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The Truth About English Ivy

July 24, 2012

What is English Ivy?

English Ivy (scientific name: Hedera helix) is a non-native, woody vine that has been a very traditional plant to use in gardens as ground covers or climbing vines. Although it has been used for decades, English Ivy is finally becoming less used as people realize the plant is becoming a very serious invasive species in some regions.

Attractiveness vs. Aggressiveness

Many people like to grow English Ivy because it’s easy, as it thrives in a variety of tough growing conditions. But, you do have to stay on top of it frequently and keep it from getting out of control. In places like California and the Pacific Northwest, the plant is getting into natural areas and

overtaking native vegetation, as the plant is too aggressive for many plant species to compete with.

Older cultivars of English Ivy have been known to do some damage to buildings. The plant produces root like structures that help it stick to buildings and climb upwards. But the plant can grow through cracks and even under siding, since

it can still grow in dark crevices. This can eventually shift bricks and walls and can lead to some very costly repairs. In fact, the popular term “Ivy League University” originated from their beautiful buildings covered in ivy. Nowadays, you will see fewer buildings like this because the problems the ivy has caused over decades is becoming more prominent.

Growing over tree trunks is another popular home for English Ivy. But since the ivy is so aggressive, it may take away the available water and nutrients in the soil that some trees (especially weaker ones) should be getting. Also weaker trees may not be able to support all the extra weight of a lot of heavy ivy. English Ivy is also a host carrier for bacterial leaf spot which can spread to native oak and maple trees.

Even where English Ivy grows as just a ground cover, it often shades out light for other perennials and may become entangled with them unless properly pruned.

How to Remove English Ivy

To remove from buildings and trees, simply cut the vines at ground level. After the upward-growing vines completely die, the ivy will become loose enough to safely tear down. If you attempt to rip it off alive, the ivy is strong enough to tear down pieces of mortar, brick, paint, or tree bark. Stripping off tree bark can lead to more diseases.

Other Climbing Vines

There are plenty of other climbing vines and ground covers, herbaceous or woody, evergreen or deciduous, which are better to grow than English Ivy. But, there are some new cultivars of English Ivy that are less aggressive, as they are not hardy though winter in our region and are great to use as annuals in containers. Some suggestions include:

Woody Vines:

  • Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala)
  • Italian Clematis (Clematis viticella)

Woody Ground Covers:

  • Willowleaf Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster salicifolius)
  • Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

Herbaceous Ground Covers:

  • Wild Ginger (Asarum europaeum)
  • Japanese Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis)
  • Two Row Stonecrop (Sedum spurium)
  • Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata)

New and better cultivars of English Ivy:

  • Hedera helix ‘Midget’
  • H. ‘Glacier’
  • H. ‘Gold Child’
  • H. ‘Needlepoint’ H. ‘Irish Lace’ H. ‘Midas Touch’
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