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Ivy (English Ivy) General Information

Ivy is appreciated as an evergreen climbing plant and especially for its capacity to fully cover any wall or facade, but it can also be trained to cover defined spaces on a facade. The ivy shoots grow away from sunlight, and tend to climb inside any crack or crevice in the wall, which can then cause structural damage as the shoots grow thick. Maintaining and pruning an ivy is a lot of work.  Wintercreepers may be used instead for smaller wall surfaces.

(Common ivy, lat.: Hedera helix // colchica // hibernica)

Foliage of the common English Ivy

Requirements

Sunny (full sun) to semi-shaded position. Needs soil rich in nutrients and humus with good water provision. Distance between plants: 2 - 8 metres.

Charateristics and Pruning

This is a self-climber, often cascading, that may grow to a height of 20 metres or more. Of particular interest for façade greening are the wild- i.e., non-hybridised species and young forms, which are generally good climbers with clinging stem roots and, in moderate climates (zone 6a and up), are reliably evergreen.

 

The native form- Hedera helix - is a particularly reliable climber, while Hedera colchica is only reliable in optimal positions. Once an ivy can no longer grow further upwards, it will stop climbing with the adhesive stem roots and convert to the senescent form “Arborescent,” which develops simple oval, acuminate leaves instead of lobed ones, grows as a shrub only, and is sold as a different species altogether. Flowers appear in September-- a fragrant feasting meadow for bees! Fruits (berries) come during or after winter and attract birds. Pruning is possible at any time and often necessary to restrict growth, as illustrated and described in the photos.

Climbing Supports for the Facade

For heights of 6 meters or more, a wire rope trellis is strongly recommended to assist climbing and adhesion, and most of all to prevent the ivy from collapsing. Entire areas of an ivy mat can become detached in storms or strong winds. During a storm, and especially if the wall plaster is old and brittle, entire leaf mats can separate and collapse. For suitable rope systems, refer to the table below. Easy basic and medium kits are recommended; for higher greening, go with heavy or even massive systems. Ivy can be woven into fences, wire nets, trellises, etc.. for a decorative touch. Light, easy basic-s or easy mini kits would be sufficient for this purpose and for potted ivy plants.

General Comments

Ivy fruit is poisonous and the leaves may irritate the skin. Ivy grows away from the light and can cause considerable building damage, especially when brickwork and render have cracks into which the ivy is more than pleased to enter... eventually bursting structures with their thick-growing stems. We are often asked how to deal with the adhesive roots that remain on the wall when the ivy is taken off (from a façade during its renovation). The only way is to burn off / torch the plant traces and repaint the wall. An alternative to the complete removal of ivy is preventing it from climbing higher through the use of horizontal barriers in the form of cornices (projective window sills) or by framing the ivy with segments of sheet metal installed at a certain height, at least temporarily until the next pruning...

Suitable wire rope systems?

Please click the icon for showing the full suitability chart

Greening Facades with Ivy

Enter this gallery to see more examples of facade-greening with ivy...

Ancient ivy-covered walls were also a melancholic motif of Romanticism; here a gate to the cloister of the cathedral Merseburg / Saxony-Anhalt
Here a ledge prevents the ivy from climbing further, castle in Kronach / Bavaria
Ivy can grow to 20m high (and higher) and, without pruning, can lift roof shingles and block downpipes.
Picturesque greening with ivy... but, don't forget- regular pruning is essential!
Well maintained / pruned ivy in late winter; it is essential to cut back the areas towards the roof regularly to prevent building damage.
Well-pruned English Ivy
Ivy on a townhouse; the neighbouring houses are kept ivy-free.
Well-pruned ivy, mature form “Arborescent,” protruding about 70 cm in the front
If ivy is not restrained, buildings can be completely overgrown.
What looks like a wild 'accidental' greening can only be achieved with rigorous pruning.
Even a house greening like this only works with regular pruning.
With constant pruning ivy can be cultivated in small areas.
Ivy is great for protecting walls from possible graffiti or covering existing graffiti.
Ivy “tree” at the entrance to the Museum Bergen at Ruegen / Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Such a form can only be achieved with regular trimming and/or by using the mature form “Arborescens.”
A different ivy look... probably a mature (not self-clinging) form of H. colchica
Ivy on a house
Ivy on a house, Hiddensee / Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
Ivy on an urban villa
Ivy looks this green even in late winter!
Very old ivy with a mighty trunk on the corner of a house, mature form “Arborescens”
Greening of a retaining wall at an industrial facility, port Riesa / Saxony)
 
 
 

Greening other structures with ivy

Ivy is also a ready friend of banisters, parking garages, and pergolas. See this gallery for some examples...

Ivy overgrowing an old pergola
Ivy covering a rubbish site thanks to rigorous pruning!
An ivy-greened pergola/arcade
Cantilevered steel trellis frames for ivy, spanned with tension wires. Regular pruning achieves and maintains the desired formal green foliage mass
Privacy screen thanks to this with ivy on a carport
This completely greened fence is a perfect privacy shield
Ivy is very suitable for greening fences, lattices, etc..
Parking structures and garages are good candidates for ivy greening
Ivy-greenery on walls in Neustadt / Schleswig-Holstein
Ivy can also grow overhangig from above, as seen on this wall in Greiz / Thüringen
 
 

Botanical Features

Have a look here at the leaves, aerial rootlets, fruits, blossoms, and different ivy-types, including the mature form Arborescens.

In our latitudes (Germany) ivy is definitely evergreen and frost resistant (up to approx. 500 metres above sea level).
Evergreen ivy as a symbol of eternal life is an integral part of churches and cemeteries.
Unfortunately, due to this “graveyard” character, many people don't like ivy.
Leaves of an old ivy "arborescens" (left, with fruit formation) and young growth on the same plant
Persian ivy (Hedera colchicum) with lighter coloured and more acuminate (tapered, heart-shaped) leaves
There are some decorative, pointy-leaved ivy-varieties which grow less vigorously.
Pointy-leaved ivy on a wall
Ivy flowers are a haven for insects and last well into October
Birds love the ivy fruit (berries).
With age, ivy can form trunks this thick!
Older adhesive rootlets of ivy
The adhesive rootlets leave behind traces after the ivy has been cut back or removed.

Climbing Aids for Ivy

Although ivy is a self-clinging-climber and usually climbs walls and objects alone, some sort of support / protection against collapse is highly recommended.

Sometimes self clinging climbers refuse to climb ('stick to') some walls on their own; in these cases tape or even beeswax may help.
Wire ropes will help ivy climb this concrete wall and keep they ivy from collapsing.
Simplest wire rope system as a 'fall protection' (analogous to our wire rope system 8050) on a retaining wal
Vertical climbing cables support these ivy plants
Ivy is guided on vertical ropes against these glazed tiles
Medium construction style "eco" (wire rope system 8030), used to prevent this ivy from falling off the wall
Here ivy shoots were woven into fan shaped wires between the carport posts (system 7060) and form a thick leaf mat 'screen.'
Ivy gratefully accepts any lattice-like system (fences, etc..) as a weaving/climbing aid.
Ivy on a stainless steel mesh, side wall of a bus stop
Despite its adhesive aerial roots, ivy can tear off due to its own weight; here-- even parts of the plaster can fall off along with the ivy.
Detaching is often a result of a squall (a sudden violent gust of wind).
Not a rolled-up carpet, but a mat of ivy! Despite its adhesive roots, ivy can collapse from its own weight, as shown here... bits of brittle old plaster can also break off.
This tremendous ivy-mat fell off in 2013 due to long lasting rain and strong winds. A wire rope system would have prevented this from happening! Hessen, Germany
Same on this wall in Stuttgart: an old ivy partly fell off, then got pruned and set with a new collapse-protection (wire rope system 9040, heavy construction style
This sheet-metal prevents the ivy from growing higher on the wall.
 
 
 

Suitable wire rope supports for ivy

Please click on the graphic illustrations for details!

 = suitable             = of limited suitability             = unsuitable