Using English Ivy

As a groundcover and climbing vine, English ivy is extremely versatile. It is generally a tough, reliable and fast-growing plant. The variegated and light-colored leaves of some varieties are ideal for brightening up dark areas under trees and shrubs. In fact, it is one of the few plants that grows well under trees like maples and beeches. In addition, English ivy's deep roots retard soil erosion, making it an ideal plant for stabilizing steep banks.

Planted over bulb beds, English ivy foliage sets off spring bulbs, and then masks their dying foliage. Plant ivy in rock gardens, use it as edging for patios, or train it on a trellis to create a privacy screen. Covering brick walls it cools them in the summer and softens their edges year round. Some varieties can be trained as hedges, and still others work well as fast growing topiary plants.

Attracting Wildlife: English Ivy’s dense canopy of leaves and stems shelters many insects and animals. As a groundcover it is a favorite nesting place for voles and mice that like to build nests in its year round protection. Ground-feeding birds find spider eggs, insects in various life stages, and other tidbits in the leaf litter below, even in winter when much other plant cover is lacking. Blackbirds and others feed on the berries of the mature climbing plants; other birds like to nest or roost in the ivy’s thick growth next to a heat retaining masonry wall.

Few animals eat the ivy plant. In fact, because deer only occasionally eats it, English Ivy is often listed as a “deer-resistant” landscape plant in the Northeast.

Quick Ivy Topiary: Like the Oriental art of bonsai, topiary involves shaping plants into living art objects by pruning or shearing branches or training them to grow on wire forms to achieve a decorative sculptured effect. Fast-growing ivy is eminently suitable for topiary. With enough rooted ivy cuttings you can complete a topiary in one day.

Form a cylinder or other shape frame from galvanized chicken wire and secure it upright in a pot. Stuff this frame tightly with wet, un-milled sphagnum moss, securing the moss to the frame with rustproof wire so that the wire frame is completely filled. Then, carefully plant rooted ivy cuttings in the moss. Space them more or less closely together, depending on the leaf size of the type of ivy, and gently tie them on the frame with short pieces of wire to train them to conform to its shape. Some ivy that lend themselves to this treatment are ‘Itsy Bitsy,’ ‘Ivalace,’ ‘Jubilee,’ ‘Green Feather,’ ‘Needlepoint,’ and ‘Shamrock.’

Using English Ivy in Containers: English ivy will grow in any kind of traditional plant container such as a tub or large clay pot, on a shaded porch or patio. It also makes nice filler for a window box, setting off shade tolerant annuals such as begonias or impatiens in the summer and providing evergreen foliage all winter. In northern climates, enjoy the exotic, less-hardy varieties in hanging containers that can be brought indoors over the winter. Do not put them outdoors in full sun.

Fill containers with good quality soiless potting mix rather than garden soil. Soiless mix is lighter, drains better, and is sterile so that most disease problems can be avoided. Because it lacks soil and its nutrients, mix in some all-purpose slow acting granular fertilizer when you plant, or water the plants every few days with a very dilute liquid fertilizer added to the water. If you put your plants in vulnerable locations such as a patio exposed to warmer west or southwest winds, or in an elevated location, they may need a slightly larger container to retard rapid drying out.

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