Questions on: Ivy

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service


Q: I just received three indoor ivy plants. The directions say to keep the soil moist. Can you give any information on how often I should water the plants? (e-mail reference)

A: Overhead and use tepid or room-temperature water. Allow the soil to dry down on the top inch, then water completely.


Q: I purchased variegated ivies that had a nice blue-green hue to them, but after they started to grow at home, they turned a regular green. Is there anything I can do to keep it the bluish-green hue? One more variegated question: I have an old hosta given to me by my grandmother some 30 years ago. In the spring, it comes up green with a variegated leaf, but then the variegated leaf turns green. Is there anything I can do to keep the variegation? (e-mail reference)

A: Variegated plants can be fertilized in the same fashion as other plants of the same species. You might ask the nursery what its trick is to produce the blue-green hue that you like. As to the hosta turning from a variegated to a full green, I have no idea other than it is the characteristic of this particular cultivar, so you have no choice but to accept it.


Q: I just moved in a house where the previous owners left two flourishing devil's ivy plants. When we moved in two weeks ago, they were both very green and healthy looking plants. Now the leaves on the ivy in the most-lit room are getting yellow, limp, have little holes, and cracks are forming. This plant is suspended in a plastic pot. The plant does not have proper drainage. There also is a white overgrowth at the base of the plant near the soil, which is almost fungi-looking. What should I do? Is there a product for this kind of problem? Thanks for your help. (e-mail reference)

A: Did you change the location of the plants, interior temperature or watering practices? If they were flourishing two weeks ago, but are now looking limp, a major event must have occurred. Plants almost always never decline that quickly unless something has served as a "trigger." You can try repotting in fresh potting soil and contacting the previous owner to see what it was the person did to keep the plants flourishing. Devil’s ivy usually is an easy plant to care for because it thrives on very little care, but still looks decent.


Q: Please tell me if it is possible to cut an ivy plant and reroot it in water to make another plant? (e-mail reference)

A: Without an idea which ivy plant you are referring to, I can generally say that most of the ivy plants I know of can be propagated that way.


Q: I have an English ivy plant that has been doing very well, but suddenly the vines started drying out from the bottom up. The leaves are turning brown and withering. I've fertilized it, but that isn't helping. Do I need to repot it? It's also in a window that, with the change in weather, has gotten quite a bit colder. (e-mail reference)

A: I would suggest repotting it, if for no other reason than to see if the roots are still alive. It may be overwatered or in a poorly drained container. If you fertilized when it didn't need it (only fertilize when new growth is evident), you could have reached a toxic salt level in the soil.


Q: I have two hedera ivy plants in a west window that seem to be doing well. Not being terribly educated in the area of houseplants, I fear I mistakenly repotted them in pots that are too large. However, they are doing well. After reading your question-and-answer section on ivy plants, I was unable to find an answer to my two questions. How do you “cut back hard” ivy plants? The vines on my plants reach lengths up to 3 feet. Is there a particular way they can be lifted up so that they don’t look scraggily? These are the first ivy plants that I’ve had some success at growing in the 25 years of having houseplants, so I don’t want to mess it up. (e-mail reference)

A: You shouldn’t worry because hedera ivy is a difficult plant to mess up! Pruning or “cutting back hard” simply means reducing the size of the plant significantly. In your case, it would mean reducing the plant from a straggly 3 feet to about 12 inches. In doing that, you are encouraging the plant to send out more new growth, which will help it become a more “bushy” vine (an oxymoron, really). The one thing you need to be careful about when repotting into a larger pot is overwatering. English ivies do not need a lot of water, so when you think they need water, think again and water at least a day later.


Q: I have an ivy plant that was given to me in a container. I repotted into the same size pot. Now it is not growing. The leaves are lighter than they were. Should I repot it in a smaller pot using Miracle Gro? I want to save the plant. (e-mail reference)

A: If the plant was doing fine in the store container, why repot it? If you haven’t thrown the original container out, replant it in the same pot and give it a shot of Miracle-Gro. If that doesn’t bring it back, nothing will.


Q: Some of the leaves on my English ivy topiary are starting to turn yellow. It is still in the plastic nursery pot it came in. Could that be the problem or what could be causing it? I mist it weekly and water when needed.
(e-mail reference)

A: Try repotting in a clay pot using the next nominal size larger pot. Use fresh potting soil and move it to where it can get a little more natural or artificial light. Check the leaves for possible spider mite damage, as they are susceptible to this pest. A stippled yellowing and some very fine webbing should be evident. Don’t overwater the plant. It is better to grow it a little on the dry side. A regular misting regime, such as once a week, will keep most spider mite infestations at bay.


Q: My daughter and I both purchased devil’s ivy plants. We only water when the soil becomes dry and don’t overwater. My daughter’s ivy is growing much prettier than mine. Mine has four runners while hers has many more. What am I doing wrong? Her ivy appears to be crying at times. She does not overwater, but drops fall from the leaves like teardrops. (e-mail reference)

A: It could be such things as the amount of light, heat, drafts, water source, temperature or using different containers. The crying you are referring to is from a small opening in the tips of the leaves known as hydathodes. Apparently your daughter’s plant is blessed with an abundance of hydathodes that pass the water from the interior of the plant to the atmosphere. It’s nothing to worry about.


Q: It seems like every time I have an ivy plant, it becomes infested with spider mites. Am I doing something wrong? No other plants in the house seem to have the problem. What is the best way to get rid of them for good? (e-mail reference)

A: It is like folks who grow potatoes and complain about Colorado potato beetles. They seem to come with the plant! Don’t frustrate yourself by attempting to grow something that attracts these pests so readily. Insecticidal soap sprayed on the foliage will often take care of the problem. Safer and Schultz are two product companies that market this material.


Q: I just received my first indoor ivy plant. I would like to know a watering schedule that will keep it as beautiful as it is now. (E-mail reference)

A: There are about six ivy plants that I know of, so I don’t know which one you are referencing. Generally speaking, allow the soil to dry between waterings, then water thoroughly. Allow the water to accumulate in the saucer for not more than 20 to 30 minutes before dumping it.


Q: I have grown English ivy plants for several years. In summer I put the plant outdoors and in winter I have them in the living room. What causes rot on the leaves? Sometimes the rot will cover half the leaf. I don't over-water. I fertilize the plant on occasion with MiracleGro. (Tioga, N.D.)

A: What you are calling rot could be salt damage or poor to no drainage in the container. I suspect the water may be high in salts. Try watering with distilled water to see if that helps. Make certain the container drainage is good.


Q: I have three pothos (Devil's ivy) in our office, each in a different room. They are doing very well but one of them has grown to huge proportions. The stem is three quarter inches across and two inches around. The leaves are about 7 1/2 x 10 1/2 inches. I searched the Internet and it says the leaves should be two to four inches which is true of the others in the office. It started growing like this after we moved here from another office. The only difference between the two offices is the lighting. The only difference between the location of this plant from the others is that this one is by a north window while the others have no window at all. I am baffled as to why it is growing the way it is. Could it be strictly the lighting? (Moorhead, Minn.)

A: I doubt it. It is more likely you have a chimera developing. Contact me again this spring when the weather is a little nicer and I will try to make a run over to your office to see if that is the case and if so, take a cutting from it.


Q: I have a Swedish ivy that continues to flourish, but the older leaves turn purplish with deep purple veins while the new leaves are the pretty shiny green that I would expect. The plant started out as all green. Am I doing something wrong, and how do I get the plant back to green? (E-mail reference)

A: The first thing I would suggest is fertilization, since you didn't mention it. Schultz makes a very good "Plant Food" (10-15-10) that houseplants typically respond well to. It is in all popular garden center outlets.


Q: I have a Swedish ivy that isn't exactly flourishing. I put it out in the late spring, and by the time I bring it inside in the fall, it looks lovely. But over the winter it grows spindly and the leaves get dark brown dried- up edges, or get yellow and fall off. I have it in a bright, sunny window and do not over water (perhaps under water). I do not let the roots sit in water. Second, I have read that rosemary plants can be transplanted in the fall and brought indoors to overwinter. I have tried this two years in a row; the first year the rosemary was in a pot and did very well outside. I brought it indoors pot and all, and within a short time the bottom part of the plant turned a grayish-green, which quickly spread to the rest of the plant, killing it. The second year, I had rosemary in the ground and transplanted it into a pot to bring indoors, and the same thing happened. What am I doing wrong? (E-mail reference, Jamestown, N.D.)

A: All one can hope for through our long winters is for plants first to survive, then recover during the summer. Your Swedish ivy apparently doesn't like the drafts from the window, the salts in the water, or the dry winter air that is the result of our heating systems needing to be used. All of these things could be the problem, or just one of them. I wouldn't suggest bringing the rosemary indoors during the winter. Mulch it heavily outside for the winter, and it should survive, if you got one of the hardy cultivars like 'Munstead'. The very same reasons for your Swedish ivy not doing well (plus possibly some spider mites damaging them) are killing your rosemary.


Q: Can you tell me why the enclosed sample of ivy has curled leaves? I put it outside in the summer, and have never had this problem before. (Carrington, N.D.)

A: Curled leaves are often the result of aphids or other piercing/sucking insects feeding. There was no physical evidence of aphids on the sample you sent. You might have had some post aphid activity that caused this. Another possibility is some minute herbicide contact. This could come from drift or residual in a container that was used to water the plant. In all probability, your plant will outgrow this minor affliction.


Q. We had the lawn sprayed last spring, but it did not kill this one weed. How do I get rid of it? (Rugby, N.D.)

A. The weed is Glechoma, also known as ground ivy. It has a nasty root system and so the best lawn spray to use is Trimec, the strongest herbicide on the market. You should be able to find it all most home and garden centers. Remember to follow the label instructions.


Q. Can you tell me the proper way to take care of my Swedish ivy? (Valley City, N.D.)

A. Cut it back hard, repot and place it in a sunny location. Give it a shot of fertilizer with the first watering. After that, watch that you don't get excess water on the foliage and that you throw away any drainage water from the bottom of the pot.


Q. I have two Swedish ivy plants that are blossoming with tiny white flowers on a sprig. They have never bloomed before, and nobody that I know has ever seen one bloom either. Is this normal? (Hecla, S.D.)

A. Whenever a foliage houseplant flowers, it is unusual. This is because the conditions we keep these plants in are not beneficial or conducive to the reproductive stages of growth. Hence, they remain vegetative. You apparently provided some conditions unwittingly to encourage the vine to flower.


Q. Enclosed is a too-friendly plant in our lawn. What is it and how do we get rid of it? Also, my fern peony buds but only one blooms. It's as if they dry up on the bud, even though I try to keep them watered and fertilized. How come? (Voltaire, N.D.)

A. Your "too-friendly plant" is a very determined weed known as ground ivy (Glecoura hederacea). It is a perennial that spreads by rooting on creeping stems, and reproduces by seed. This particular weed will thrive in shade, often out-competing the grasses that are attempting to grow in the same location. I once saw this weed so thick that I recommended the homeowner kill off the little bit of grass in it, and accept the weed as an alternative groundcover. Repeat applications of Trimec (or similar product containing dicamba) will kill it off.

Concerning your peony, try pulling about 1 inch of soil back from the crown of the plant and back off on overhead watering. Also, remove foliage in late fall once it has been blackened by frosts.


Q. I've enclosed infected samples of ivy and ferns. I've sprayed them with soap suds, but evidently I'm not getting the bugs. Could you tell me what I could use to get rid of the bugs? (Tyndall, S.D.)

A. Your ivy foliage is very undersized and in need of some fertilizer. Repot, and sprinkle a couple of pinches of fertilizer. You should see some response in two to three weeks or less.

Obtain Safer's Insecticidal Soap to control the aphid and mite problem on your plants. Household soap does little good. It wouldn't hurt to rinse the foliage of your plants through the summer with tap water. That, too, will help control insect buildup and produce healthy plants.


Q: Can you tell me what conditions are necessary for my indoor Swedish ivy to bloom? It was blooming when I bought it a year ago and it was beautiful. (I just read your 'Questions on Ivy' and saw the question from the person who has one blooming indoors, but I cannot find information on what conditions prompt this blooming.) (E-mail reference)

A: The Swedish ivy is one of the more perfect houseplants for our long winter months in the North, as it has colorful foliage and tolerates the usual dry air that goes along with central heating systems. To get it (or any other plant for that matter) to flower, place it where it can get bright but indirect light. They are generally placed near or on windowsills with a veiled curtain protecting them from direct light. It will take patience on your part and a little willingness to slightly neglect the plant, in order to get it into bloom. The flowering of such plants is an occasional experience, not something that can be programmed into care, such as limiting daylength. In the meantime, enjoy the attractive foliage!


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