Prepared by Karen Russ, HGIC Horticulture Specialist, and Al Pertuit, Extension Floriculture Specialist, Clemson University. (New 04/99.)
Ivy (Hedera species) is a versatile houseplant that can be grown in many different situations. Ivies can be grown in hanging baskets, at the base of other houseplants and in pots of their own. Ivy is often trained on trellis frames or wire topiary forms into various formal or whimsical shapes.
While most ivies are virtually unlimited in their spread, you can easily keep them pruned to almost any size that you want when grown as houseplants. Small-leafed, slow-growing types are easier to maintain in a small pot. Large leafed, rapid growers such as Algerian ivy are ideal for hanging baskets, where its vigorous growth is an advantage.
Ornamental ivies have an amazing range of different foliage types. The leaves of some ivies are as large as a saucer while others have leaves smaller than a dime. Many ivies have leaves edged, splashed or centered with silver, gray-green, white, cream, yellow, chartreuse or gold.
In the home, plant diseases are very rarely a problem. Too much or too little water plus insects and mites are the main problems. Root rot usually results from a soil mix that does not drain quickly or overly frequent watering.
Mealybugs, mites, aphids, whiteflies and scales are the most common insect pests of ivies grown as houseplants. If the area infested is limited you can prune out those parts of the plant. Periodic washing can help prevent many pest problems. Wash plants by dunking the foliage upside down in a gallon of water to which insecticidal soap has been added. Hold the soil in the pot with a cover of foil or plastic.
Maintaining cooler temperatures and high humidity will help prevent some of the most common insect pests, but the plant will grow more slowly.
Some people develop a skin rash as a result of contact with the plant sap. Wear gloves when pruning ivies if you know that you have this reaction.
Most cultivars of ivy grow best in bright light, but not direct sun. They tolerate low to medium light, but growth is reduced and variegated forms may turn all green. To maintain the bright color of a variegated ivy, give it plenty of light. Ivies can be grown with artificial light, or near a north, east or west window.
Water ivies thoroughly, then let the soil dry to the touch to a depth of ½ inch before watering again. Although ivies prefer moderate humidity, they will tolerate normal low home levels. Raise the humidity by setting the plants on a tray of wet pebbles or perlite. Do not allow ivies to stand in water. Ivies benefit from good air circulation, and they should not be crowded.
Ivies do well at cool to moderate room temperatures of 50 to 70 °F during the day and about 5 to 10 °F lower at night.
A good, rich commercial houseplant potting mix will be fine for ivy. They should be planted in a container with good drainage.
Fertilize ivies monthly while they are actively growing with a foliage houseplant fertilizer, according to the label directions. Do not use fertilizer when plants stop growing either in the heat of summer, or when temperatures are cool.
Propagation is by rooting stem or tip cuttings. Most types of ivy will root easily in water. Repot ivies when the plants become top-heavy or root bound or dry out too rapidly. The new pot should be no more than 1 inch larger in diameter than the pot it was originally grown in. Using too large a pot can cause the soil to stay wet too long and lead to root rot.
Ivy topiaries are made by planting a small-leafed ivy cultivar at the base of a sphagnum moss- stuffed wire frame. The plants are kept trained and pinned to the frame. They need to be pruned frequently to keep the shape clear. Sometimes two types of ivy will be grown on a frame to show details, such as eyes, on an animal topiary. Be especially careful to keep the upper portions of a topiary moist.
In addition to the well-known English ivy, Hedera helix, there are several other species of ivy wellsuited for growing as houseplants. Most of these can also be grown outdoors year round in South Carolina.
The American Ivy Society describes ivy cultivars by leaf shape and by plant type if unusual. Leaf shapes are ivy with typical flat leaves that have 5 lobes; heart-shaped which may also be triangular, with 3 lobes; fan shaped are triangular or have lobes pointing forward; bird's foot with narrow lobes or willow-like leaves; and curly leaves are ruffled, rippled or wavy.
Plant types include miniatures, small plants with leaves under 1inch long; oddities, which have unusual traits such as distorted or curly stems or leaves, or bushy upright growth; and variegateds, which have leaves of more than one color, or a color other than green.
Algerian Ivy (Hedera canariensis): This ivy, also known as Canary Island ivy, has very large (4 to 8 inches long), heart-shaped, glossy leaves. It is a vigorous grower, probably best suited to hanging baskets indoors.
Persian Ivy (Hedera colchica): The heart-shaped leaves are leathery and 3 to 8 inches long. They are aromatic when crushed. This vigorous vine is also best grown as a basket indoors.
English Ivy (Hedera helix): There are hundreds of cultivars of this popular ivy. It is an incredibly varied group, with leaves from well under an inch to over 3 inches long and in many colors and shapes.
Irish Ivy (Hedera hibernica): The Irish ivy is mainly grown as a hardy plant outdoors. It also has the following popular indoor cultivar that is also known as the "Sweetheart ivy."
Nepal Ivy (Hedera nepalensis): Its slim grey-green leaves on slender stems give a very lacy effect in a hanging basket.
Japanese Ivy (Hedera rhombea): Its triangular leaves have gray veins on mat-forming vines. This is a very adaptable species.
Russian Ivy (Hedera pastuchovii): This is a distinctive ivy with glossy, elongated, black-green leaves.
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