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Ivy (English Ivy) ~ General Info

As an evergreen climber, ivy is especially loved for its capacity to fully cover any wall or facade, but it can also be trained to cover smaller, more defined spaces on a facade. Ivy shoots grow away from sunlight, and tend to climb their way inside any crack or crevice in the wall, potentially causing structural damage as the shoots grow thick. Ivy needs to be kept in check for this reason, and requires a generous amount of maintaining and pruning an ivy. For smaller surfaces, wintercreeper could be used instead. 

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

Foliage of the common English Ivy
Foliage of the common English Ivy

To Thrive...

Ivy does well in a sunny to semi-shaded location with a nutrient- and humus-rich soil and good water provision. Distance between plants: 2 - 8 metres.

Charateristics and Pruning

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

The native form - Hedera helix - is a particularly reliable climber, while Hedera colchica is reliable only in optimal conditions (locations). The Irish ivy Hedera helix "Hibernica" is particularly vigorous, but its root system is less effective. Hedera helix "Woerner" is the hardiest of the bunch, grows quickly, and clings firmly to walls; for these reasons it is FassadenGrün's favourite ivy. When an ivy cannot climb any higher, it will stop producing its adhesive rootlets to climb and will develop its mature form “arborescens,” which has 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 feast for bees! Fruits (berries) come during or after winter and provide food for birds. Pruning is possible at any time and is usually necessary to keep its growth in check, as you will see in the photos below.

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.

The unflattering side of ivy... A few things to know

The fruit of the ivy is poisonous and its leaves can irritate the skin. Ivy grows away from the light and if left unchecked, can cause considerable structural damage, especially if brickwork and render already have cracks into which the ivy is more than pleased to enter... eventually bursting structures with their thick-growing stems. We are frequently asked how to deal with the adhesive roots that remain on the wall when the ivy is removed (from a facade during its renovation, for example). The only sure 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?

Click the image to see which trellises are compatible with English ivy

Facade Greening with Ivy

Enter this gallery to see more examples of facades greened with ivy...

Old ivy-covered walls were a melancholic motif of Romanticism. Cloister gate in 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, when left unchecked (unpruned), 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 “Arborescence,” protruding about 70 cm in the front
If ivy is not restrained, buildings can be completely overgrown.
What looks like a natural 'accidental' growth here can only be achieved with rigorous pruning.
Even a facade greening like this only works with regular pruning.
With a lot of pruning, ivy can also be kept small and can then be used for graceful facade designs.
Ivy is great for protecting walls from graffiti-attempts or for 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 also thrives on 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 trellis frame made of steel profiles, 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 makes a perfect privacy screen.
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 overhanging 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 cling! In this, tape was used; beeswax also works well.
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.

Wire Rope Systems for Ivy

Please click on the graphic illustrations for details!

   = suitable              = of limited suitability              = unsuitable