Boston Ivy

Creepers are climbing woody vines that enhance residential landscapes as they splash over walls, stretch across fences and clamber up trellises. Deciduous, they (drop)their leaves in the fall, but not before displaying a mass of bright scarlet foliage. Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) is actually from Japan, not Boston, so it is sometimes called Japanese creeper. It is especially valued in densely built, urban areas because it rapidly and tenaciously climbs up stonewalls.  While it is sometimes mistaken for poison ivy because of its shiny three lobed leaf, closer inspection shows a very different leaf shape. In addition to their stunning fall color, all creepers have small blue berries that attract birds to the yard

About Boston Ivy

Size: Boston ivy clings to walls and other supports by means of tiny rootlets that grow along its squarish stems. Unobstructed, it will grow to 60 feet, spreading readily until its stems are pruned or broken.

Foliage: Creepers produce outstanding foliage. Boston ivy leaves have three deeply cut lobes. Their edges are coarsely toothed. Boston ivy foliage is much glossier than that of its cousin, Virginia creeper. The leaves are shiny on both sides, and also turn a brilliant scarlet in the fall.

Flowers: Boston ivy flowers are small and inconspicuous. They appear in mid June after the leaves have emerged. Whitish green, possibly purplish green, they bloom in loose clusters from 2 to 5 inches long.  By fall they give way to tiny round berries, about 1/5 to 1/3 inch in diameter.  Appearing in clusters on bright red stems, this blue-black fruit is eagerly sought by songbirds, some game birds and small mammals. However, it is poisonous to humans.

Boston Ivy Choices

Better Varieties: `Beverly Brooks' has large leaves; `Lowii' has smaller leaves that have 3 to 7 lobes when young; `Purpurea' foliage stays reddish-purple all season; `Veitchii' also has smaller leaves, finer texture.  Small leaved types are less hardy than regular Boston creeper.

Using Boston ivy in the Yard

Boston Ivy is a fine choice for either a low-maintenance groundcover or climbing vine. It is vigorous and attractive and is useful to disguise old stumps, rock piles, cracked walls, and anchor fences.  It makes a good screen on pergolas and trellises. It also looks attractive climbing up trees, which it will not harm. Because it is somewhat sensitive to heat and bright light, it does best on eastern or northern exposed walls or on trees which shade it during the heat of summer. Because it has glossier, denser foliage than its creeper cousins, it is often the preferred vine for walls. Allowing it to climb on wood is not recommended, because the presence of the dense vine makes it difficult to paint the wood, and it may promote rotting of the wood due to dampness over time. The tiny rootlets that fasten the vine stems to the supporting surface often leaves stains or marks when the vine is pruned back or removed.

Planting Boston Ivy

The Right Place

Boston ivy is somewhat less hardy than Virginia creeper, its range extending as far north as the Great Lakes, northern New York and along the Atlantic seaboard into New England (zone 4). It cannot handle winter temperatures below -10° F or so. Creepers like sun, but will grow in light shade. In shade Boston ivy can serve as a ground cover.  This vine will tolerate almost any kind of soil, but is not as tough as Virginia creeper when it comes to drought, heat, flooding and exposure. It appreciates loamy soil that is somewhat acid (pH 5.1 to 7.5).

Planting Nursery Stock

Purchase container grown stock to assure that the vine establishes itself promptly. Be sure to keep it moist during this time. Remove the vine from its container. Spread any matted or tangled roots.  Dig a hole wide enough to accommodate the spread roots and as deep as the container. Set the vine in the hole so that the top of its soil ball is level with the soil surface. Fill the hole with soil, firming it around the vine stem. Plant the vine about 12 inches from its intended support to give the roots room to spread.

Caring for Boston Ivy


Water newly planted vines generously until they are well established. Then they do not require supplemental watering except during periods of drought when normal rainfall is sparse. During these periods, water the Boston ivy every week or so.


Boston ivy is basically very self-reliant.  A handful of all-purpose granular fertilizer for acid loving plants sprinkled on the soil over the vine's roots every spring is appreciated.  Do not allow the fertilizer to touch the leaves or stems of the vine.  Do not overdo, as too rich a diet only causes excess vegetation that might encourage disease or pest problems. For more information see file on Choosing Fertilizer.


A 2 or 3 inch covering of some organic material such as chopped leaves, wood chips, pine needles on the soil around the vine stems helps keep down weeds. It also helps keep the soil moist and protects the vine from possible injury from lawn mower or weed whackers. For more information see file on Using Mulch.


Boston ivy can handle lots of shearing. Any part that has been torn from its support must be pruned, because it won't reattach itself. Always cut away any broken or diseased stems. When the vine has grown to cover the space allotted for it, maintain its size by annual pruning of new growth. For more information see file on Choosing Pruners.


The easiest way to acquire more Boston ivy vines is to take stem cuttings and root them. Cut off a 4 or 5 inch length of new growth or pinch off a tender sucker that has sprouted from the stem of the vine. Strip the leaves off near the cut end and dip it into rooting hormone. This powder is readily available at garden centers. Then stick the cutting in a shallow dish or box of moistened sand, perilite or soiless potting mix. In a week or 10 days thin fibrous roots should begin to develop. When they are an inch or so long, the cuttings can be planted in pots, or outdoors.

Solving occasional boston ivy problems


Probable Causes

Vine Grows too Fast; Lush


Plant Defoliated


Holes Chewed In Leaves

Japanese Beetles

Leaves Yellowed


Leaves Discolored and Deformed


Foliage Curls; Turns Yellow


Leaves Mottled With Pale Spots


Brown to Black Spots; or Blotches on Leaves

Leaf Spot

Leaves Covered with White Powder

Powdery Mildew

Sunken Spots on Leaves


Lesions on Vine Stems


Vine Grows too Fast, Lush due to Overfeeding

If it seems as if a Boston ivy vine needs constant pruning, and puts out mostly leaves but few berries in the fall, it is likely that it's diet is too rich. Omit the annual dose of fertilizer next season and see if the condition is corrected.

Plant Defoliated means Caterpillars

Several kinds of caterpillars may attack creepers such as Boston ivy from time to time.  The striped caterpillar of the eight-spotted forester moth can strip the creeper leaves rapidly, especially in the late summer, when the second generation appears. Spray vine foliage with BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) as soon as feeding caterpillars are visible. They will ingest the bacteria, sicken and die in a matter of days. Repeat spray if it rains. Otherwise, two applications five days apart should remove these pests. For more information see file on Dealing with Caterpillars.

Holes Chewed In Leaves indicates Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles love creepers. They can skeletonize a vine's leaves very rapidly. Adult beetles are 1/2 inch long, with shiny metallic green and brown wing covers. As soon as they appear, begin to handpick those that are within reach. Knock them into a pail of soapy water. If they are too numerous for handpicking alone to be effective, set up pheromone beetle traps, making sure the traps are no closer than 50 feet to the creeper or any other plant vulnerable to beetle attack, such as roses. Handpick stragglers not caught by the traps. If the traps cannot handle the infestation, spray infested vines with a solution of pyrethrum and isopropyl alcohol. Mix 1-tablespoon alcohol into 1-pint pyrethrum spray. For more information see file on Dealing with Japanese Beetles.

Leaves Yellowed due to Scale

If creeper vine leaves turn yellow and drop, suspect a scale infestation. Soft scale is the species that most commonly infests Boston ivy. These insects appear as small bumps along vine stems and under leaves.  Scale insects feed beneath these protective concave shells. They are oval, flattish, and greenish to brownish in color. Caught early on small plants, scale bumps can be scraped off with a fingernail or a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Spraying vines with a mixture of alcohol and insecticidal soap more easily control dense populations. Continue this program every three days for two weeks. Add 1-tablespoon alcohol to a pint of soap spray.

Leaves Discolored and Deformed means Mites

Mites sometimes infest creepers. Spider-shaped, they are about 1/50-inch long, barely visible to the unaided eye. They have 4 pairs of legs, piercing-sucking mouthparts, and very compact bodies.  They cluster on Boston ivy and suck plant juices, causing foliage to become pale and distorted. Look for stippling of tiny yellow dots or red spots on leaves.  Leaves, stalks, and adjacent stems may be distorted or swathed in fine webbing. Spray infested vines with a forceful water spray to knock the mites off the leaf undersides. Do this in the morning, repeating daily for three days. Spray especially persistent mites with insecticidal soap combined with pyrethrum every 3 to 5 days for two weeks. Spray creeper vines with dormant oil in early spring while they are still bare of leaves to kill over wintering mites. For more information see file on Dealing with Mites.

Foliage Curls, Turns Yellow indicates Aphids

Check vine stems and foliage for clusters of soft-bodied, pear-shaped, reddish-brown insects a little bigger than the head of a pin. These are aphids, which suck sap from plant tissues causing the foliage to yellow and wilt. These insects also secrete sticky "honeydew" on the foliage that coats it. It, in turn, encourages sooty mold fungus, which then coats the leaves in black. To dislodge light aphid infestations, spray the undersides of Boston ivy foliage vigorously with water three times, once every other day, in the early morning.  Spray aphids directly with insecticidal soap every 2 to 3 days in cases of heavier infestations. As a last resort, use pyrethrum spray, spraying it directly on the aphids. Take care to use pyrethrum late in the day to minimize killing honeybees and other beneficial insects that reside nearby. For more information see file on Dealing with Aphids.

Leaves Mottled With Pale Spots due to Leafhoppers

These insects, which range all over the United States, are 1/2 to 1/3-inch long.  Either green, brown or yellow with colorful markings, leafhoppers carry their wings in such a way as to appear wedge-shaped. They sometimes lay their eggs on the undersides of Boston ivy leaves and both adults and young suck juices from vine foliage and stems. Infested foliage turns pale, weakens and often drops. Leaves may be covered with sticky honeydew from the insects that, in turn, may encourage mold.  Spray affected vines with an insecticidal soap and alcohol. Add 1-tablespoon alcohol to 1-quart of ready to use soap spray. In areas where leafhopper infestation is an annual event, cover new foliage on vines for a month in the spring with agricultural fleece, the white spun fabric designed for garden use, to act as barrier against infestation. This will not protect against those insects hatched from eggs that have over wintered on the vine, however.

Brown to Black Spots, or Blotches on Leaves means Leaf Spot

Leaf spot diseases in creepers such as Boston ivy are caused by any of several fungi that thrive on moist leaf surfaces. Brown to black spots develops on the leaves of infected plants. These spots often come together to form larger patches of dead tissue. Sometimes there are flecks or black dots around the spots. These are the spore-bearing fruiting bodies of the fungus. Pick off and discard infected leaves, and spray the vine foliage every seven to ten days with a flowable sulfur spray. Avoid wetting the foliage while watering the vines. Mulching around plants helps prevent fungi from being splashed up from the ground by rain. For more information see file on Dealing with Fungal Disease.

Leaves Covered with White Powder due to Powdery Mildew

Powdery mildew appears as a distinctive white powdery coating on the leaves of the plants it infects. This fungus can occur during either very hot, dry or very humid conditions. Where vines are crowded and air does not circulate freely through stems and foliage, the environment is even more favorable for powdery mildew. Badly infected Boston ivy leaves become discolored, distorted, and drop. As soon as the telltale whitish bloom of fungi appears on the foliage, spray it with wettable sulfur once or twice, a week apart. For more information see file on Dealing with Fungal Disease.

Sunken Spots On Leaves indicates Anthracnose

This fungal disease forms distinct lesions on creeper leaves, which appear as moist, sunken spots with fruiting bodies in the center. Often small spots run together causing large blotches. Sometimes the tips of stems die back to several inches below the buds. Pustules containing pinkish spores appear. Dieback and defoliation may occur in severe cases. Gather and destroy fallen leaves. Prune away diseased stems. Spray Boston ivy vines with a copper fungicide such as Bordeaux mixture every 3 to 5 days for three applications. Maintain shrub vigor by feeding and watering well, especially during droughts. Disinfect garden tools with liquid bleach solution or 70 % rubbing alcohol to avoid spreading the fungus to other plants. For more information see file on Dealing with Fungal Disease.

Lesions On Vine Stems due to Canker

A fungus causes canker. It causes certain stems on a creeper vine to delay new growth in the spring, or new growth is less vigorous.  Leaves turn light green then tan, turning upward and lying close to the stem instead of spreading out. Diseased Boston ivy leaves and branches show small, rose-colored, waxy pustules. Bark at the base of an infected stem peels off readily; the wood is discolored. Prune out dead stems as soon as they are visible. Remove and destroy dead leaves caught in vine branches. Spray 4 doses of a copper fungicide or lime sulfur solution: (1) after the dead leaves and dying branches have been removed and before growth starts in the spring; (2) when growth is half completed; (3) after spring growth has been completed; and (4) after fall growth is complete. Keep vine watered, fed and mulched to maintain its vigor. For more information see file on Dealing with Fungal Disease.

Products for growing Boston ivy


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