Plant in sun to part shade. It does grow in shade, but you will sacrifice the brilliant fall color.

Small inconspicuous green flowers in early summer morph into blue-black berries which are attractive to birds.

Provides the perfect back-drop for flowering shrubs like Hydrangea or Butterfly Bush.

Special features: Cold hardy, Color change, Deer resistant, Drought tolerant, Fast growing, Fall color, Foliage interest, Multi-seasonal interest, Pest resistant, Rabbit resistant


Yes, it was a difficult winter for certain plants and ivy seems to be one of them. The most common ivy grown outdoors is Hedera helix. It is evergreen, is often used as a ground cover, and is also an excellent climber on walls, fences and even up trees. The ivy plants do this by using little roots to attach to the wall or fence. If they are left as a ground cover, the roots enter the soil. According to the American Ivy Society, the ivy on your tree will not damage it, as the rootlets are only attached to the bark and not entering the tree.

Our winter probably is the culprit for the dieback you are seeing, even though ivy is hardy to our climate here in Toronto / Southern Ontario. The early on-set of winter likely prevented the ivy from taking up adequate water prior to dormancy. The prolonged harsh temperatures likely dessicated the leaves and any new growth from last year. That is why the leaves are brown.

As you noted, you can see new growth – which is a good thing. Scratch with a thumbnail around some of the branches to see if there is green under the brown. If there is green, it’s alive, and taking the time it needs to grow. Now is the time to gently rake away the dead leaves and if the vine has gotten a bit out of hand, a good pruning can rejuvenate it. If you found, with the thumbnail test some dead branches, cut them away to a node where green is evident.

Although we have had some rain, these shocked plants could use a good watering. A higher nitrogen fertilizer (to aid in greening) applied according to instructions will also help.

The American Ivy Society is good source for general ivy information.

Q:I have a potted ivy plant (maybe English ivy) that does well outside during warmer weather, but when I bring it inside for the winter, its leaves turn yellow and fall, giving it a scrawny appearance.

This is the second inside season this is happening. What might it need? It has never regained the lush foliage it had when I purchased it even though I fertilize it regularly when it is outside.

— Pat Lewis, Slatington

A: I can’t pinpoint an exact cause for your problem but I can tell you what English ivy needs to grow indoors:

The soil should be well-drained but with the ability to hold moisture.

Avoid placing the plants in an area with direct sunlight — filtered light or part-sun would be better.

When moving the plants outdoors for the summer, ease them into the light. Place them in the shade then move gradually into brighter light, but not direct sunlight.

While indoors, ivies can be fertilized with general fertilizer dissolved in water. Saturate the soil with the fertilizer liquid.

Be sure that the pots drain so that the salts from the fertilizer can be flushed out of the pots. Ivies are sensitive to salt buildup.

Do not allow pots to stand in drainage water. Water when the upper inch or so of soil is dry but before the whole pot dries out.

If plants become too leggy, cut back. Cuttings can be rooted to create additional plants.


Q: You said that rosemary, not hardy here, does best if allowed to stay outside until November or longer. Many plants die indoors during the winter, and the culprit generally is our indoor heating. Low humidity and warm temperatures dry out the plants. Have you had success in bringing rosemary indoors? What do you suggest — a cool room? Lots of water? Extra lighting? Feed or not? My rosemary is still outside as you have suggested. If you ever visit the Salisbury, Md., zoo you can see the rosemary shrubs that are part of the landscaping. They are 3- to 4-feet high, 10-12 feet in circumference and obviously perennial.

– Blair Bates, Bethlehem.

A: Yes, I have kept rosemary alive inside in winter but it does demand some specific conditions. Place the plant in a cool, not cold area with bright light (six to eight hours). Decrease watering — too much water will lead to mildew problems and pests. Make sure the pot drains freely.

Provide additional humidity — a saucer filled with stones and water under the pot, a humidifier in the room or regular misting to combat the drying effects of indoor heating.

Make sure there is space around the plant and good air circulation. Since the rosemary is not really in active growth, avoid fertilizing until it starts growing again in late winter or early spring.

Red mandevilles

Q: My wife and I purchased a couple of Crimsom mandevilles this summer. They are very beautiful and very hearty, and are in their individual pots as when purchased, on our deck. We would like to know if there is some way we can help them survive the winterso that we can enjoy them again next season. The growers are

— Ken

A: I, too, love the red mandeville plants. A large one is wintering over in my living room this year. Mandevilles can be wintered over but must be moved indoors where temperatures are above freezing to survive and above 45 to retain their leaves.

These plants love sunlight so try to place them in bright light. Do not fertilize and do not be alarmed if many leaves turn yellow and fall off. Water sparingly until the plants start growing again in the late winter or spring.

Do not expect them to bloom — they might but it is not likely. If you are going to cut back a lot, do so immediately after you bring them in since the first flowers will grow on the thin, wispy vines that grow in the spring.

In the Garden

The main task in the yard this week is leaf control. Most of the leaves have fallen, now although the small Japanese maple and a hawthorn still retain their color. Mornings bring flocks of birds eager for me to fill the feeders with seed. They come in waves — the jays, the cardinals, the titmice and chickadees. The woodpeckers have found the suet feeder and visit often.

Sue Kittek is a freelance garden writer. Send questions to Garden Keeper at [email protected] or mail: Garden Keeper, The Morning Call, P.O. Box 1260,

Allentown, PA 18105.


Clear gutters after the leaves have fallen. Gutter backup can damage roofs, landscape and the gutters themselves.

Clear all driveways, walkways, decks and porches of fallen leaves. They can mat and become a slippery safety hazard.

If you are getting a balled Christmas tree for planting after the holidays, be sure to dig the hole before the ground freezes. Store the removed soil in a frost-free area. You can’t fill the hole with chunks of frozen soil.

Check seasonal decorations early before you plan a weekend of decorating.

Pull out healthy spent annual plants. Cut back perennials that hold no winter interest as they die back. Compost all healthy material. Trash infested or diseased material.

Plant spring bulbs. Planting can be done until ground freezes.

Purchase and pot amaryllis for holidaydisplay. Plants need 6 to 10 weeks to flower. Purchase paperwhites for forcing.

Mulch leaves or collect for municipal pickup — do not put in trash.

Store tender bulbs in a frost-free but cool and dry area. Check monthly and hydrate or dry out as necessary.

Water new plants regularly as necessary until ground freezes.

Secure seasonal decorations against strong winds.

Seal and insulate to keep heat in and pests out.

Check snow shovels and deicing supplies, gas up snow-clearing equipment.

Feed birds regularly and provide fresh water.

— Sue Kittek

The Boston Ivy, 2017

Once a year, usually when we are at our peak of fall color, I try to write about the Boston ivy that covers a neighboring 100 foot long wall parallel, opposite, and next door to Detroit Garden Works. In the early days of the shop, that originally giant cream colored concrete block wall towering over the shop made us all squint. 5 years into our tenure, we planted 10 parthenocissus tricuspidata veitchii, spaced 10 feet apart, at the base of that wall. Not so many years later, that wall was covered with a vigorous and gorgeous vine that made the trip up our driveway as green as could be. All summer long, that vine cools this corridor leading to the front door of the store. Despite the fact that watering the vines was always an afterthought, the leaves were invariably dense and glossy green. I am grateful that my lack of attention never impacts its performance. Few plants deliver as much and ask for so little as Boston Ivy.

This year’s fall display is the worst for a decade. An incredibly dry summer meant the leaves on the ivy began drying up and dropping in early September. The picture above, taken today, tells the story. Large areas of this vigorous vine dropped their leaves before the cool weather arrived. An incredibly warm and lengthy late summer meant what leaves had not fallen from drought have hung on to their green color. As much as I looked forward to the spectacular fall color on this vine, nature rules the plant roost. Am I disappointed? Of course. The fall color on the Boston ivy is not just a an eagerly anticipated event, it is a happening.

From the website Boston ivy I have copied and posted the following: “Boston Ivy is a deciduous vine with bluish fruits and bright red fall foliage. A member of the grape family, Boston Ivy is commonly used as a decorative addition for buildings. This means that it is most often used to grow on sections of buildings, walls, and fences for its aesthetic beauty. The glossy dark green leaves turn bright red in the fall. Showy leaves are held late into fall or early winter. This vine does well in poor soil and can grow in shade to full sun. While technically considered an invasive plant species (originally native to Japan), Boston Ivy’s invasive tendencies are typically shortlived, as it often succumbs to native vines (such as Virginia Creeper) when dispersed out of controlled bounds. Boston Ivy has been grown everywhere from Fenway Park in Boston to Dallas, Texas. Boston Ivy is unique in how it attaches to structures and surfaces. Unlike true ivies, such as English Ivy that attach with invasive aerial rootlets that can severely weaken brick and wood structures, Boston Ivy attaches to surfaces with tendrils tipped with sticky disks. This means that that the plant effectively glues itself to structures without structurally damaging the surface. The adhesive forces are so strong that researchers with the Plant Biomechanics Group have taken notice. Because of this special quality, Boston Ivy is not only a safe addition to structures and buildings, but a wonderful energy saving plant – effectively shading buildings during the summer and allowing buildings to absorb heat during the winter thanks to its deciduous nature.” Should you have a big wall that needs some green, consider this vine.

Boston ivy asks for a big space in which to grow. It is one of the plant world’s top contenders for vigorous vertical growth in our zone. I can attest to this. No matter variations in the fall display due to weather, this vine is a beautiful in every season. The branches are beautiful dusted with snow in the winter. The emerging leaves in the spring are brilliantly colored. The large glossy leaves overlap one another, completely obscuring the wall beneath it all summer long.

Boston ivy yesterday

Boston Ivy 2012

The view of the Boston ivy from the roof in 2016

fall color on the Boston ivy 2015

The Boston ivy at this moment is more green than fiery. I have my fingers crossed that the best is yet to come.

A Tale of Two Vines – The Quest To Cover The Fence!

One of the most common requests I get when visiting a customer is what will grow on my fence?

Well I know firsthand that both popular vines, Boston Ivy and Virginia Creeper, will cover the fence nicely and without the need for trellises to boot! I have both in my back yard that is surrounded by fence with narrow gardens between fence and the pool we inherited when we bought the house. Both vines provide nice fall colour and both are deciduous and lose their leaves in the late fall.

Here’s my opinion of the pros and cons of both of these vines.

1) Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Virginia Creeper is five-leaved ivy, or five-finger vine, it is a species of flowering plant in the vine family Vitaceae, native to eastern and central North America.

Virginia Creeper

I didn’t plant Virginia Creeper but I “borrowed” it from my neighbour behind me. We are in a corner house so my backyard faces the side of my neighbours’ garage. When we moved in 8 years ago, the vine was covering their whole garage wall, right up the soffits.

I appreciated those few weeks of the vine covered garage. If I had to look at a brick wall in my backyard then it was great to see it covered with green… that is until they had it removed from their house, much to my chagrin.

Well I quickly learned there was no such thing as ‘removing’ Virginia creeper! Pro or con, you decide.

As it grew back with a vengeance, my next door neighbour and I decided to train it over the back and eventually side fence between us. If I had to look at a brick wall, I might as well have a green covered fence!

Side fence between next door neighbour and I.

We were quite successful in a short period of time. The vine filled in nicely but needs constant trimming to keep it in check. You can see at the base of the fence that it even grows on the ground and seems to make a beeline for the pool. Since it is a deciduous vine it does allow for some hard pruning to keep it in check.

And even though Virginia Creeper plants attach to fences and walls with “pads” inside of tendrils, they still do a fair bit of twining and are constantly twining through my Japanese Maple (my one show piece in my virtually gardenless back yard). But my biggest pet peeve, believe it or not, is it also interferes with my ornamental grasses that I squeezed in front of it. It is constantly growing throughout the grass, ‘pulling it down’.

Virginia Creeper pulling down ornamental grass.

2) Boston Ivy, Parthenocissus tricuspidata

As for Boston Ivy, I didn’t plant it either. It was already planted in the narrow garden that I inherited along the fence but it was just a small patch and didn’t look like it was going to do much.

Well I guess this story is similar to the tortoise and the hare… as fast as the Virginia Creeper grew the Boston Ivy took its time filling in nice and slowly. It’s much bigger glossier leaves creating a thick matte along the fence attaching itself with similar tendrils as the Virginia Creeper.

Boston Ivy

So while I spent the last 8 years taming the Virginia Creeper, the Boston Ivy crept up on me and pleasantly surprised me with a nice glossy display.

I have tried to remove the Creeper from the back fence this summer and have let the Ivy fill in nicely. The nice cool spring may have contributed to its great growth this year but it has certainly taken its time.

Fence with vines.

So good or bad, I am sure when my customers want to know what will cover their fence, they mean now and not in 8 years!

Imagine, if you will, an ancient stone cottage with a formal garden. Is there ivy growing up along the wall in your mental picture? If so, that’s likely to be English ivy.

This fantastic climbing vine develops rootlets as it grows, allowing it to cling to stone, wood, or nearly anything else. Over time, it spreads and can completely cover a wall or fence.

And yet there are some problems with common ivy that can be difficult to overcome. Not only will it cover the side of your house, but if left untamed, it’ll try to conquer your entire property.

I’ll help you to learn how to keep it contained so it does not become an invasive plant and devour everything in its path!

Top Products to Help You Grow Common Ivy:

  • Neem Oil
  • Safer Soap
  • Monterey Liqui-Cop
  • Serenade Garden
  • Bonide Sulfur Dust


Quick care guide custom illustrated by Seb Westcott.

Common Name English ivy
Scientific Name Hedera helix
Family Araliaceae
Light Partial to full shade preferred
Water Water container plants when getting dry, and no more than .5 to 1” per week for in-ground plants
Temperature 65-85 degrees optimal
Humidity Likes humidity
Soil Well-drained but rich soil
Fertilizer Limit fertilizing, but use high-nitrogen fertilizers when necessary
Pests Spider mites, aphids, thrips, scale insects (mostly mealybugs). Can house garden spiders.
Diseases Fungal-based root and stem rots, fungal and bacterial leaf spots including anthracnose, sooty mold, powdery mildew

All About English Ivy

The famous leaves of ivy, or hedera. Source

Botanically, it’s called Hedera helix. The latter term, helix, is derived from the Greek word “twist” or “turn”, as the vines often twist and turn as they grow.

It has been referred to as a number of other names as well. Tree ivy (Hedera arborea), Hedera baccifera, Hedera acuta, and Hedera grandifolia are all synonyms for the recognized name.

What all forms of European ivy have in common is that they climb upwards by developing rootlets along the vine. These cling readily to a number of surfaces.

The evergreen vines prefer a few surfaces, however. Rough or uneven surfaces are easier for the rootlets to grasp onto. Darker surfaces are preferred, as are moist or damp surfaces.

It’s estimated that across the different species, there are nearly 400 cultivars. These may have variegated coloration or a range of dark to light green leaves.

Those cultivars are mostly from three subspecies, each with slightly different origins and growth patterns. Those subspecies are:

Hedera helix helix

Bit redundant, right? The original English ivy, this subspecies originates in central, northern, and western Europe. These plants do not form rhizomes. The berries it produces are purplish-black in color.

Hedera helix poetarum Nyman

Throughout Italy, Turkey, and the Balkans as well as portions of southeastern Asia, this non-rhizomatic ivy grows. Its fruit is a bright orange-yellow hue.

Hedera helix rhizomatifera McAllister

Found in southeastern Spain, this particular variety does produce rhizomes. It can develop new roots even if the smallest cutting remains behind. Its fruit ranges in the purple to black spectrum.

Other Related Plants

There are also a pair of closely-related ivy species. Both are part of the Hedera family, but neither is a true English ivy, although they’re extremely similar.

These alternative species are Hedera canariensis (Canarian ivy) and Hedera hibernica (Atlantic or Irish ivy). They have differently shaped leaves, but a similar growth habit.

Both of these alternate species are often treated quite similarly, so if you’ve got either of these related species, you should be able to grow them the same way.

Types Of English Ivy

Variegated English ivy. Source: Joel Carnat

It’s believed that there’s at least 400 different types of ivy plants. The American Ivy Society (yes, that’s a thing) has separated these cultivars into different categories based mostly on growing habits.

These categories include the following:

  • Arborescents: These plants have stiffly-upright stems and often produce flowers and fruit. Sturdy upright growers.
  • Bird’s Foot: The leaves of these cultivars are shaped like a bird’s foot, with two shorter lobes and a longer one in the center.
  • Curlies: Ivies of this sort tend to have curled, rippled, or ruffled leaves.
  • Fans: Leaves of this type tend to form an even fan shape across all of the leaf lobes.
  • Hearts: As the name would indicate, the leaves are reminiscent of a heart in shape.
  • Miniatures: These produce small leaves that grow to reach less than ½” in length.
  • Variegated: Cultivars which are variegated have multicolored leaves that are quite popular.

There’s a few other categories, but most types of ivy fall into one of the above or into the “ivy ivies” category where it has a traditional ivy leaf shape.

Beautiful, But Invasive

Climbing vines making their way up a tree. Source: Starr Environmental

You might be surprised to know that many places ban the sale of this plant. This is because it’s truly invasive in these areas and rapidly takes over. But it’s much worse than that.

It’s an evergreen climbing vine, so it can literally grow up the sides of trees and overtake the canopy, causing the tree to suffer from lack of light and slowly die off. Further, it will choke out seedling trees.

That tendency to spread and block the light prevents growth of ground-dwelling native plants as well. This can wreak havoc on a local ecosystem.

Not only does it spread via its vines, but each of its berries has up to five seeds in it. These berries can be carried for miles by birds, spreading vines far and wide.

In the United States, it’s banned from sale throughout most of the Pacific Northwest, where it thrives as an invasive species. Other states may have local bans in certain regions.

However, the plant itself is still readily found even in locations where it’s banned. Its popularity as a ground cover plant as well as a decorative one makes it hard to resist.

In the end, it’s advised that if you’re in a region where ivy thrives, you should try to resist growing it to avoid further spreading. It may be pretty, but it can become a major problem!

Can’t resist? Then monitor your ivy very closely. Remove any fruit before it ripens and is attractive to birds. Keep it trimmed, and either hot-compost or throw away clippings.

Growing ivy in containers is okay in most of these areas as long as these methods are followed. But be very mindful of your plant and make sure it doesn’t start to spread locally.

Finally, it makes a fantastic house plant, even in areas where it’s invasive. Growing it as an indoor plant can be an absolute joy.

Uses Of English Ivy

Growing up the wall of a house. Source: Carl E Lewis

The climbing properties make it excellent use in landscaping. Let’s go over some of the most common uses!

Obviously, it makes a phenomenal houseplant. When grown indoors, the possibility of it becoming an invasive species is negated, and it provides beautiful foliage for your home.

Here’s a video Kevin recorded about growing ivy indoors as a houseplant (the only way he personally grows it):

In addition, it’s one of many plants which does quite well at cleaning your air indoors. Growing these indoors is a great option for most people.

It can also be used to craft a privacy fence or green wall in your garden. If well maintained and monitored so it won’t spread, this can be a great benefit in your yard.

A privacy fence may be formed of a trellis over top of a raised bed, or can be as simple as a chain-link fence you’ve trained the ivy to grow on. You can even make portable fence segments.

Traditionally, it was used to coat the brick walls of homes or other buildings, as the plant material helps block heat from reaching the walls. It keeps homes cooler in summer and warmer in winter this way.

However, if there are any cracks in the walls of the building it’s growing on, the rootlets may grow into them and widen the crack, causing damage to a wall. If the walls are intact, it should not do damage to your home.

Finally, it’s great as an evergreen ground cover is a popular use, especially for miniature cultivars. If kept trimmed back from walls or fences, growing it this way rarely leads to berries forming.

There has been some discussion of using ground ivy in fire-prone areas as a fire prevention method. The green, moist leaves do not as readily catch fire as dry brush.

English Ivy Care

Bloom time for this gorgeous vine. Source: Wiandt Kertészet

With the above section in mind, here’s a list of ideal conditions. For all of its invasive properties, it’s still a stunning plant!

Light & Temperature

If you are growing your ivy indoors, it does well in bright, indirect lighting. The multicolored, variegated cultivars may prefer a bit more light than the solid green ones.

South or west-facing windows may be a bit drying to the plant, especially midsummer. At these times of year, the indirect lighting from a north or east-facing window should be enough.

Using grow lights? If so, opt to keep them far enough away that the heat from the lights doesn’t dry the leaves. It also responds well to T5 grow lights if you’d prefer that.

If growing ivy outdoors, it does well in both partial sun and shade, but prefers areas which are shady during the heat of the day. Temperatures of 65-85° Fahrenheit are perfect.

Heat above 90° can cause poor growth and dieback of plants.

Water & Humidity

Container-grown plants should be watered in a specific way to prevent possible fungal root rots from developing.

Check the soil before watering. If the soil is mostly dry, water thoroughly until water comes out the base of its container. Allow the soil to dry out mostly before the next watering.

In the summer, it may require more water to sustain itself, especially if it’s in full sun. Humidity can be raised around the plant by placing a pebble bowl with water nearby.

If your ivy is planted directly in the ground, its root system likely goes deep enough that it shouldn’t require more than ½” to 1” of water per week.

Finally, whether grown indoors or outdoors, young new plants require a bit more water than older ones do. Make sure the soil of young plants remains evenly moist until established.


They make excellent evergreen ground covers. Source: Starr Environmental

Being somewhat invasive, it can adapt to nearly any type of soil. Dry soil, well-drained soil…it’s all good. In a perfect world, it prefers soil with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.5. Avoid overly clay-based soils, as these can prevent good drainage.

If you’ll be growing your ivy indoors, a mix of equal parts perlite, peat moss, and topsoil makes for a rich soil which can be watered infrequently.

If you water more frequently, opt for either a soilless planting medium or a well draining potting soil. As stated above, only water when your planting medium is mostly dry.


To achieve dense growth, it will require nitrogen, so a fertilizer which is high in nitrogen is perfect. You can opt for a NPK blend that’s higher on the nitrogen, or just nitrogen on its own.

Fertilization should be somewhat infrequent, and should only be applied to the soil. Foliar feeding isn’t a big priority for this plant.

Indoor plants only need to be fertilized while they’re actively growing in the spring or fall months, about once per month. In summer and winter when growth slows, avoid fertilizing.

Outdoor plants can be fed a slow-release nitrogen-rich fertilizer in early spring and early fall, and that keep the soil fertile and moist for your plant’s needs.


English ivy berries, almost fully matured. Source: anro0002

You can propagate it from cuttings or from seed.

Often, seed is not commercially available in all regions. However, viable seed forms in mature berries. Be cautious while harvesting seed, as the berries are poisonous to humans.

It’s much easier to start from cuttings. Begin by selecting a healthy ivy vine, preferably from young growth as it’s more vigorous and with many leaves.

Once you have cut free the ivy vine, you will cut it into segments. Each segment should have leaves, and should be cut off above the leaf and at least 1-1.5” below the leaf.

Dip the cut edge below the leaf into rooting hormone and place into your desired rooting medium. Moistened sand works extremely well for this.

Once placed into the medium, place a plastic bag over the top of the container to help keep the humidity up around the cutting. Keep the sand moist, but not excessively wet.

Your cutting should begin to sprout new growth when it’s nearing time to transplant. This process takes 6-8 weeks time.


Repot when the plant dries out too quickly, when it’s root-bound, or when the foliage gets top-heavy. This is usually going to need to be done about once a year. Use clay or plastic pots, but be aware clay dries out faster!

Avoid using a pot which is much larger than your plant, as this can lead to too much moisture in the soil and can cause root rot. Select a pot which is just large enough to hold the roots.

Always use pre-moistened soil for transplanting. If using a clay pot, soak the pot before planting as well to help promote moisture-retention.

Loosen the root ball so that the roots have room to stretch. Place a mesh screen or old nylons over the drainage holes in the pot, and place a little fresh soil in to hold the screen in place.

Gently spread the roots over the soil in the bottom of the pot, then fill soil in around the roots until just below the pot’s rim. Water the plant in until water comes out the base of the pot.


There are different methods of pruning your English ivy depending on where it’s being grown.

If your ivy is grown as a ground cover, start the year with a solid pruning before new growth begins to form in the spring. Use a mower on its highest height setting, or prune by hand.

Trim along sidewalks, walkways, or other undesired growth pathways at any time to keep the ivy enclosed. A good pair of shears will work well for this purpose.

Ivies that are grown upright can be trimmed at any time to remove excess growth or keep it shaped to the surface it’s climbing on. This is mostly a cosmetic pruning form.

Indoors, the vines can become leggy over time. You can simply pinch back or snip off excess growth just above a leaf to make it more visually appealing.

Growing Problems

The biggest problem with growing English ivy is keeping it from becoming overgrown. But are there other issues that might arise? Let’s talk about that.

Leaves that are going dry or turning brown around the edges are a problem. There’s a few different things which can cause this to happen.

Overwatering can cause fungal root rot issues to develop. This will in time lead to browning leaves and other foliage failures. Don’t overwater!

Plants which don’t have high enough humidity in their air may also develop browning, drying leaves. This is especially true of indoor container plants.

To increase the humidity, you can place it on top of or next to a tray of pebbles with some water in the bottom. As the water evaporates, it provides added humidity. You can also get a humidifier for your plants.

Soil additives such as fertilizer or mineral salts can also cause leaf-browning. Too much fertilizer in the soil or watering with hard water can create toxic levels in the soil makeup.

Avoiding toxicity in the soil can be achieved by watering with distilled water, and making sure you do not fertilize heavily.


A closeup of a flower. Source: Joan Simon

The worst pests that most encounter are spider mites. These pests love dry conditions, and often will make a webbed home beneath the leaves. Spider mite damage is visible as small brownish spots on the leaves, and a bad infestation turns whole leaves brown.

To combat spider mites as well as aphids, spray neem oil on all surfaces of the plant. The oil will smother mite and aphid eggs while it poisons adults.

Thrips can also move into ivy growth. While these prefer other plants, the lush foliage of ivy is a tempting target. To beat thrips, use insecticidal soap with a little neem oil mixed in, and spray it on all portions of the plant. This combination also works for spider mites and aphids!

Another pest which may appear is scale insects, although primarily mealybugs. Like the other pests mentioned above, these can be wiped out using neem oil, although it may be easier to trim off badly-infected leaves and throw them away.

Finally, there’s one last pest that makes its home in English ivy, but this pest is not likely to hurt the plant. An assortment of spiders love to nest inside, as it has plenty of shade and lots of nooks and crannies to hide under.

Spiders are more of a concern if your ivy is along the walls of your home near windows, as the spiders may find a way inside. Your best bet is to ensure that all cracks in walls or windows are sealed thoroughly to stop them from making entry. Most of the time they’re beneficial in the yard!


There’s a list of diseases which might cause damage. One of the most common is fungal-based root rots (and to a lesser extent stem rots). Caused by Phymatotrichum omnivorum or Rhizoctonia solani, both fungi, these start from overwatering.

If your ivy appears to be turning yellow or brown and there’s no visible signs of pest infestation, it’s likely that you’ve developed some rot issues. Repotting in better-draining soil may help recover some plants, but badly rotted roots may require the plant to be disposed of.

Anthracnose is another problem common to ivies. If there’s no sign of spider mites but your leaves are developing brownish spots, this may be the culprit. Spray neem oil over all surfaces of the plant to prevent this, or use a sulfur dust on your ivy to take out the fungal cause.

Other fungal leaf spots such as Ramularia hedericola, Macrophoma spp., Phyllosticta concentrica, Phytophthora spp., and Glomerella cingulata may also develop. Use a copper-based fungicidal spray such as Monterey Liqui-Cop to eliminate these fungi.

Bacterial leaf spots of the Xanthomonas species are not uncommon on ivy as well. These respond well to Serenade Garden as a treatment, but Monterey Liqui-Cop will also work to halt the spread of this disease.

Sooty mold may develop on leaf surfaces. This is actually fungal growth on the insect secretion known as honeydew, which is caused by aphids and other sucking insect pests. To eliminate sooty mold, eliminate the insects, and the grey to black growth will weather away.

Finally, we come to powdery mildew. This dusty-looking mildew is actually another fungal growth caused by too much moisture on the leaves of a plant. If you avoid watering the ivy leaves and it has good airflow, powdery mildew will fade away.

If avoiding moisture on the leaves of your ivy isn’t an option, use neem oil to eliminate outbreaks of powdery mildew when it forms. It will take multiple treatments to kill off the powdery mildew, but it works very well.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is it poisonous to humans or animals?

A: In short, yes. The ASPCA says that English ivy is poisonous to cats, dogs, and horses. Some livestock sources say cattle and sheep may also suffer from eating it.

For humans, the sap can cause a form of contact dermatitis in susceptible people. The leaves and berries are also poisonous. Don’t eat this, and keep it away from children and pets!

Q: It produces blue-black berries…are they edible?

A. Birds eat the berries! But if you’re human (and you must be if you’re reading this), don’t. The blue-black berries can cause gastric distress, difficulties breathing, and much worse conditions.

Q: I’m doing everything I “should” be doing and my it’s still dying…what’s happening?

A. If you’re giving your plant enough light, watering appropriately and have the right kind of soil and your ivy is STILL dying, the most likely culprit is spider mites. Check on the underside of leaves for the telltale signs.

Q: I have a variegated ivy plant, but it’s losing its variegation. How do I get it back?

A. This is a common problem with a simple solution! Variegated foliage will start disappearing if not exposed to enough light. Simply move your plant to an area with more light. The leaves that lost their variegation won’t turn back, but new leaves will be variegated.

The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:
Kevin Espiritu
Founder Did this article help you? × How can we improve it? × Thanks for your feedback!

We’re always looking to improve our articles to help you become an even better gardener.

While you’re here, why not follow us on Facebook and YouTube? Facebook YouTube 670 Shares

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *