Winter can be a difficult time in the garden, as frost has certainly come and gone, and colorful leaves have withered, faded and fallen. By December, most homeowners are thinking of holiday decorations instead of their landscaping, but you can take some inspiration from the old carol “The Holly and the Ivy” to make your wintertime garden something special.
English ivy is a vine that stays evergreen throughout the winter to provide a rich-looking ground cover even when most other plants are bare. It can be trained to climb fences, buildings and arbors for additional greenery and architectural interest throughout the year, making it a versatile choice for the landscape.
English Ivy Basics
Growing Zones: 4-9
Bloom Time: Insignificant green or white flowers in the autumn of its second year; blue-black berries in winter
Exposure: Part shade to full shade
Mature Size: Climbing vines spread between 20 and 80 feet at maturity
Notes: English ivy is a vigorous climbing vine that retains its glossy green leaves all year long. It can be used as a ground cover in shady areas and kept in check with a line trimmer, or it can be trained to climb walls and arbors. Some varieties can be invasive, so take care to plant in an area where it will not readily creep where it isn’t wanted.
Growing English Ivy in the Landscape
English ivy grows in partial to deep shade, so it’s a highly useful as a ground cover under trees where nothing else will grow. It’s also a fine choice as a potted plant to train around a wire form as a topiary — especially on the north side of the house or on a covered patio where flowers fail to bloom.
Planting English Ivy
English ivy prefers rich, most soil, so amend your planting area with plenty of compost to add nutrients and improve your soil’s capacity for retaining water. Plant small sets of English ivy 12 to 24 inches apart across the area you wish to cover; widely spaced plants will eventually fill in, but first-year growth can be slow. Consider your budget and level of patience when choosing your spacing. Simply cover roots and firm soil around them.
Water your plants deeply and keep soil moist until plants are establish — do not allow soil to dry out if you can help it. You may wish to train new vines to fill in bare spots in your ground cover. To do this, gently place the vine where you’d like it and hold it in place with a handful of loose soil. English ivy spreads by forming new rootlets at the point of contact. This is also how it climbs if you choose to train it up a structure.
Ongoing Care for English Ivy
Once English ivy has been established, it can tolerate dry spells and needs very little care. It will grow slowly during its first season and will not flower, but by the following spring you should notice more vigorous growth. By the third year, vines grown as a ground cover may benefit from shearing to promote new growth and to keep it in check.
If you choose to train your ivy onto a trellis or up a building, it’s a good idea to choose a structure to support it. Ivy rootlets can damage brick and mortar over time, and it can scar tree bark if allowed to climb a tree unchecked. Metal grids or trellises will last far longer and help protect fences and buildings if you like the look of climbing ivy. Whether you grow it as a ground cover or climbing vine, once established, English ivy provides a rich tapestry of glossy green leaves throughout the holiday season and far into the colder months of winter.