The name “ivy” can be a bit confusing, since it’s applied to a number of houseplants. The most commonly available, English ivy or Hedera helix, is relatively simple to care for and makes an excellent choice for the beginning indoor gardener. Few houseplants are as adaptable as the ivy when it comes to its growing habit. English ivy is equally happy cascading over the side of a basket or twining up a support. It also makes an ideal subject for topiary, since it responds well to trimming and willingly attaches itself to a structure.
The Meaning of Ivy
Ivy was revered by the ancient Greeks and Romans as a symbol of marriage and love, no doubt because of its clinging habit. Woven into a crown or wreath, ivy decorated the heads of brides and grooms as a representation of faithfulness. Likewise, pagans believed that wearing or carrying ivy brought the bearer good luck. In the language of flowers, ivy represents fidelity.
The American Ivy Society’s classification system identifies ivies by placing them into one or more of eight categories. Categories include:
• Variegated ivies - leaves with two or more colors, including white, cream, yellow, gold or chartreuse
• Bird’s foot ivies - long, thin leaves with narrow lobes, resembling the footprint of a bird
• Fan ivies - broad leaves with five to nine lobes of equal length
• Curly ivies - wavy, ruffled or ridged leaves
• Heart-shaped or sweetheart ivies - leaves are rarely lobed and have a leathery look
• Miniature ivies - ideal for terrariums because of their slow growth, have leaves no bigger than 3/4” long or 1/2” wide.
Ivy of the Year
Each year, the American Ivy Society names a particular variety as the Ivy of the Year. For the year 2013 (which also happens to be the 40th anniversary of the Society), the honor goes to Hedera helix ‘Minigreen’. Developed in the Netherlands, ‘Minigreen’ is both a miniature and a bird’s foot variety, with five-lobed leaves that are slightly folded upwards at the base and slightly turning downwards at the terminal lobe.
Plant ivy in a rich, all-purpose potting soil, or use a soil-less potting mix. Whatever sort of pot you use, be sure it has adequate drainage. Keep the soil evenly moist, but never soggy.
Place an ivy plant in a location where it will receive medium to bright filtered light. In direct sun from a south-facing window, especially in summer, an ivy's leaves can burn. In general, variegated ivies require more light than other types to retain the best leaf color.
Although ivy tolerates a wide variety of indoor temperatures and humidities, it does best in a cool, moist environment where it is out of the way of cold drafts. You can provide the plant with extra humidity by placing the pot on pebbles in a shallow tray filled with water. Ivy also appreciates a periodic misting of room-temperature water, particularly during the winter months. This prevents the leaves from drying out and also helps discourage spider mites.
Feed ivy with a fertilizer intended for foliage plants. Apply the fertilizer monthly during the plant’s period of active growth, from spring through fall.
Pinching the ends of an ivy’s stem tips will keep the plant looking full and is also an excellent way to create new plants. Use sharp scissors to cut a stem end about 5” long, making the cut just above a leaf junction. Strip the leaves from the bottom couple of inches of the stem, then put the cutting in a small vase filled with water and place on a brightly lit windowsill. Within a few days, you will see fine root hairs developing. Once the roots are two to three inches long, plant the cutting in moist potting soil.
Photo of Hedera helix ‘Nena’ by DG member raincloud