Plants

Common ivy

Hedera helix

Folkert Siemens Folkert SiemensSarah Stehr Sarah Stehr

For facades or as groundcover: Common ivy and its varieties can be used in a variety of places in the garden. It depends on planting and care.

Growth type
  • Climber
Growth height (from)
from 1000.00cm to 2000.00cm
Growth width (from)
from 0.00cm to 0.00cm
Growth characteristics
  • flat growing
  • foothills
  • tight
  • Tendrils
  • Adhesive roots
Flower color
  • green
  • yellow
Flowering time (month)
  • September to October
Flower shape
  • umbels
Flower characteristics
  • unimpressive
Leaf color
  • green
page format
  • 3-5 lobes
  • heart-shaped
  • diamond-shaped
Sheet properties
  • evergreen
  • Autumn coloring
Fruit color
  • black
  • blue
Fruit shape
  • Berry
Fruit characteristics
  • toxic
Light
  • scattered light to shady
Soil type
  • stony to clayey
Soil Moisture
  • moderately dry to humid
ph value
  • alkaline to acidic
Lime compatibility
  • lime-loving
Nutrient requirements
  • nutrient-rich
Humus
  • rich in humus
Decorative or utility value
  • Leaf ornaments
  • picturesque growth
  • Bird protection
  • Nectar or pollen plant
Toxicity
  • toxic
Winter Hardness
  • hardy
Climate zones according to USDA
  • 6
Use
  • Floor mounting
  • ground cover
  • Embankments
  • Single position
  • Grave planting
  • Group planting
  • Interior greening
  • Planters
  • privacy screen
  • Underplanting
  • Surface greening
  • Wall greening
Garden style
  • Formal garden
  • patio
  • Mediterranean garden
  • natural garden
  • Park area
  • Pot garden
  • Forest Garden
  • Cemetery

Origin

Common ivy (Hedera helix) is the only evergreen climbing plant native to central Europe and grows naturally in oak and beech mixed forests, riverside forests, on cliffs, walls and in thickets. The Araliaceae plant is a self-climber - it can even find a hold on a smooth concrete wall.

Growth

Ivy climbs up to 65.62 feet high and can live for over 500 years - in which case it forms trunks over 3.28 feet in diameter. It grows with the help of tendrils that can anchor to almost any substrate. After planting it initially grows extremely slowly. Later on, in particular after pruning, it may grow shoots over 3.28 feet a year. Old plants suddenly form thicker and upright growing shoots that no longer climb. This is referred to the old-aged form of ivy that is available commercially under the name Hedera helix ‘Arborescens’. The bark of younger shoots is initially green to brownish-red, the older twigs and branches are generally light gray.

Ivy moving up a wall

Ivy is a self-climber that moves up walls and facades with the help of small tendrils

Leaves

The evergreen, opposite leaves of the ivy are extremely variable, which has contributed to the selection of numerous garden types. The wild species has dark green, three to five lobed leaves with conspicuous, light colored leaf veins. The leaves of the older type are unlobed and diamond shaped to cordate. Many varieties of common ivy also turn a light bronze, pink, red or dark red color in the late fall at low temperatures. Some varieties, such as ‘Buttercup’, only show their fall foliage on the underside of the leaf. The special feature here: The plant simply turns its leaves around in the fall so that the underside faces upwards.

Flowers

Ivy has inconspicuous, green-yellow flowers that are arranged in small umbels. These do not appear on the shoots of older types until September and contain lots of nectar. Due to its late flowering period, common ivy is a very important food source for honey bees and other insects.

Ivy flowers

The green-yellow flowers only form on older types of ivy and are a late food source for honey bees and other insects

Fruit

The spherical, black-blue fruit of the ivy does not appear until after flowering in the spring, between February and April; they are slightly poisonous to humans . They are popular among blackbirds and other species of thrush.

Location

Common ivy belongs to the group of climbing plants for shady areas and prefers off-sunny to heavily shaded, humid locations. In the sunshine it only grows with sufficiently damp soil, although then it often leads to frost damage from the winter sun. Some colorful foliage varieties such as ‘Goldheart’ require two to three hours of sunlight a day for the leaves to take on color.

Soil

The climbing shrub prefers a humus, nutrient, and lime-rich substrate, however it is adaptable and even grows in heavily rooted soil under birch trees. The soil should also be fresh to damp and alkaline, although common ivy also thrives on slightly acidic to acidic substrates.

Planting

If you intend to plant ivy, spring is the best time. This gives the plants time to securely take root before the first winter. In general, nothing much happens in the first two years after planting, but afterwards, the plants start to grow vigorously in the day. The shoots of freshly planted ivy should be cut back by about a half to ensure that the climbing shrub branches well right from the start.

Ivy on a wall

Once it has grown in properly, ivy grows vigorously during the day

Care

Clearing individual shoots or entire plants is extremely laborious, as ivy is difficult to remove due to its tendrils. On solid masonry it is easiest to burn them out with a gas burner and then scrub them away with a strong brush. Ivy grows considerably better in mulched soil than naked, mineral earth. The plant does not require regular fertilizing and also copes well with drought.

Pruning

Common ivy is a climbing plant that grows quickly and can move up a facade in next to no time. You will need to prune the ivy to keep it in check. You can cut back the young shoots in the spring and repeat this pruning again in summer if necessary. The flowering shoots standing horizontal from the wall on older plants should be redirected along side shoots. This will maintain the shape and at the same time reduce the weight. The best time for this pruning is early in the spring, as later on ivy is a popular nesting place for birds. For ivy greenery on house walls you only need to prune back around the windows with a hedge trimmer.

Winter protection

Young plants growing in unfavorable and heavily-lit locations should be protected against the winter sun with a fleece.

Use

Would you like to add greenery to your house walls with a robust climber? Then you should make sure that the facade is in a good condition. If the plaster has cracks from permanent humidity, the plant will try to tap into these water sources. Proper roots will develop from the small tendrils at these points. These grow into the cracks and lift the plaster over time with their thick growth. On the other hand, an intact ivy facade will last for a long time, as the dense wall of foliage protects the plaster against weather and temperature influences. Once the ivy has started to spread over the facade, it forms an important habitat for many heat-loving insects and species of bird.

In the garden, ivy even grows where most other species struggle to take hold, for example in the and birch trees. However, this dominance also conceals risks, as most shrubs and bushes throw in towel sooner or later if they have to compete with ivy roots. This is why only equally hardy representatives such as cherry laurel, hosta, rodgersia and goat’s beard survive in the same area. Ivy also grows easily up a hedge, which then provides a full visual screen even in the winter. It has even proven itself as winter-hardy groundcover.

Ivy on a house wall

Ivy can turn entire house walls green over the years - and its tendrils mean it doesn’t need a trellis

There are several myths surrounding ivy, however, only a few are true. Accordingly, ivy is neither a tree parasite, and nor does it strangle trees, rather it only uses them as a climbing aid. As ivy can climb everywhere without scaffolding assistance, it is perfect for concealing unattractive building facades, similarly to Virginia creeper. Although it will not grace new concrete walls and white painted facades, among other places. The shoots shy away from bright, highly reflective surfaces as they do not cope well with dazzling light. This behavior is known as negative photoaxis in botanical language. The problem can generally be resolved by a somewhat darker shade of coating. New concrete walls have an extremely high pH value: ivy is not a big fan of this, either. So it may take a few years until its tiny tendrils take hold on these types of walls.

Cough syrup

Ivy is an ingredient in medicines such as cough syrup. However, you should not make your own for internal consumption

Common ivy is also suitable for certain uses beyond the garden. It can be used to make a dish-washing agent, among other things, and cleaning agents made from ivy leaves have proven themselves to be highly effective. Many people swear by ivy balms applied directly to the skin to treat eczema and cellulite. A note of caution: Sensitive people react with contact allergies, even upon contact when working in the garden - in this case, cosmetic applications are not at all recommended. And we would warn even more vociferously against internal use: Ivy is indeed a component of medicines such as cough syrup, however you should not make these yourself. Serious poisoning symptoms occur all too frequently after consumption, such as stomach and intestinal disorders.

Varieties

Today, countless varieties of common ivy are commercially available, however, a few of them are not winter-hardy and are therefore only recommended as indoor ivy. Specimens with white leaf parts in particular or only suitable for indoors or window boxes. ‘Glacier’ and ‘Goldheart’ are two varieties with colorful foliage that survive the winter unscathed. They should not be in too much shade as the foliage then noticeably discolors. The various ivy varieties also differ in their growth pace. If you want to cover the entire house in green, you should choose vigorous breeds such as ‘Woerneri’ or ‘Plattensee’. For small areas or, decorative, slow growing types are more suitable.

Hedera helix ‘Glacier’

The ivy variety Hedera helix ‘Glacier’ is decorative with variegated foliage

Propagation

If you would like to propagate ivy, the best way is to use cuttings. The best time for this is late summer. Cut off year old shoots so that they have two nodes with leaves on them and remove the bottom leaf. Place three cuttings in a pot with potting soil in such a way that the lower node is well covered with soil. If you cover the pot with a film bag, the soil will remain evenly damp until the shoots have formed roots after two months at the latest.

Diseases and Pests

Various leaf spot diseases such as the Colletotrichum fungus or the Phyllosticta fungus can occur on common ivy. You should heavily prune infested plants and remove infected foliage. As damp environments encourage the spread of fungal diseases, it is recommended to remove any dropped fall foliage from the ivy. Further, ivy - particularly the variegated varieties - is susceptible to the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris pv. hederae, which triggers ivy cancer. Typical symptoms of this are small, sharp-edged spots on the leaf margin that spread to the leaves bit by bit and in the worst case, also the stem. It cannot really be combatted, however, you can at least curb the spread by removing the affected plants.

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