English Ivy Pruning: Tips On How And When To Trim Ivy Plants

By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

English ivy (Hedera helix) is a vigorous, widely grown plant appreciated for its glossy, palmate leaves. English ivy is extremely hale and hearty, tolerating severe winters as far north as USDA zone 9. However, this versatile vine is just as happy when grown as a houseplant.

Whether English ivy is grown indoors or out, this fast-growing plant benefits from an occasional trim to stimulate new growth, improve air circulation and keep the vine within boundaries and looking its best. Trimming also creates a full, healthy-looking plant. Read on to learn more about pruning English ivy.

When to Trim Ivy Plants Outdoors

If you’re growing English ivy as a ground cover, ivy plant trimming is best done before new growth appears in spring. Set your mower on the highest cutting height to prevent scalping the plant. You can also prune English ivy with hedge shears, especially if the ground is rocky. English ivy pruning depends on growth, and may need to be done every other year, or as often as every year.

Use clippers or a weed trimmer to trim along sidewalks or borders as often as needed. Similarly, if your English ivy vine is trained to a trellis or other support, use clippers to prune out unwanted growth.

Ivy Plant Trimming Indoors

Pruning English ivy indoors prevents the plant from becoming long and leggy. Simply pinch or snap the vine with your fingers just above a leaf, or prune the plant with clippers or scissors.

Although you can discard the cuttings, you can also use them to propagate a new plant. Just stick the cuttings in a vase of water, then set the vase in a sunny window. When roots are about ½ to 1 inch (1-2.5 cm.) long, plant the new English ivy in a pot filled with well-drained potting mix.

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Read more about English Ivy

How to Grow English Ivy

The Spruce / Phoebe Cheong

English ivy is a vigorous and aggressive woody evergreen vine native to Europe and parts of Russia. When planted outdoors, English ivy is used as an ornamental ground-cover or elegant green covering for stone or brick walls, which can often be spotted on stately old homes or on the buildings of many Ivy League college campuses (hence their unique moniker).

English ivy is best planted in the fall and will grow rapidly, eventually reaching up to 100 feet in length in some instances. It's considered a potentially invasive species in much of the United States, including the West Coast, a portion of New York and New Jersey, and many national parks. Because many growers still want to enjoy the vine, it has also gained popularity as an indoor houseplant or for use in outdoor hanging baskets.

Botanical Name Hedera helix
Common Name English ivy
Plant Type Vine
Mature Size 20–80 ft. tall, 3–50 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun, partial shade
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Acidic
Bloom Time Fall, early winter
Flower Color Yellow, cream
Hardiness Zones 4–9 (USDA)
Native Area Europe
Toxicity Toxic to dogs and cats

Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for English Ivy

How to Control Ivy Climbing on Walls

Ivy comes in a number of different species. Each of these species shares some very distinctive characteristics, such as their luxuriant green color and their ability to climb and carry onward to new territory without much effort at all.

In fact, this creepy crawler may not have dozens of legs, but it certainly does seem to have a mind of its own. Ivy creeps and crawls its way around until it encompasses every available surface in its path.

Ivy does have its useful purposes. Its emerald green color brightens your home. It even has some economical use since it can help to keep your home cool in the summer and to keep it warm in the winter. Therefore, homeowners tend to like growing ivy.

However, too much is simply too much. It is best to keep the ivy under control before it takes control of your home. Even though ivy really does make a nice ground cover, it doesn't always make as nice of a cover on other things, including the walls and roof of your home.

Permanent Removal Instructions

Step 1 - Preparation and Safety

Wear work gloves at all times to protect your hands from cuts and scratches. If you need to use a ladder, make sure that it is planted firmly on level ground. Always keep one hand on the ladder to help maintain your balance. Adjust the position of the ladder rather than stretching too far to reach an area. Ideally, someone should be home and within ear's reach in the event that you should fall from the ladder.

Step 2 - Use Shears

Use pruning shears to cut back the ivy at the stems. Prune the ivy during the late winter or very early spring in order to have less ivy to deal with when pruning. If the foliage is dormant, you will have less difficulty seeing what you are doing, since new growth will not yet have begun.

Step 3 - Cut Deep

Since ivy grows quickly, you can prune aggressively. If the mortar on the wall is not in good condition, this type of aggressive pruning may cause more harm than good. In that case, you may be better off simply using a nonselective weed killer.

Step 4 - Remove Trailers

It is important to scrape any remaining tendrils from the walls. Using the scraper, work at an acute angle to remove the tendrils. Make sure that you continue to wear work gloves to avoid scraping your hand on the wall. If the angle at which you slant the scraper is not low enough, you may scrape the wall.

Use the brush with stiff bristles to scrape away any resistant tendrils of ivy. Make sure that the bristles are not too stiff, since that may also scratch the wall's surface.

Step 5 - Alternately, Use a Torch

If you prefer, you can use a propane torch to remove the remaining tendrils of ivy from the wall. Use caution and avoid any areas that have wood or flammable materials on them. Also, avoid any cracks that exist in the wall when using the torch. Remember that the propane torch may scorch the masonry, so begin cautiously.
Step 6 - Use Weed Killer

To completely kill the ivy, spray a nonselective weed killer on the remaining roots. Be careful to protect any nearby plant growth that you wish to keep.

Selective Controlling of Ivy

If you prefer to simply control and reduce the growth of your ivy rather than permanently destroy and remove it from your walls, modify the above steps as follows. Take the aggressive approach in the areas where you wish to remove the ivy completely.

In the areas where you simply want to cut back the growth, prune the stems of the ivy carefully. Leave a sufficient number of stems for growth in the spring, and remove only the tendrils that are located in the areas where you no longer wish to have any ivy.

2 Answers 2

As you speak of 'English' ivy, I assume you're in the States somewhere - here in England, it's just called ivy (often with very derogatory adjectives preceding the word 'ivy' because of its invasive nature). There's only one way with ivy, and that's the ruthless approach - in spring, as growth begins, go out with a hedgetrimmer (if you have one powerful enough) or some sharp shears and cut the whole lot down to six inches, four if you're brave enough, then fertilize it with a balanced fertilizer, something with an NPK of 7-7-7 or thereabouts (probably easiest with a liquid version that can be applied with a can). Then just keep a check on it - if you see weeds germinating, whip them out, but ivy, being the rampant life form it is, should show signs of recovery within 2-4 weeks, and then start growing apace, such that you'll probably need to carry out this treatment certainly biennally, if not annually. There is another advantage to doing this - over time, ivy develops, thick, woody limbs or branches, sometimes as thick as a tree trunk, and then it's very difficult to keep properly in check, and looks much less attractive as ground cover - cutting back hard relatively regularly should prevent that from happening.

Because I don't know what USDA zone you're in, you may need to time your cutting back carefully to avoid freezing temperatures after cutting back, but in most places, Ivy is very hardy anyway. Bear in mind that ivy can be chopped right down to ground level, with all vines at ground level cut off or removed so there's bare soil, and it will still regrow, it's certainly no prima donna plant.

What do you have in the way of tools? How big is this patch? If it isn't too large you could use hand shears and cut back to 6". Power hedging shears would be best for your body. There are even brush cutting mowers you could rent if the area is large. Leave the clippings. They will cover the bare spots and stop any weed seed from germinating.

As Bamboo warned, right now timing is critical. If you chop the ivy back too 'late' the ivy will have just enough time to put on new tender growth and when winter hits the cold will fry the new leaves. I doubt it will kill the ivy but it will look awful. Depending on your zone and winter conditions, I would wait until early spring to cut down. If where you live has another 2 or 3 months before the soil freezes go ahead and get 'er done now. Leave the clippings or at least 'blow' them off the top of your ivy plants and down into the vines/soil. They will inhibit germination of 'other weed' seeds and decompose to improve the soil. Do NOT fertilize until spring. Fertilizing will produce even more tender vegetative growth for the winter to kill.

There are two types of foliage on Hedera helix. The young plant growth you are probably used to and then once a plant matures you'll see the mature plant leaves which are very different. You'll start seeing the reproductive growth as well. Because this plant is highly invasive, if you want to continue to use this as a ground cover, it is only right to continue a maintenance program to cut your ivy back and reduce flowering and seed. Ivy is even better at reproducing from every little chunk of stem and or root (vegetative reproduction). Cutting or 'mowing' your ivy is completely necessary. Necessary as well is limiting where your ivy is ALLOWED to grow.

All of your trees, shrubs should have a 'circle' of bare ground (mulched) so the ivy is not able to grow up your trees. You will have to maintain these transition areas by pulling up any ivy you see. Keep it off the home as well. All other plants and/or your lawn should have a zone between the ivy and the plants. You could use that thin plastic barrier stuff sold in most hardware and nurseries, bury it 6" deep all along the borders where you do not want the ivy to cross. That will help somewhat. Twice per year, I'd chop your 'crop' to 6". Early spring and Early fall/late summer.

The proper formulation of fertilizer will be a major factor in keeping your ivy from seeding. A high nitrogen formulation such as 10-4-6 or 20-7-8 where the first number, percentage of Nitrogen in the bag, is quite a bit higher than the second and third number (phosphorus and potassium). This will help to inhibit any reproductive growth (flowers and seeds). Once per year a light, high Nitrogen, fertilization is plenty!

If you've got too much vegetative growth after a mowing to leave, go ahead and dispose of in those large black plastic bags. Make sure you keep those bags of vine material labeled. To dispose in the normal garbage dump is irresponsible. Each little chunk can easily start a new smothering crop somewhere else. If you could find CLEAR plastic bags, fill with your ivy debris, and leave in the sun to 'cook'. After 'cooking' for a few months, take to a dump that handles 'clean green' grass clippings (here in the states a dump has to have a special license to handle 'clean green') and they should know how to properly compost garden debris. Make sure they know you've got bags of vine clippings that you have tried to 'cook'. They will be impressed!

One other thing about this ivy, especially as it gets higher are RATS. This is a wonderful place for rats to hunker down in and travel unnoticed. When you keep this ivy crop of yours cut down twice per year you will not have to worry so much about creating a great rat population. Rats are limited in population by the King Daddy rat who kicks his progeny out as soon as they can be on their own. On your property will be his harem and maybe a successor or two living along with the King but your neighbors will get the young that will make their own kingdoms. All those sewers and caves with zillions of rats are just the 'nightclubs'.

Sure you don't want to have a lawn or a nice graveled forest floor??

How to Clip an Ivy

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Trimming an ivy results in a healthier more attractive plant, since excess vines can choke an ivy and slow its growth considerably. Removing dead sections and long leggy vines allows for improved air circulation between the healthy vines and encourages new growth at the point of the cuts and at the soil level. Many of the cuttings you make can be placed in water and rooted to produce more plants.

Untangle the ivy and gently separate the main vines, being careful not to pull them out at the soil line.

Select the healthiest vines and notice the small bumps that grow at each leaf intersection or node.

Select a node about six inches from the end of the vine and cut just above it. Place the cutting in a jar of water.

Cut every main vine farther back along each if you feel the plant needs more severe trimming. Place the cuttings in water.

Trim off and discard any dead or wilted vines, dried or yellowed leaves, and any part of the plant that shows signs of insect infestation or disease.

Wipe dust from the ivy's leaves with a soft damp cloth.

Reshape the trimmed plant by winding the main vines around each other or allowing them to hang over the edge of the pot.

Why Are My English Ivy Leaves Drying Up?

When your English Ivy leaves dry up, it doesn’t only affect its appearance, but its health as well. That’s why you need to know the reasons behind its drying, so you can keep it in top shape while looking great. There are various reasons why your English Ivy leaves are drying up, such as:

1. Too Much Water

YES, while this is pretty ironic, watering your plants too much can cause the leaves to turn brown, drying around the edges.

When you have overly wet soil, this can lead to root rot, which is a fungal disease that would destroy plant roots. Because of this, your plant will suffer, with the leaves beginning to dry up and die from its edges and going in.

2. Dry Air

The English Ivy prefers humid conditions, and if you leave it in environments with dry air, then it can cause the leaves to dry out. That’s why you need to make sure that the English Ivy is planted in areas in proper conditions, taking account of the humidity levels, temperature, sun exposure, among other factors.

3. Toxic Salts

Outdoor English Ivy plants don’t require fertilizing, though if you have indoor plants, you should consider using nitrogen-rich fertilizer to help it grow well. BUT, too much of it can be a bad thing!

When you have too much fertilizer on plants, it may build up in its soil, which burns your leaves and drying them up, turning brown and falling. This is from the nitrogen and salt content of fertilizer.

Not only can it happen when using fertilizer, but tap water as well, since this can be high in minerals.

4. Spider Mites

Spider mites are one of the most common English Ivy pests, and if severe infestations happen, it can cause your leaves to brown and dry out. These only affect indoor ivy plants usually, which is why you have to look out for any pests and mites regularly.

Wrapping It Up

It isn’t such a hassle raising English Ivy, though you do have to be wary about its leaves, which can be prone to drying at times. As long as you’re familiar with the risk factors that cause your leaves to dry or brown, you’ll be able to keep your plants healthy and living long.

I hope that this article answers your question, “why are my English Ivy leaves drying up?” and also helped you prevent it from happening again. So if you see your leaves drying, identify the cause and follow the proper remedy now!

Watch the video: Hedera Helix English Ivy Spotlight: Care Guide u0026 Tips

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