Garden Ivy. Beautiful Hero or Horticultural Villain?


Which side of the fence are you on? Do you love this beautiful, beneficial, native plant? Or are you less of a fan; considering this opportunistic evergreen to be an eyesore, a sign of neglect and an accident waiting to happen?

Image of ivy leaves

The real truth is somewhere in-between these two points of view, and depends more upon circumstance than pure black and white. Ivy can be both a friend and a foe.

Thumbs Down for the Villain

Ivy undoubtedly causes problems. It quickly scrambles up crumbling walls and old trees and smacks of neglect, leaving a sinister and unkempt appearance.

Given even a slim chance it climbs up sick and old trees, using their height to bathe itself in full sun. Only when in good daylight can an ivy plant reach maturity and bear fruit – the seeds of which are willingly spread by hungry birds, ready to grow elsewhere. Ivy is a threat to unstable trees, catching the wind in heavy storms, resulting in the tree being uprooted. It’s not however responsible for strangling trees or sapping out their strength. Ivy is not a parasite; it has its own root system and the growths which appear along the length of the plant do not penetrate roots or bark, and so cannot compete with the tree for food or water. Ivy can however be an outward signal of an unhealthy tree, so you should seek advice if this is a potential issue.

Ivy is accused of damaging houses, breaking walls and destroying fences. The concern is that ivy dries out walls and penetrates render, cracking walls and causing structural damage. But the reality is less damning. If the render on your walls is cracked or fences are starting to rot, then ivy has the potential to take hold and wreak havoc. However on strong, well-kept structures, structural damage is unlikely. The real risk is that ivy can create easy access for intruders. Its strong aerial supports mean it can act as a ladder for intruders – either human or animal. So if you have established ivy on the walls of your home, practice good home security and ensure your windows are securely fastened when you’re not in the room. We know of one lady who used to have a problem with frogs in her toilet – they would climb the ivy, come through bathroom window and sit in the loo, causing quite a shock on more than one occasion. Sick of these unwanted companions, she removed the ivy and the frogs stopped appearing!

Hands up for a Hero

As one of a handful of native British evergreens, ivy is a valuable addition to our countryside and gardens. It adds welcome cover to unsightly fences and creates greenery in otherwise unhospitable parts of the garden.

In its juvenile form, ivy helps suppress other weeds and prevent soil erosion, meaning less work for you, the gardener. It acts as a home for small animals and birds to nest in, helping support your garden’s biodiversity. It’s especially valuable in winter months as its insulating effects help protect small animals from the cold and allow them to forage in the unfrozen undergrowth to find food. Mature ivy plants provide a wonderful food source for birds and insects. The flowers are an important source of food for many insects before hibernation while the high fat content of the berries provides an essential food for birds during the winter months.

And it’s not just beneficial in your garden. It’s been suggested that having ivy on north or east-facing walls can help provide some degree of insulation in winter. If the masonry on your home is sound, ivy should present no issue. Just be sure to keep it in check with regular pruning to avoid it damaging guttering, windows and paintwork.

How should I deal with ivy in my garden?

Working in the horticultural trade, we think of ivy as more of an opportunistic thief than a career criminal. If your walls, fences and trees are in good condition, they will be unharmed by ivy. But it can turn thuggish if the situation allows, so keep control by pruning your ivy regularly.

If you’re concerned about the presence of ivy on a tree or building, then it’s a good idea to call in professional advice. Brackendale tree care are experienced in diagnosing weak or ailing trees and will be able to offer you sound advice to protect your prized tree specimens from ivy damage. Just get in touch and we’ll be happy to offer advice.

You can remove ivy that’s outstayed its welcome by cutting off the stems at ground level and then digging out the stump. Leaves and stems can be removed with ease, but aerial roots will need a stiff brush and a good helping of elbow grease.

 

Treat ivy with caution in your garden. It can be the perfect garden plant, so long as you set strict rules. Become lenient with this pretty little evergreen and it will take advantage, causing you extra work and causing damage.

 

Want to know more about ivy? Take a look at the following links:

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/plants-and-fungi/woodland-wildflowers/ivy/

https://www.rhs.org.uk/Advice/Profile?PID=192

https://www.rhs.org.uk/Advice/profile?PID=258