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Growing English Ivy: Some Warnings

Updated on December 1, 2011

About English Ivy: Some Warnings

Growing non-native plants can be, not only more difficult to grow, but can do serious damage to the environment (see link below about the Meyer lemon tree). English Ivy has been grown and used in so many applications and for so long that we tend to think of it as a native plant, but it is not.

If you are planning to grow English Ivy, or have it growing in your landscape, there are certain precautions to take.

Below is a Q & A list about English Ivy.

What is English Ivy? Have I seen it?

Classified botanically as Hedera helix, English ivy is the most commonly grown ivy in the USA. It has a small root-like structure with a sticky substance, allowing it to climb and attach itself to brickwork, trees and other surfaces. English ivy also grows as a ground cover. It is most obvious when it is growing up the side of a building (see photo) - where it looks very pretty, but can dislodge the grout and bricks.

What are the origins?

It belongs to the aralia (Araliaceae) family. English Ivy is native to Europe, northern Africa and western Asia.

Can you describe it?

Waxy, leather leaves of the perennial English ivy are dark green with white veins. The most common leaf has 3-5 lobes, but the leaves can also be rounded and unlobed. English ivy can grow for 10 years before clusters of small yellow-green flowers are produced.

How is it commonly used?

For landscaping purposes, English ivy is used in a variety of ways. It can be trained on walls, trellises and fences, and also used in planters for a cascade effect. Sometimes, English ivy is used as a ground cover under trees, on shaded patios, and in beds. English ivy is also quite often used in topiary.

Can it be grown indoors?

English ivy can be grown successfully indoors as a foliage plant. Direct sunlight from windows facing south and west should be avoided.

Are there many types of ivy?

There are more than 400 named cultivars of English Ivy in existence. The most common ones are produced by commercial growers for fast growth and are found at local garden centers.

So what's the problem?

The National Park Services (NPS) reports that English ivy has an impact on all levels of forested areas. Its vigorous growth and search for light can engulf tree branches and kill them by preventing the ability of light to reach the leaves of the tree. Also, the heavy weight from the vines can make the host tree susceptible to being blown over during high winds and rains, as well as snowfalls. This creates a hazard if the ivy-covered trees are near where people congregate.

Note: A neighbor's tree was engulfed by ivy growing beneath it. Now that the tree is bare you can see that ivy has grown almost to the top of this 20 foot tree, and the tree has died.

A Warning - The NPS reports that English ivy is harmful to elms, maples, oaks and a variety of native plants because it serves as a reservoir for a plant pathogen known as Bacterial Leaf Scorch (Xylella fastidiosa). Be sure not to plant or allow English ivy to grow near these trees and native plants.

For a list of native trees, information about companion planting, and the Meyer lemon tree, see links below:

English ivy on a building.
English ivy on a building.


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    • RTalloni profile image


      5 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks for this helpful look at growing English ivy. I need to clean it out of a couple of areas before it's too late.

    • CountryCityWoman profile image


      7 years ago from From New York City to North Carolina

      It is definitely destructive. It looks so pretty growing all over the buildings here in the city - but we are losing a lot of trees because they do cover the trunk - with bare trees in the city right now I can see where the ivy has totally covered the trunk.

      Great info and I will pass on the ivy which I was considering as a ground cover.

      Thanks - rated up!

    • BkCreative profile image


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Yikes! And so true - I can look out my window and in my neighbor's yard and I see where the ivy has killed a 20 foot tree - the vines are dead but are wrapped around this tree from the bottom to the top - and his yard is filled with this ivy.

      It shows that we are not just simple today - even stupider were all these people that decided to bring their plants from their home country - sometimes even animals as is the devastating case of the British bringing rabbits to Oz.

      Meanwhile, your link to the Meyer lemon tree was very interesting - and this stupidity was done by a USDA worker. Idiot.

      Thanks a million. I am far more conscious of native plants and trees.

      Rated up!


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