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There’s something romantic about ivy. We’ve all admired buildings covered in the climbing greenery that lends an Old-World feel to just about anything it touches. The eager vine is part of the genus Hedera, which includes more than 15 different species grown across Europe and Asia. It goes beyond English meadow gardens or vine-covered cottages and pergolas, though: It can flourish both indoors and out, and is a great option for gardeners hoping to grow something beautiful in a less-than-hospitable location—or those whose thumbs tend to be more black than green.
Common Ivy Varieties
All ivy varieties are nearly interchangeable, says Anna Prinzo, a principal gardener at Digs. That being said, there are a few standouts, like English ivy (which is both vigorous and sometimes invasive), Algerian ivy (which comes with variegated and creamy white leaves), Boston ivy (this one can change colors with the seasons and loses leaves in the winter), Glacier ivy (another variegated version that grows well in containers), Himalayan ivy (the evergreen vine prefers shade), and Needlepoint ivy (which has thin, delicate evergreen leaves).
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How to Plant and Grow Ivy Outdoors
There isn’t much finesse to growing ivy outdoors. Most varieties can be planted to climb or as ground cover; simply select a spot with adequate light requirements (depending on the variety, it will need partial sun or shade), dig into nutrient-rich soil (take note: ivy doesn’t thrive in clay soil), and place the root ball of the ivy into the ground.
According to experts at the Chicago Botanic Garden, planting should take place in fall or spring. Root balls should be placed 1 to 2 feet apart between individual plants, but keep the vines at least 2 feet away from walls or other trees if you don’t want them to climb. Water thoroughly during the first year and mulch to eliminate competing weeds—and then sit back and watch your beautiful ivy spread.
Preventing Invasive Spread
While ivy is a gorgeous evergreen solution in the right spot, when left to its own devices, it can get out of control and take over, says Prinzo. “Be sure to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t grow beyond the space you want it in, and avoid excess moisture at the roots and leaves,” she says.
Varieties like Atlantic ivy, which thrive in Northern America, can be especially troublesome outdoors, says Melvin Cubian, an in-house horticulturist and gardening advisor with PlantIn. “Do not throw trimmings in the wild because they can overgrow and outcompete the native flora,” he says.
You won’t have to spend too much time pruning back this woody vine so long as you stay on top of it. “Ivy loves to go wild to the point where it can be invasive,” says Prinzo. “Keep the growth trimmed so it doesn’t climb up and into trees and other plants, and keep it away from walls [if you don’t want it to grow upwards]. It can damage surfaces it attaches itself to.”
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How to Care for Ivy Indoors
When growing ivy indoors, the trickiest thing to get right is the temperature, says Cubian. You’ll want to stay between 64.4 and 77 degrees.
Like with growing ivy outdoors, light requirements for indoor growth will vary depending on the variety—but you typically can’t go wrong with partial sun or partial shade, says Prinzo. “In general, it’s best to avoid full sun because it can burn the leaves in both summer and winter,” she says. When grown indoors, that means indirect sunshine or a spot next to a windowsill, adds Cubian.
Soil and Water
The good news for those with not-so-green thumbs is that ivy can thrive on neglect if it’s in the right spot, shares Prinzo. That means potting it in well-draining soil and supplying around an inch of water a week. Just avoid over-watering the plant; according to Cubian, a potting medium that doesn’t drain well could result in root rot. “It may be too late to save them once those symptoms appear,” he says.
That benign neglect carries over to ivy’s feeding habits, as well. “Ivy requires minimal feeding, but applying a balanced fertilizer (20-20-20, for example) in early spring and mid-summer will help it thrive,” shares Prinzo.
If you notice leaf spots on your ivy houseplant, give your plant a haircut, says Cubian. All they’ll need is a slight trim so that leaves no longer overlap; this will improve air circulation.
How to Repot Ivy
If your soil isn’t draining the way it once did, or if you notice some of the plant’s roots have begun creeping out of the drain holes, it may be time to repot your ivy. To do this, you’ll need a pot that is just 1 inch larger in diameter.
Then, carefully remove your ivy from its existing pot and place it into the bigger vessel, being sure to add fresh dirt below and along the sides of the plant.
How to Propagate Ivy
The good news for ivy lovers is that it’s an easy plant to propagate in water. “Trim a 4- to 6-inch piece of ivy from a healthy plant. Clip off the leaves on the bottom half of the stem and place the stem in water the same way you would a cut flower,” Prinzo explains. “Keep the cutting in bright indirect light and replenish the water as needed.”
Roots should start sprouting around the three week mark, and between weeks four and six, you should have enough new root growth to move the cutting into fresh soil.
Common Problems With Ivy
Prinzo says the most common ivy problems are caused by too much moisture, whether on the leaves or at the roots. “If the entire leaf turns brown, it’s likely root rot, and either the watering should be reduced or the soil amended for better drainage (or both),” she says.
Small spots on the leaves are signs of both bacterial and fungal leaf spot, which happen when moisture sits on the surface of the leaves for too long. “To remedy leaf spot, avoid watering from overhead by using drip irrigation, or water in the morning so any moisture on the leaves has more time to evaporate before evening,” Prinzo says. Fortunately, both of these issues are easy to fix with proper pruning and water management, says Cubian.