Ivy can be useful, attractive; just keep it in check

Writing about holly a couple of weeks ago has brought ivy to mind. I think I wrote about the difficulties of removing ivy a few years ago, when I was clearing the foundation blocks of my house and found ivy roots and tendrils in every crevice.

So it can be invasive. But today, an opposite view for when ivy would be a good choice for a ground cover or for some kind of screen or shield for an unwanted view.

English ivy is an evergreen climbing vine that is fast growing and very strong. It attaches itself to trees or structures very easily, or will spread quickly to cover an area of ground. It is essential to keep an eye on this plant just because of its fast growth, it will spread quickly beyond its designated spot.

If allowed to climb freely in a tree or up a surface such as a wall, ivy will reach 20 to 30 meters high, climbing by means of aerial rootlets. The leaves on the lower, probably partly shaded, stems are the juveniles with five-lobed leaves, and then further up, where more sun is available, the adult forms of the eaves are unlobed. After about 10 years of growth, the ivy vine will flower.

Insignificant flowers are produced in summer and fall, but are hardly noticeable except to the bees and other insects who find nectar there. There also are berries which provide food for birds, but can be poisonous to people. And even the leaves may cause contact dermatitis on sensitive skin.

Ivy climbing into a tree is not parasitic; all nutrition reaches the plant through the roots in the ground, but the real danger is the sheer weight of the vine which can eventually topple even a large tree. It can also crowd out other species.

It seems I keep going back to the disadvantages of this hedera helix, but it can be a very pleasant indoor plant. I have ivy wallpaper in my kitchen, and always look out for towels and rugs etc. that match it. Pots of ivy stay orderly and are easy to care for. There are many decorative varieties in all shades of green, including the attractive variegated ones.

Ivy plants prefer bright but indirect light, but will still grow in sun or full shade. They want a cool spot to guard against spider mites and the like. It is good to spray the leaves about once a week with soapy water and then rinse under the tap. This keeps the leaves bright and shiny. Keep the soil barely moist.

Pinched stems root easily and so you can have as many plants as you wish.

They have such a great will to live … I planted a tiny miniature ivy in my fairy garden a couple of years ago, and it has exploded out of the area and up a trellis where it competes with my grape vine. The leaves are tiny, but that plant is mighty!

So there are advantages to growing ivy outside and in. Just be sure you are the boss!

Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at janetdelturco@yahoo.com.