Ivy care

Ivy has always struck me as an enchanting plant, there is something magical about those little leaves that climb relentlessly up walls and trellises if you let them. They are so elegant and pretty that when you allow them to climb up facades and walls, you get the impression that you are in a villa lost in a Jane Austen story.

Small, delicate and a little stubborn, ivy is a plant that can be grown indoors and outdoors, it can climb or fall, but it will never go unnoticed. It is also very easy to maintain and reproduce, so it is perfect for covering spaces under other plants and creating green cascades at home. Caring for ivy is very easy and you will want to have several specimens to fill all your spaces with its presence.

Characteristics of ivy

Hedera helix or ivy is a plant native to the rainforests of Europe, Africa and Asia. A climber with evergreen leaves (i.e. it remains green all year round, even in winter), it is known for growing at dizzying speeds. In fact, its name hedera comes from Latin and means "to grasp", while helix means "spiral", referring to the shape its trunk takes on as it grows. Its leaves can measure between 5 to 10 centimetres and are usually lobed.

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It produces green flowers, which are not of great aesthetic importance but are necessary for the environmental balance. Ivy flowers in August or September and its flowering period lasts until December. These flowers are rich in nectar and pollen and are very attractive to pollinating insects, especially in these months when they are preparing to hibernate.

Ivy has negative phototropism, as do plants such as Monstera Deliciosa. This means that it actively grows towards the shade, away from the light, but this is because it is seeking the shade of taller trees, from which it will climb to reach a higher position to get more light.

There are at least 15 types of ivy, including hedera rhombea, with slightly lighter veins, hedera algeriensis, which has white and green variegated leaves, as well as the varieties canariensis, hibernica, azorica and colchica. It is important to note that this plant is toxic if ingested, so it should be kept away from children and pets. Another interesting detail is that the plant we know as poison ivy, which causes allergies and itching on contact, does not actually belong to the hedera ivy family, but is part of the anacardiaceae family, and is called toxicodendron radicans .

Ivy is such a prolific plant that some people prefer to grow it in pots or planters where it can be contained. The secret to its growth lies in those small aerial roots that allow it to climb up surfaces while absorbing moisture from the air. In fact, in some parts of North America it is considered an invasive plant that prevents the growth of native plants, so it is something to take into consideration if you plan to plant it outdoors.

Ivy curiosities and uses

The ancient Celts used wreaths made of ivy to ward off bad energies and diseases from livestock. It was attributed healing properties and being a perennial plant it was associated with fertility and femininity. It then began to be used as a decorative element at Christmas, along with holly and other evergreens.

In fact, it is said that the custom of draping the front of the house with ivy comes from the Druids, who used it to protect their home. Whether it attracts good fortune or has little effect, covering the walls with ivy offers an environmentally friendly, sustainable covering that can help keep it much cooler in summer; it acts as a thermal reducer and filters out the sun's rays.

Contrary to popular belief, this plant prevents the build-up of mould on walls, as it requires moisture to live, absorbing excess from the environment. In winter, it reduces temperature loss by coping with the wind, and if an air chamber is created between the ivy and the walls, e.g. by using a frame, mesh or support for it to climb through rather than directly on the wall, it optimises its insulating function.

Described as vigorous or aggressive, this plant is considered an elegant way to decorate stone walls or trellises, but it is also used to cover spaces under plants or on the ground. Ivy can grow up to 20 centimetres per year, making it a quick and interesting option for filling spaces with green.

Indoors, ivy can also act as an ornamental and useful element. Ivy belongs to the group of purifying plants, so it is often a recommended plant for decorating bedrooms, especially if you group it with other purifying plants. It is able to filter harmful particles from the environment such as benzene, formaldehyde, xylene and others.

Ivy looks great in hanging planters, as it will allow you to show off the cascade of leaves that its stems will become. They can be used to add height and dimension to your space. If you hang them symmetrically (one on each side of the sofa, for example) they will balance the space and give it an incredible natural touch.

Another great option is to guide it with hooks and brackets so that it wraps around door frames or other structures. In fact, some people make topiaries out of ivy or have them climb up metal or wooden structures to give them whimsical shapes. They look great and you can get creative. As they are fast-growing they will cover the space you give them in no time at all.

If you are short on space indoors or feel that such lush ivy might be too cluttered, you can make small green spots. Place small pots of ivy so that it cascades like a small waterfall from shelves, tables and bookcases, taking advantage of vertical space and levels. The best thing about this plant is that it is easy to care for and maintain so it won't take much effort to reproduce and keep it beautiful and abundant.

Ivy Care

Caring for ivy is fairly straightforward as they are hardy, rustic plants. If it is indoors, you need to take special care with humidity levels, while if it is outdoors, the weak point may be the amount of light it receives. If you manage to control these variables, you can look forward to a successful ivy crop. Remember that it can be invasive, so take care to prune it and keep it in check outdoors.

Lighting

Ivy adapts very well to different lighting environments. The ideal situation would be in a place with a lot of indirect light or where it gets a couple of hours of direct sun at most, the latter is very important if you have a plant with variegated leaves because the lack of direct light will cause the leaf to turn completely green. It can live in a shady spot, but there must be some light.

Watering

Watering should be moderate in spring and summer, 2-3 times a week, reducing in autumn and winter to once a week. However, check the substrate before watering and if in doubt, it is best to wait an extra day as ivy prefers to be a little drier. It is susceptible to waterlogging and excess moisture at the roots can be fatal, so be careful and make sure the substrate drains well.

Moisture

If you want lush, green and beautiful ivy you need to provide it with a moist environment. In the warmer months you should spray it with a little water while in the cooler months, especially if it is indoors with the heater on, you can put it in saucers with water, place it near other plants or install a humidifier. During the warmer months you can give it a refreshing shower every 3 weeks to remove dust and prevent pests.

Substrate

Ivy is not at all fussy about the substrate. It can grow happily in a neutral or somewhat acidic substrate. If you are handy and want to mix your own soil, some people consider 60% compost, 20% peat, 10% perlite and 10% worm castings to be the ideal mix. The only non-negotiable condition for this plant is that the substrate has very good drainage, so you can also put pebbles in the bottom of the pot to help it get rid of excess water.

Pot

You can choose a pot that is wider than it is tall, this is because this plant has rather shallow roots, which do not bury themselves deeply, and it needs more surface space to be able to grow at its best.

Temperature

Ivy likes warm to medium temperatures. Ideally it should be between 12 to 20°C but it has a wide range of tolerance, although if the temperature drops below -4°C it can start to suffer damage. If you have variegated ivy, you should be aware that its temperature requirements are higher, i.e. it should be in an even warmer environment.

Fertilisation

It is necessary to fertilise ivy during its growing season, i.e. in spring and summer. You can use organic fertiliser or look for a fertiliser with a 3:1:2 balance (i.e. for every 3 measures of nitrogen, there is 1 measure of phosphorus and 2 of potassium). Fertilise every 15 days during the warm season and refrain from fertilising in autumn and winter.

Pruning

This plant can be pruned to control its growth and make it grow bushier. You can do this a couple of times a year, in spring if indoors and in summer if outdoors. Do this by cutting off any branches that are too long, that are out of the shape you want, or by trimming them more or less evenly if you want them to grow fuller. Use clean, disinfected scissors.

Reproduction

Ivy grows so easily and quickly that you will have no trouble having a small army of ivy to decorate your space. There are different ways to reproduce ivy, including seeds, but for me the most practical and easiest way is through cuttings, because you can use the cuttings from pruning to reproduce it.

Cut branches about 5 to 7 cm long or cut cuttings that have at least 2 or 3 nodes with leaves. I prefer to put them in a small glass of water in a well-lit place until they sprout roots. Once they have roots, transplant them into a pot with soil. Some people prefer to plant directly into the final pots with fresh substrate. The rooting process can take 2-3 weeks.

Pests and problems

Ivy is hardy, but can be susceptible to aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites, thrips and other mites. The first step is always prevention by maintaining adequate moisture levels, watering properly and disinfecting pruning tools. In case pests do get the upper hand, you can always use an organic pesticide.

Your ivy cannot talk, but it can give you clues as to what is going wrong. Check its leaves for these symptoms:

- Discoloured leaves: if the leaves don't look as green and shiny, it is most likely getting direct sunlight.

- Dry leaves: the plant is in a place where it has been exposed to very high temperatures, the sun has burnt the leaf tissue and it has very little moisture.

- Blackened leaves: there is an excess of water.

- Sad, drooping leaves: watering and spraying of the leaves is necessary

- Variegation disappears: the time of sun exposure is not adequate, it should receive 2 or 3 hours of direct sun maximum. Check the levels and type of fertiliser you are applying.

About the author
Ame Rodríguez

Dedicated to creating an army of cacti, succulents, poodles and cats to help me conquer the world. In the little free time I have left, I play, write and dance.

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