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Ask Dayle

10/17/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Dayle Davis

Save heavy pruning of English ivy for spring so the plant has the entire summer to recover and fill in. Light pruning can be done at any time of year to shape the plant and control growth.
Photo courtesy of MetroCreativeConnection
Q: Last spring we planted English ivy in front of the fence at our condo in Akron. We added some more plants this year. We would like to take good care of it and let it spread farther over the next few years. The ivy looks very healthy but is beginning to “stack up.” Old sprouts are a dark green and new sprouts are a light green. I understand that we can trim anytime to keep the ivy contained and as short as we like.

We’re not sure how to trim it. Can we cut both light and dark green sprouts? Do we trim it by just cutting off the ends of the sprouts? Your comments would be appreciated.

A: Yes, you can trim both mature dark green foliage, as well as the young, light green sprouts from English ivy. The length of the pruned piece is a matter of personal preference. Some folks like long strands of ivy to form and others like short bushy demi plants. English ivy is a great groundcover, a greater filler for container gardening and it adapts well to topiary forms.

Since your planting is fairly new, not much pruning should be necessary. As it grows, however, keep the following in mind:

Try to determine which type of English ivy grows in your garden. Some plants grow lots of side branches rather than long trailing vines. This growth habit gives English ivy a small shrub-like appearance that requires less pruning than a vining ivy plant.

Vining plants may require pruning care up to four times per year or more.

Save heavy pruning for spring so that the plant has the entire summer to recover and fill in. Light pruning can be done at any time of year to shape the plant and control growth. To prune, take a good look at the ivy. The first pruning cuts should be those of vines with dead or dying leaves, then those that have grown leggy; that is, when there is more vine than leaves growing. Use sharp pruners to cut close to where one vine branches with another vine branch. If you want the vine to fill in bare spots that show here and there within the groundcover, then prune just the tender tips of the plant. If you want new vining branches, clip the end of vine sections, rather than just tips.

In general, keep in mind that English ivy is a vigorously growing vine, considered almost invasive by some folks, under ideal growing conditions. Vines can grow much more than 20 feet per year. The plant requires very little fertilizer. Fertilize only in spring and very sparingly, if at all.

Also, take care when planting English ivy near a structure. Every leaf node produces roots that can penetrate whatever it is growing upon, including concrete, brick, mortar — even the bark of trees. As the vine matures, the roots expand and cause the material they are attached to, to crack or crumble, sometimes compromising the structure itself.

Do not allow English ivy to run vines up a tree. The vines can completely cover branches and prevent the trees from leafing out, which will eventually kill the tree. Heavy, mature ivy vines engulfing trees will make the trees more susceptible to uprooting or blowing over during storms.

Once an ivy bed is well established, shear it back hard every four years or so, using hedge clippers or a lawn mower, but don’t cut through the base of the plant itself. This practice rejuvenates the plants and encourages the foliage to fill in.

Use the pruned pieces of young English ivy stems to propagate more plants. Take a six-inch piece of stem and remove the lowest leaves from the cut part of the stem, preserving the rest of the foliage. Place the cut stems in a jar of water similar to the way you might arrange a bouquet of cut flowers from the garden. Keep an eye on the water level and change the water often to keep it clean. Once roots have formed, plant the newly rooted cuttings in your garden. Mulch the soil and keep the plants watered until they have taken good hold. Because the vines will root in place where they touch the ground, sometimes it is a matter of clipping these vines and tugging them from the soil to replant them in a new spot. That way no prerooting is necessary.

For more horticultural information, call The Ohio State University Summit County Hotline Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon at 330-928-4769, ext. 3, and request Fact Sheet HYG-3064-96, “Diseases of Ground Cover Plants.”

Please note fact sheets are sent out free, but there is a fee for bulletins. Many bulletins are available online at ohio line.osu.edu and can be printed from home or accessed at the public library.


Dayle Davis is a freelance writer and avid perennial gardener, with a B.A. in communications and course work in botany, geology and wildflowers. Davis is a master gardener emeritus under The Ohio State University’s Horticultural Extension. Readers can send in questions regarding lawn and garden issues, which could be featured in a future edition, as well as about the OSU Master Gardener program. Questions can be emailed to kcollins@akron.com, faxed to 330-665-9590 or sent to Leader Publications, 3075 Smith Road, Suite 204, Akron, OH 44333. Please do not send any leaves, seeds or other organic material. Inquiries about area garden clubs or groups should be sent directly to the particular organization in question.

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