Also called "creeping Charlie," Swedish ivy (Plectranthus australis) belongs to the mint family, Lamiaceae, and is not a true ivy. An evergreen perennial with somewhat fleshy leaves, the stems first rise upright before sprawling horizontally, making a lush ground cover. Frosts turn the leaves and stems mushy and brown, killing the plant.
Swedish ivy hails from the moist, warm rainforests of northeastern Australia.
The rounded, glossy medium to dark green leaves of Swedish ivy bear tiny scalloped edges. Although the foliage and sprawling or drooping stem habit encompasses the main attractiveness, occasionally in summer's warmth tiny sprays of tubular white or pinkish blossoms appear. Overall, the plant grows to a mounding height of 18 to 24 inches with the stems reaching 3 to 4 feet. The cultivar named Variegata produces green leaves with white edges.
Grow Swedish ivy in a fertile, non-alkaline soil (pH 5.0 to 7.0) that remains consistently and evenly moist but also drains well and quickly. Water after the top inch of soil feels slightly dry to the touch. Avoid full sun exposure and provide very bright indirect light or partial shade, where no more than three to five hours of broken sunlight reaches the foliage throughout the day. Too much sun dries the plant, leading to dried leaves or leaves with sunscald.
In frost-free tropical gardens, USDA zones 10 and warmer, this plant makes a lovely ground cover in the dappled shade under shade trees and palm groves. It looks great in large hanging baskets or large urn-shaped containers with the sprawling, dropping stems. Elsewhere, grow Swedish ivy as a houseplant, including in a hanging basket, occasionally trimming back long stems to keep the plant looking tidy.
Pests and Diseases
White flies, scale and mealybugs cause problems for Swedish ivy, particularly when grown in less-than-ideal conditions. Hot, dry conditions lead to spidermite infestations, while over-watering coupled with high humidity causes fungus to rot leaves and especially stems where they contact the wet soil surface. Soggy soils suffocate and rot the roots.