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English Ivy Plants


Ivy wall ballscanlon/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Taxonomy of English Ivy Plants:

Plant taxonomy classifies English ivy plants as Hedera helix.


Botanically speaking, English ivy plants are evergreen perennials. They are classified as woody vines.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones for English Ivy Plants:

You can grow these vines in zones 4-9.


English ivy plants can act as groundcovers, spreading horizontally and reaching 8" in height. But they are also climbers, due to their aerial rootlets, which allow them to climb to heights of 50' or more. They will eventually bear insignificant greenish flowers but are grown primarily for their evergreen leaves. In this regard, they could be classified as foliage plants, as can another popular groundcover: pachysandra.

Care for English Ivy Plants:

Trim this traditional groundcover in the spring, to keep it manageable and discourage bacterial leaf spot. Spray with insecticidal soap and horticultural oil as necessary to control mites.

Sun and Soil Requirements for English Ivy Plants:

Grow this evergreen vine in a well-drained soil in part shade to full shade.

Uses in Landscaping:

Their ability to grow in shade has made English ivy plants a traditional groundcover for planting under trees. Such areas in your landscaping can be extremely problematic, as most grasses will not grow well there. Vigorous, with a dense growth habit, this groundcover can be effective where the object is to crowd out weeds. On slopes, they can be used for soil erosion control.

Some take advantage of the climbing ability of these vines to use them to cover a wall. They scale a wall by means of holdfasts, which are aerial root-like structures. As you can well imagine with a name like "holdfasts," this feature has the potential to result in damage to a wall when removing the vines from it. Growing such vines on walls may or not be a good idea, depending on the composition of the wall, etc.

Their holdfasts also allow them to grow on trees. Homeowners often wonder if English ivy can harm trees. The fact is, any vigorous vine can hurt a tree, because the leaves of a vine growing in a tree's canopy will block sunlight that would otherwise be used by the tree's leaves in photosynthesis. The added weight from the vine is also an unnecessary burden on any tree with stability issues.

If English ivy is already climbing one of your trees and you wish to remove it, be careful. Don't just rip the vines off, which could hurt the tree's bark. Instead, cut each vine where you find it at the base of the tree, where it begins its ascent. Cut off from the earth (and thus from a water source), the part of the vine left anchored in the tree bark will eventually wither and die.

Others grow these plants in hanging baskets, letting them cascade over the sides. Indeed, considering their invasive quality (see below), the latter is a very sensible way in which to grow the vines for their beauty without having to worry that they will spread out of control.

Caveats in Growing English Ivy Plants:

They have fallen out of favor in many circles in North America, where they are considered invasive, especially in the Pacific Northwest. These days, it seems as many people wish to learn how to get rid of English ivy plants as wish to learn how to grow them. They are also poisonous plants.

English Ivy Plants in History:

In the Christmas carol, "The Holly and The Ivy," we see a symbolism with these two evergreen plants that derives from pagan times. While the druids thought of holly as masculine and suggestive of a male deity, English ivy plants for them represented female divinity.

In the ancient Greco-Roman world, ivy was sacred to the god, Dionysus (Bacchus in Latin).

Return to Vines for Shade

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