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Hedera helix

How to grow and care for English ivy

All you need to know about growing English ivy in the garden and as a house plant, in this Grow Guide.

  • Plant size

    10m height

    10m spread

English ivy or common ivy, Hedera helix, is an evergreen climber that creates a leafy backdrop on walls, fences, trellises, buildings and pergolas. It can also be grown in pots or as a house plant.

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Read about 20 of the best evergreen climbers.

English ivy has two phases of growth. When it’s young and in its ‘juvenile’ stage, it grows up and cling to surfaces via the tiny roots that grow along the stems. After around 10 years it becomes an ‘adult’ plant. The leaves change shape, becoming less lobed, and the plant becomes more shrubby. It bears yellow-green flowers in autumn and black berries from winter onwards. 

Juvenile ivy plants can also be grown in pots, along with naturally smaller cultivars. They spill attractively over the sides and are especially useful for providing evergreen interest in winter planting combinations. They can be trained and tied around a wire topiary frame – young and compact ivy plants are sold as house plants.

English ivy is also one of the best climbers for wildlife. The green-yellow flowers on mature plants provide a late source of nectar and pollen for insects, and the black berries have a high calorie content, providing food for birds, including thrushes and blackbirds, in late winter. Ivy also provides shelter for birds, bats and small mammals.

Is English ivy poisonous?

English ivy is sometimes confused with poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, a North American native climber unrelated to English ivy. However, English ivy sap is very mildly poisonous and can irritate the skin and, if ingested, can upset the stomach. It’s best to wear gloves when handling English ivy, and avoid eating it. 

Is English ivy invasive?

English ivy is a tough plant that will grow just about anywhere. in some parts of the world, including the United States and Canada, English ivy grows as an invasive non-native plant. This has lead to its reputation for being invasive, although this is not the case in its native Britain and Europe.

English ivy can grow up trees, but this does not harm the tree – ivy is not parasitic and does not harm its host.

English ivy has been found to keep buildings warmer in winter and cooler and summer. However many people worry about its affect on their home. The aerial roots of ivy do not damage buildings, but they can penetrate cracks in old or damaged brickwork or masonry. English ivy needs to be trimmed to keep it away from gutters, as it can block them. 

If English ivy has become a problem on your property and you want to remove it, sever the main stem. Let the plant die off naturally, then gently pull the ivy from the wall. Bear in mind that English ivy can protect walls, and so by removing it you could incur some damage. Some aerial roots may remain – remove these with a hard brush. Ivy is not easily killed by weedkiller as its glossy leaves stop it penetrating, and chemicals can have an adverse affect on wildlife.

How to grow English ivy

Grow English ivy in any soil, in sun or shade. It does not need regular pruning but excess growth can be cut off if desired, ideally in spring.

English ivy: jump links


Where to grow English ivy

English ivy covering a wall
English ivy covering a wall

English ivy grows in sun or shade, and in any soil as long as it’s not waterlogged or highly acidic.

Vigorous cultivars with large leaves can be used to rapidly hide eyesores, while variegated varieties are useful for brightening shady areas. English ivy can also be used as ground cover in dry shade.

If growing English ivy as a house plant, grow it in a bright, cool spot, out of direct sun. It’s a good choice for a cool porch, unheated conservatory or draughty hallway.


How to plant English ivy

Planting ivy around the edge of a pot
Planting ivy around the edge of a pot

Plant in a hole that is the same depth of the rootball, and water in well.

Ivy is self clinging, which means that it clings to its support via tiny roots (known as adventitious roots) that grow along the stems. It therefore does not need to be trained along wires for support.

Where to buy English ivy online


How to care for English ivy

English ivy growing indoors
English ivy growing indoors

Watering
Keep the soil moist while the plant is establishing, after that it’s drought tolerant. Hedera helix can be trimmed into shape at any time of year, ideally in mid spring. 

Feeding
There’s no need to feed English ivy growing in the ground.

Pruning
There’s no need to prune ivy, but excess growth can be trimmed back at any time of year, ideally in mid-spring. You can prune back an overgrown English ivy in early spring.

If you’re growing English ivy as a house plant, water when the top 2-3cm of compost is dry, allowing any excess to drain away afterwards. Feed monthly in spring and summer.


Growing English ivy: problem solving

Ivy is generally problem free.

Leaf spots – sometimes dark spots, caused by a bacterial or fungal infection, appear on the plant. They don’t affect the health of the plant. Remove any affected leaves and avoid wetting the foliage when watering.

Reversion – sometimes ivy cultivars that have variegated or unusually-shaped leaves will revert to plain green. Just remove these shoots when you spot them. Variegated ivy growing indoors may lose its variegation if it is too shady a spot.

Brown leaf tips – if you’re growing your English ivy indoors, brown leaf tips are a sign that the room is too warm or the air is too dry. Move to a cooler spot.


Advice on buying English ivy

  • Check the eventual height and spread of your plant – this can vary
  • Do not aim to plant ivy up an old building that is already showing signs of damage
  • If you’re planting in a shady spot, consider a variegated variety to brighten it up

Where to buy English ivy online

Best varieties of English ivy to grow

Hedera helix 'Glacier'
Hedera helix ‘Glacier’

Hedera helix ‘Glacier’small, three to five-lobed, grey-green leaves with silver-grey and cream markings. Grow around the garden or in pots. Height x Spread: 2m x 2m

Hedera helix ‘Green Ripple – dark green leaves with prominent, paler veins. May take on a purple tinge in winter. H x S: 6m x 6m

Hedera helix ‘Goldheart’ – deep green leaves, splashed with yellow. It has the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). H x S: 6m x 6m

Hedera helix ‘Goldchild’ – small, grey/green leaves with yellow margins. H x S: 3m x 3m

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