Hedera helix ivy plants commonly are referred to as English ivy. Originally from Europe and parts of Asia and Africa, its hardiness and ability to adapt to a variety of soils have made it a problem plant in many parts of the United States. It is planted for its attractive evergreen foliage by landscapers and gardeners, but be careful if you decide to plant Hedera helix in your garden. Find out more about English ivy and why this pretty plant is considered a pest by many.
Hedera helix ivy plants have dark green, lobed leaves with white veins on them. The leaves can have between three and five lobes once mature. The stems produce hairlike tendrils that adhere to walls, trees and stones. As the plant grows and sends out vines, the stems widen in diameter, reaching between 6 and 12 inches. Hedera helix ivy plants produce small yellowish flowers and hard black seeds in autumn.
There are two ways that English ivy propagates independently. Hedera helix ivy plant seeds are carried by birds that deposit them through their droppings. Also, broken stems send out roots in moist soil. Gardeners propagate ivy plants with a method called layering. Growing stems are bent and affixed along the ground. Once the bent stem takes root, it is cut off from the parent and becomes a new plant.
Often planted for decorative effect, Hedera helix ivy also is used as a ground cover. Once established, it requires little maintenance because it attracts few pests and survives the cold well, staying green all winter. Florists train English ivy in topiaries or around baskets. Landscapers plant it as a carefree alternative to grass. Left unattended, it will grow up walls, around trees and eventually choke out other plant growth.
An Invasive Species
English ivy is considered an invasive species in the United States along the entire West Coast and on the East Coast from Maryland to Georgia. Between its easy propagation and rapid growth, Hedera helix ivy plants invade and take over native plant species and trees. Once the Hedera helix ivy plant starts to grow up a tree, it eventually blocks out the light. Without light, the tree is weakened and may die. Shallow, matted roots foment soil erosion, and the Hedera helix can carry a pathogen that harms native plants.
If you decide to grow English ivy in your garden, aggressively prune its growth once a year. Do not allow it to invade neighboring gardens or parks. Discourage it from growing up trees by cutting back the vines several feet from around tree trunks. Cut off vines at ground level that already have started to send stems up trees. Remove as much as the ivy as you can without damaging the tree bark. If you live in an area that classifies Hedera helix ivy as an invasive plant, consider planting native vegetation, trees and ground covers.