Ivy cultivation

How to grow ivy

Characteristics of Hedera helix

Ivy is a plant that grows practically throughout Europe, in places where average winter temperatures do not fall below -2 ° C.

We can find it from the south of Scandinavia to the Iberian Peninsula, reaching by the east Cyprus and the north of Turkey.

It grows mainly in shady places in forests, walls, rocks, etc., from the level of the sea to about 1000 m of altitude. It has been introduced in many places in the rest of the world.

Its great adaptability to different types of terrain and climates has determined that, in many of them, ivy has become an invasive plant. Such is the case of the United States and Australia, where its cultivation is discouraged and information leaflets are provided explaining how to eradicate it.

Botanical description of ivy

Ivy leaves
Ivy leaves

Perennial and climbing plant of the Araliaceae family up to 30 m high. Adventitious roots.

Leaves from 5 to 10 cm in length; Dark green bright above, light green on the underside; Alternate, petiolated and with innervation evident. The younger, palmately-lobulated with 3-5 lobes; The adults or those that are exposed to the sun, whole.

Yellowish green flowers 3 to 5 centimeters in diameter, arranged in clusters composed of numerous umbels. They have 5 stamens and five petals. Flowering occurs from late summer to early fall.

Berry fruits, purple or yellow black, according to the different subspecies. The fruits develop throughout the autumn and winter and mature in spring.

Types and varieties of ivy

Ivy in a gate
Ivy is one of the most common climbers in gates, walls and fences

Ivy is cultivated mainly because it forms decorative curtains with their dense foliage, very suitable to cover walls, fences, etc.

From the wild ivy (Hedera helix L.) there have been obtained multitude of varieties that differ fundamentally by the leaves.

Among them we can mention the following:

  • Hedera helix “Atropurpurea”: ​​with reddish stems and leaves that change the usual green by reddish purple when autumn arrives.
  • Hedera helix “Goldheart”: With admirable variegated golden colors.
  • Hedera helix “Glacier”: With greyish green leaves and silvery green shades.
  • Hedera helix “Pedata”: With leaves that have great lobes and very prominent veins.
  • Hedera helix subsp. Hibernica: It is a subspecies of ivy with cut and triangular leaves. It is used much more than the common ivy as decorative plant. There is the Hedera helix subsp. Hibernica “Sarniensis” that has the clearest venation. Also widely used as decorative ivy. Both are commonly known as “Small-Leafed Ivy”.

Ivy culture: Environment and exposure

variegated ivy
Variegated ivy is very decorative and elegant on the walls

Ivy is an ideal climber for walls, fences, gates in the shade. It grows in shady places, so when grown outdoors, it must be planted in the shade to reach its maximum yield.

When grown in the sun, its growth is very limited and when too much light hits its leaves they lose their dark bright green and become lighter.

A different case is the variegated varieties, which are those whose leaves have bands or lighter spots. These types of ivy varieties are grown outside the full sun but in a well-lit place. If we cultivate them in the shade, the leaves, little by little, are losing the light tones and they become darker and evenly green.

Grown indoors, it is advisable for ivy to receive 3 to 4 hours of direct sunlight, although masked, better in the morning.

It also grows very well when grown in other places in the house with indirect light. It can also be grown on a window sill. In this case, the windows facing north are the most convenient.

Ivy: Temperature

Ivy does not like too warm environments. Although it can live in Mediterranean climates with very hot summers, it prefers a much cooler environment with temperatures no higher than 18 or 20 ºC.

The best climate is the temperate, with a daytime temperature between 20 and 22 ° C, and a night temperature between 10 and 13 ° C.

On the other hand, although it is very resistant to the low temperatures, it does not like frost. For this reason, it does not grow in their natural state in places where the greater part of the winter moves by temperatures below -2 ºC.

Ivy: Watering

Ivy does not like too steady watering. It will be enough to water it every 3 or 4 days in the hottest months and once a week in the colder months.

Excessive watering, especially in winter, usually causes blackening of leaves or stems by rotting and may also be responsible for the appearance of fungi. It is advisable, when the ivy is not growing, let the upper part of the soil dry between irrigation and irrigation.

On the other hand, a lack of irrigation, combined with a lack of environmental humidity, can produce dry, yellow or wrinkled leaves. Therefore, when grown as an indoor plant, it is convenient to spray from time to time, especially in very dry rooms with heating.

An interesting resource is to place some pots with water in the room so that the evaporation increases humidity.

Ivy: Soil, compost, pruning and care

Wild ivy thrives on any type of soil, provided it has a good drainage to prevent the onset of diseases.

If we have to plant an ivy in a pot, a very balanced soil is one that consists of a part of garden soil, another part of peat or forest mulch and a third of sand.

Ivy should not be fertilized during the first 3 to 4 months after planting. Later, and during the growing season, it is advisable to do it with a general fertilizer or green manure once every month. You can use foliar fertilizer, which will be applied with irrigation or directly on the soil.

Ivy: Pruning and production of new leaves

If ivy is allowed to grow freely, this usually presents a very frayed shape. In order to improve the appearance and give it a more compact form the ivy must perform a pruning regularly every half year.

On the other hand, the floriferous branches can be pricked occasionally to avoid flowers to be born. With this the energy of the plant will be destined to produce new green and tender leaves.

Ivy: Transplantation

Any ivy, planted in a pot or container, should be transplanted when symptoms present are too tight in the pot. This can be done at any time of the year.

Provide it a bigger pot that will allow new soil to be added for further root growth. In general terms, it is often necessary to transplant every two or three years.

Ivy: Plant reproduction

Ivy can be reproduced by two methods:

  • Reproduction by cuttings in spring: To do this, cut a fragment of 10 – 20 cm of the end of a branch and introduce it into the soil.

Previously, the soil must be very moist, and moisture must be kept constantly. In addition, we will have to undo the earth with the hands to crumble it, and then to compact it slightly.

In this way, the cutting can take root and grow as a new plant. (Compact soil makes rooting difficult)

  • Reproduction by layering: Another method widely used and much safer is the layering, which is done in summer. To do this, fold a twig in the middle of it so that this part touches the soil of the garden or the soil of another pot.

Cover the contact area well with earth and place a stone on top so that the branch does not rise. After a few days, it begins to produce roots.

When it is well rooted, cut the branch in front of the layer, so that we have a new plant.

Uses of ivy as an ornamental plant

ivy in a pot
An ivy in a pot

Ivy is a widely used gardening plant. In gardening is used mainly as climbing plant, to decorate walls, walls, gates. Posts, etc. Wild ivy can climb with the help of aerial roots that develop on stems. In spite of this, some “less strong” cultivated ivies may need a support to favor their grip, especially when they are young.

Other more vigorous varieties, such as Hedera helix “Pedata”, or Hedera helix “Goldheart”, do not need any support to climb.

The gripping capacity of the aerial roots of the ivy is so great that they can damage the walls or supports by which it climbs when they are not in good condition. If you plant an ivy, you will have to make sure that the surface ivy is climbing on is consistent. Monitor its growth from time to time.

Ivy can also be used to cover horizontal surfaces, which can decorate an empty space and also help prevent the development of herbs. Cultivated in this way, it manifests a great expansive power that can turn it into an invasive weed.

Ivy, like an indoor plant

Especially recognized varieties with variegated leaves can be grown as indoor plants.

Planted inside a container or a pot that is more or less voluminous, you can guide its growth properly or let them hang from a pot to beautify some corner of our house.

The ivy supports a frequent pruning so they are used as topiary plants to cut and give very varied shapes.

Ivy as a medicinal plant

Internally, as a medicinal plant, it has been used in the past to combat numerous diseases of the respiratory system, especially as an expectorant in case of bronchitis, cold, etc.

Also as emetic, or purgative to avoid constipation.

The leaf decoctions, in external treatments, to calm pain and to treat sores or wounds.

Despite these traditional uses, ivy is a poisonous plant whose fruits can be deadly for man.

That is why modern herbal medicine recommends not to use remedies made with ivy, especially those that are used internally.

* More information on: Medicinal Properties of Ivy

Uses of ivy in the medical and cosmetic industry

From components obtained from ivy, the medical industry produces medicinal products, such as expectorants. Likewise the cosmetics industry uses some of its derivatives for the manufacture of anti-cellulites.

Ivy as a biological resource

Ivy plays a very interesting role in the ecosystems where they live. Many insects, including bees, feed on its flowers, which are able to take advantage of it to produce honey which, interestingly, as a poisonous plant, is edible for humans.

It is believed that many invertebrate animals take advantage of the abundant nectar of these plants to feed themselves and it is assumed that at least fifteen birds feed on their fruits, a particularly valuable resource in a cold season when there is little food in the field.

Ivy has a large surface growth and very strong roots and stems. All this makes it an interesting groundcover plant , protecting the soil from erosion caused by rain and wind.

In flat places and in areas with steep slopes and rocks, ivy is able to fix the terrain, preventing the displacement of materials and the falling of stones or rocks.

Many slopes oriented to the north maintain their original shape by the natural growth of this plant. Thus, ivy can be used to fix slopes, walls, margins, rocks, or roadsides in shady places

Botanical illustration of different species and varieties of ivy

Growing ivy: Pests and diseases

The main pests that affect ivy are:

  • Aphids: They constitute one of the main plagues of the plants. They develop especially with the rise in temperature, from the spring. The heat and the dryness favor their development.
  • Cochineal: insects that stick to plants, especially to young shoots. They live at the expense of them because they have sucking organs that are responsible for extracting the sap from the plants. They produce sticky secretions on which the sooty mold, a type of fungus is formed.

They especially attack indoor plants, because the environmental conditions of the enclosed spaces (environmental dryness) favor their development. To eliminate them, we must remove them all with the help of a cloth soaked in alcohol. Later, we will apply a systemic insecticide and separate the contaminated plant from the rest of plants to prevent contamination.

  • Red spiders: Among the main mites, there are red spiders, which, when they accumulate, give reddish or brown tones to the underside of the leaves and a kind of spider web between the nerves on the underside. If the attack progresses, it will finally produce leaves fall. They attack practically all plants, both garden plants and fruit trees.

The best way to control them is to apply mineral oil in winter, although it is appropriate to apply liquid insecticide in spring or summer combined with abundant watering and the water spray of the leaves to increase the humidity.

If we want to eliminate or control biologically mites, aphids or other insects, we can use other insects, such as ladybirds, that feed on them.

Diseases affecting ivy

The main diseases that affect ivy are:

  • Anthracnose: They are brown or gray spots surrounded by a yellow halo that occur in the leaves. These spots usually grow and produce leaf fall. Other times the stained part is detached from the sheet and leaves holes or empty pieces in it.
  • Sooty mold: These are the fungi that form on the secretions of aphids and mealybugs. They are characterized by their blackish color that gives name to this disease. Previous pests should be removed to avoid its occurrence.

More information on ivy.

This article was endorsed by Julián Masats - Technical agricultural engineer specialized in horticulture and gardening.
Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

22 April, 2021

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