Caring For English Ivy

The care information provided in this section represents the kind of practical advice is available for all the plants in this web site if you subscribe to the monthly customized newsletter Yardener’s Advisor.

When English Ivy is first planted it needs regular watering--an inch of water a week from rain or from a watering can, soaker hose, or drip irrigation--until it becomes established. Otherwise it needs supplemental watering only during droughts and in late fall before the ground freezes.

If you have good soil with lots of organic matter and if your young plants are well mulched, water them only when it has not rained for a week or two.

If you have poor soil with little organic content or if you choose not to use mulch, you may have to water the plants every sunny day, at least until they are well on their way. This is especially true for ivies growing in containers. For information on products see the file on Choosing Watering Equipment

English ivy needs very little, if any, fertilizer. If you chose to fertilize, do so in the spring. Sprinkle a little fertilizer on the soil in the ivy bed. Be careful not to get it on the foliage. Use about 2 tablespoons or less per square foot of soil surface. The slow-acting nitrogen will sustain the ivy for the entire growing season. Be stingy, because excess fertilizer encourages fungal diseases. Some variegated ivy cultivars, such as ‘Gold Dust’ or ‘Jubilee,’ lose some of their desirable colors if they receive too much nitrogen. For more information see the file for Fertilizer Products

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Spread a 2 to 4 inch thick layer of organic mulch such as chopped leaves or wood chips on the soil around the new plants. Mulch improves soil structure and drainage and provides some nutrition as it decomposes over time. It will also discourage weeds, retain moisture, and cool the soil. After 1 to 2 years, the ivy plants will form a tight mat and no further mulching will be necessary. For more information see the file on Using Mulch

Some types of English ivy are "self-branching", that is, they make numerous side branches rather than long vining shoots, which gives them a more compact appearance. These types generally need less pruning than the vining ones. The vining types may need clipping as often as 3 to 4 times a season to keep them from growing beyond their allotted space. Encourage ivy to fill in sparse spots by pinching off the stem tips. It's best to hand pull any weeds growing in between plants to avoid harming the ivy roots.
A long established ivy bed often benefits from shearing back a few inches every 3 or 4 years. Use a hand hedge clipper, hand grass shears, or a power lawn mower at its highest blade setting to avoid cutting the plants to the ground. This renovation encourages sparsely growing plants to fill in and revitalizes tired foliage. If new growth is killed back by below-zero temperatures in winter, just prune this dead material away. It will be quickly replaced.

Winter Protection
Although some types of English ivy, such as ‘Baltica,’ are known for their ability to withstand harsh winter conditions, the plants are at risk when cold or frozen soils make it hard for the roots to replace moisture as fast as it evaporates from their evergreen leaves. If exposed to full sun or sweeping winds at this time, many leaves may be "burned."
After a dry summer or fall, thoroughly soak the soil around the plants before the ground freezes hard to provide the water they need for winter. Protect newly planted ivies that are in a south or southwest-facing situation by covering them with white polyspun floating row cover. Try spraying vulnerable plants with an anti-transpirant spray product. Nontoxic and biodegradable, these anti-desiccants form a clear, flexible film on leaves and needles that reduces their moisture loss by up to 80% while allowing gas exchange. Spray when the air temperature is above 40°F and before the ground freezes hard. When temperatures moderate in midwinter repeat spray to renew the protective coating. See the files on Winter Protection For Plants and Plant Protection Supplies

It is very easy to acquire more English Ivy plants by starting new ones from cut pieces of stem. With a sharp knife, cut off a piece of young stem about 4 to 6 inches back from its growing tip. Remove 3 or 4 of the lowest leaves. Put the cuttings in a glass of water or insert 1/3 of their length into a shallow pan or pot of damp sand, vermiculite or 1/3 soiless potting mix and 2/3 perilite well mixed.

After about 4 to 6 weeks, give each cutting a light tug—if there is resistance, roots have formed. Pot the rooted cuttings in soil until it is time to plant them outdoors. If you take cuttings from juvenile foliage, you will get juvenile plants, but if you take cuttings of mature growth, the new plants will continue to grow in the mature form.