Ivy: a plant out of place?

It’s often said that a weed is just a plant out of place, and Hedera helix, the common ivy, is a good example. The RHS lists ten nurseries that will supply H. Helix plants (at a cost of up to £15 each!) yet most gardeners will spend more time removing ivy than nurturing it.

There’s no doubt ivy is useful – for the gardener, as screening or ground cover for ‘difficult’ places, and for wildlife as part of a rich habitat for foraging and nesting. But once established, it can spread at an alarming rate through the deep mulch of leafmould in our borders, smothering smaller shrubs and spoiling the form of specimen trees. This is a particular problem in Morrab with trees like Eucalyptus that have decorative bark, or fibrous stems such as tree ferns. And while it may be true that ivy will not kill a healthy tree, it does present a risk by providing conditions for fungal rot to set in, and makes it impossible to assess the condition of the tree.

In the Gardens we allow ivy to colonise areas where it can spread without causing damage, but try to remove it from intensively planted areas and susceptible trees. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been clearing ivy from some parts of the garden, ready for planting as soon as conditions allow. Late winter, when other vegetation is still sparse, is an ideal time of year for this work; a few weeks later, and we would risk disturbing ground-nesting birds.


Common Ivy (Hedera helix)
Ivy growing in a mixed border


Further reading:

Hedera helix (Kew Gardens)

Hedera helix (RHS)

Hedera helix (Woodland Trust)