Common Ivy (Hedera helix)

Algerian Ivy, Baltic Ivy, Branching Ivy, California Ivy, Common Ivy, English Ivy, Glacier Ivy, Hahn's Self Branching English Ivy, Needlepoint Ivy, Sweetheart Ivy

Native to Europe, English ivy (Hedera helix) is a widespread, evergreen ground cover that thrives in the shade. This plant is popular for its attractive foliage and rapid spread, which helps it fill areas faster than other ground covers.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Hedera helix, the common ivy, English ivy, European ivy, or just ivy, is a species of flowering plant of the ivy genus in the family Araliaceae, native to most of Europe and western Asia. A rampant, clinging evergreen vine, it is a familiar sight in gardens, waste spaces, and wild areas, where it grows on walls, fences, tree trunks, etc. across its native and introduced habitats. As a result of its hardy nature, and its tendency to grow readily without human assistance, ivy attained popularity as an ornamental plant, but escaped plants have become naturalized outside its native range and grow unchecked in myriad wild and cultivated areas. Ivy has considerable cultural significance and symbolism.

Synonyms include Hedera acuta, Hedera arborea (‘tree ivy’), Hedera baccifera, and Hedera grandifolia. Other common names are bindwood and lovestone.

Hedera helix is an evergreen climbing plant, growing to 20–30 m (66–98 ft) high where suitable surfaces (trees, cliffs, walls) are available, and also growing as groundcover where no vertical surfaces occur. It climbs by means of aerial rootlets with matted pads which cling strongly to the substrate. The ability to climb on surfaces varies with the plants variety and other factors: Hedera helix prefers non-reflective, darker and rough surfaces with near-neutral pH. It generally thrives in a wide range of soil pH with 6.5 being ideal, prefers moist, shady locations and avoids exposure to direct sunlight, the latter promoting drying out in winter.

The leaves are alternate, 50–100 mm (2–4 in) long, with a 15–20 mm (0.6–0.8 in) petiole; they are of two types, with palmately five-lobed juvenile leaves on creeping and climbing stems, and unlobed cordate adult leaves on fertile flowering stems exposed to full sun, usually high in the crowns of trees or the top of rock faces.

The flowers are produced from late summer until late autumn, individually small, in 3-to-5 cm-diameter (1.2-to-2.0 in) umbels, greenish-yellow, and very rich in nectar, an important late autumn food source for bees and other insects.

The fruit are purple-black to orange-yellow berries 6–8 mm (0.2–0.3 in) in diameter, ripening in late winter, and are an important food source for many birds.

One to five seeds are in each berry, which are dispersed after being eaten by birds.

II. How to Grow and Care


English Ivy prefers bright, indirect light, but can also tolerate some low light conditions. It can be grown indoors in areas that receive some natural light, such as near a window, or under fluorescent lights. However, if grown in very low light conditions for extended periods, it may not thrive and can become leggy or lose its vibrant color. Outdoors, it can be grown in partial shade to full sun, but it generally prefers some shade during the hottest parts of the day.

Temperature and Humidity

English Ivy plants grow best in temperatures between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Their leaves will stay dark green when grown in steady temperatures and medium to high humidity. It does not like cold winter wind or high summer heat.

In some areas and with some species of ivy, it’s possible to keep potted plants outdoors in winter, and new growth emerges from the stems in spring.


English Ivy prefers consistently moist soil, but it should not be watered excessively. Overwatering can lead to root rot and other issues. It is important to allow the top inch of soil to dry out before watering again. The frequency of watering will depend on factors such as the temperature and humidity of the environment, the size of the plant, and the type of soil it is planted in. Typically, outdoor English Ivy will obtain water from natural sources such as rainfall and soil moisture. However, if your area experiences limited rainfall, you should consider giving your plant some water when the soil is dry.


Grow this evergreen vine in well-drained soil. Although it will grow in poor soils and soils of a wide range of pH levels, it does best in average loams. A thick layer of mulch helps keep the soil moist in dry climates.

Indoors, ivy does best in potting mix that is loose and well-drained.


Feed English ivy every two weeks during the spring and summer season, using a 20-20-20 fertilizer (or a 2-2-2 organic formula). Do not use fertilizer or plant food if the plant is in a stressful situation: very hot, very cold, or very dry soil, or when leaf production has stopped.

Planting Instructions


Use clean and sharp cutting shears to trim ground cover plants in the spring to keep them manageable and discourage bacterial leaf spot. Prune any ivy into a bushy shape by pinching off its growing tips, also in spring. A hard pruning every few years helps revitalize the plant.

If English ivy is already climbing one of your trees, be careful if you wish to remove it. Do not just rip a vine off, which could hurt the tree’s bark. Instead, cut each vine where you find it coming out of the soil at the base of the tree, where it begins its ascent. When cut off from the earth (and thus from a water source), the part of the vine left anchored in the tree bark will eventually wither and die.

This removal technique is the best way to get rid of the plant organically, but it does require some patience. You will need to go back year after year and cut new growth until all strength has been sapped out of the plant. It is only at this point that new shoots will stop emerging every spring.


English Ivy can be propagated easily through stem cuttings, making it an ideal choice for those who want to grow new plants from an existing one. Here’s how to propagate English Ivy through stem cuttings:

  • Choose a healthy plant and use a clean and sharp pair of pruning shears or scissors to cut several sections of the stems around  4-6 inches long, just below a node. 
  • Remove the leaves from the bottom 2 inches of the cutting, leaving a few leaves at the top.
  • Dip the cut end of the stem in rooting hormone powder (optional).
  • Plant the cutting in a pot filled with moist potting soil, making sure the cut end is buried about 2 inches deep.
  • Place the pot in a bright, airy spot away from direct sunlight, and keep the soil moist but not waterlogged.
  • After a few weeks, check for root growth by gently tugging on the cutting. If it resists, roots have likely formed. Acclimate your baby Ivy before moving them to a place with direct sunlight.

Potting and Repotting

One crucial aspect of caring for English Ivy is ensuring it has good drainage. It’s best to plant it in a pot with at least one drainage hole, made from a porous material like cement, ceramic, or terracotta. This will allow excess water to drain away, preventing the soil from becoming waterlogged. To further enhance your Ivy’s health and vitality, it’s recommended to incorporate soil aeration into your weekly plant care routine. Simply use a small shovel or other tool to gently loosen the soil around the plant’s roots. This will increase the soil’s oxygen levels, enabling the roots to absorb nutrients, water, and oxygen more efficiently.

English Ivy should be repotted every 1-2 years depending on growth rate and pot size. Signs for repotting include root-bound, depleted soil, top-heavy, or slow growth. Choose a pot that is only slightly bigger (about 1-2 inches larger) to avoid waterlogging and root rot.


Prepare English ivy for the winter by soaking the soil in mid-to-late fall, helping to provide moisture for the plant throughout the colder season. Avoid getting the foliage wet, and prepare the ground before the first frost. After watering, add a two-to-three-inch layer of mulch—chopped leaves or wood chips—surrounding the plant’s roots. Depending on the region, adding a burlap covering over the plant can help prevent damage from strong winds or freezing conditions.

Pests and Diseases

English Ivy is a relatively easy-to-care-for plant, but like any plant, it can be susceptible to certain problems. Here are some common issues that you may encounter with your English Ivy: 

  • Overwatering: English Ivy can be prone to root rot if it’s overwatered. To prevent this, make sure the soil is well-draining and avoid letting the plant sit in standing water.
  • Underwatering: On the other hand, if English Ivy is underwatered, its leaves may become dry and brittle. Make sure to water your English Ivy regularly and avoid letting the soil dry out completely.
  • Pests: English Ivy can be vulnerable to common houseplant pests such as spider mites, mealybugs, and scale insects. Regularly inspect your plant for signs of infestation, such as sticky residue or tiny bugs on the leaves, and treat it with an appropriate insecticide if necessary.
  • Leggy stems: Long periods of low light conditions can cause English Ivy to grow leggy stems, which are long, thin stems with widely spaced leaves. This happens because the plant stretches towards the light in an effort to absorb as much light as possible.

III. Uses and Benefits 

Ivy is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant. Within its native range, the species is greatly valued for attracting wildlife. The flowers are visited by over 70 species of nectar-feeding insects, and the berries eaten by at least 16 species of birds. The foliage provides dense evergreen shelter, and is also browsed by deer.

In Europe, it is frequently planted to cover walls and the Bavarian government recommends growing it on buildings for its ability to cool the interior in summer, while providing insulation in winter, as well as protecting the covered building from soil moisture, temperature fluctuations and direct exposure to heavy weather. Further uses include weed suppression in plantings, beautifying unsightly facades and providing additional green by growing on tree trunks.

Ivy berries are somewhat poisonous to humans, but extracts from ivy leaves are part of current cough medicines. A 2020 evidence review found that Hedera helix preparations and preparations “may be a therapeutic option for treating early symptoms of respiratory tract infections”, saying that “the best effectiveness for H. helix preparations has been proven for coughing, as an expectorant and to reduce the frequency and intensity of cough. Only weak evidence was found for all other researched symptoms.”

Common Ivy (Hedera helix) Details

Common name Algerian Ivy, Baltic Ivy, Branching Ivy, California Ivy, Common Ivy, English Ivy, Glacier Ivy, Hahn's Self Branching English Ivy, Needlepoint Ivy, Sweetheart Ivy
Botanical name Hedera helix
Plant type Ground Cover
Hardiness zone 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b, 10a, 10b, 11a, 11b, 12a, 12b, 13a, 13b
Growth rate Fast
Harvest time Fall
Height 20 ft. 0 in. - 80 ft. 6 in.
Width 20 ft. 0 in. - 80 ft. 6 in.
Sunlight Dappled Sunlight (Shade through upper canopy all day)
Soil condition Clay
Flower color Gold/Yellow
Leaf color Green