In my pre-gardening days, I used to think of ivy as just an outdoor plant. That invasive climber that covers houses and buildings seemingly overnight. But while it’s more often found outdoors, ivy actually makes a wonderful trailing or climbing houseplant too.
How fast does it grow indoors? Though it can zoom up several feet in height and width each year outside, ivy grows more slowly indoors. Not much faster than any other houseplant, in fact. It also tends to be a little fussier when grown inside, but it can still thrive given the right care.
Most ivies are practically unlimited in their spread outside, with untold space for roots to roam. But their growth indoors will be limited by the size of their pot.
You can also easily keep them pruned to the size you like when you grow them as houseplants. Just snap or pinch off the vine with your fingers just above a leaf, or snip with pruners or scissors.
There are a world of ivy varieties you can choose from (Algerian, Irish, Swedish, Japanese, Persian and plenty more). But the most popular for indoor growers is English ivy.
Why English ivy is ideal for growing indoors
As well as producing lush, long tendrils of foliage to freshen up a room, English ivy (Hedera helix) is one of the very best plants for air purifying, according to a study carried out by NASA.
Like all houseplants, ivy releases oxygen into the air. But it’s also especially good at absorbing formaldehyde, a carcinogen which is often found lurking in household cleaning products, paints, wood products, cosmetics, glues, etc, as well as cigarette smoke.
Soak it up
Ivy can also absorb trace amounts of benzene, a common component of plastics and other synthetic fibres which has been linked to leukaemia.
And it can even soak up airborne faecal matter (sorry – I know you probably didn’t want to think about that!), which makes it an ideal choice for homes with pets.
Unlike outdoor-grown ivy, it won’t usually produce berries or flowers when grown indoors. But if you choose a variegated ivy, the foliage is more than decorative enough in its own right.
It can be grown in hanging baskets or pots of its own, or at the base of other plants. You can also train it on trellises or wire topiary frames for a more structured look.
Getting your ivy off to the best start
You can propagate an ivy plant fairly easily by rooting a cutting taken from the stem or tip of an existing plant. Most varieties will root quite quickly in water. Just remove the lower leaves and place the stem in a jar of water in a well-lit spot. After a few weeks you should see roots develop.
Once roots are around 2-3 inches long, gently transfer the plant to a pot filled with high-quality potting soil which will ensure good drainage. Mixing a little compost in too will help boost nutrient levels. Repot ivies when plants become top-heavy or root bound, or if they seem to be drying out too rapidly.
The new pot shouldn’t be much bigger than the original pot – only around an inch wider. If pots are too big, it can lead soil to hold on to too much moisture, which ivies generally dislike. Because the roots of an English ivy don’t grow very deep, a bowl-shaped shallow planter will be ideal.
VERY IMPORTANT – Make sure your chosen pot or container has drainage holes. Otherwise, the pot will become waterlogged and your plant may succumb to the dreaded root rot!
Plenty of light will boost growth
Though indoor growing can bring some challenges, don’t let that put you off. To get the best out of your ivy, you just need to bear a couple of things in mind.
The number one thing to consider is light. English ivy plants grow best with plenty of exposure to indirect light for around 8-10 hours a day.
If they don’t get enough, they’ll grow leggy, tired-looking and more vulnerable to pests. Choose a bright spot out of direct sun (which can scorch leaves). Close to a sunny window is perfect.
Ivies will tolerate low to medium light if they have to, but growth won’t be as vigorous.
If you’ve chosen a variegated ivy cultivar, low light can make the leaves change to all green, which is a shame if you’ve chosen your ivy specifically for its two-tone foliage.
If natural light is lacking in your home, some growers get good results with artificial lights, which may be worth considering. A full spectrum LED grow light which mimics natural UV will help you grow not just ivy, but all kinds of plants and vegetables indoors all year round.
While they can be a little expensive to buy, the running costs are low and they will soon repay your initial investment with prolific plant growth and a longer, more productive growing season for fruit and vegetable crops.
How often should you water indoor ivy?
You shouldn’t water ivies too often or you’ll risk killing them with kindness. Around once or twice a week should be fine – they actually don’t mind soil being a little on the dry side.
And never allow ivies to stand in water or you may find plants develop root rot, as mentioned above.
Root rot is usually caused by either a soil mix or pot that isn’t free draining enough, or from overly frequent watering when plants don’t need it.
In growing season when the weather is warmer, water plants regularly, but ease back during the winter months. When you do water, give them a good drink but let soil dry to the touch to a depth of about ½ inch before watering again.
Mist the leaves 1-2 times a week to keep them hydrated, especially in the summer months. If you find the leaves seem to be drying up, it could be because the room is too warm for them.
Ivy does well at cool to moderate room temperatures of 50 to 70°F during the day and about 5 to 10°F lower at night. Much higher and you’ll find leaves start to droop and look pretty sorry for themselves.
Keeping ivy healthy – feeding and pest control
Fertilise ivies around once a month with a slow-release nitrogen fertiliser while they are actively growing in the warmer months.
Make sure to avoid the leaves so you don’t burn them. And don’t fertilise when plants stop growing, either in the heat of summer or in cooler weather, as this can do more harm than good.
Though plant diseases shouldn’t be a problem indoors, insect damage can still be an issue. Mealybugs, mites, aphids, whiteflies and scales are the most common insect pests of ivies grown as houseplants.
Nip bugs in the bud
If the area infested is small, you can just prune out those parts of the plant. Plants can be pruned at any time of the year, and this will also help to keep plants a manageable size.
It’s important to note that some people can develop a skin rash on contact with ivy sap, so wearing gloves when pruning ivies is always good practice.
You can also pick up plenty of products to help with pests, from specially formulated sprays to sticky traps that you lay on the soil’s surface if you’d rather avoid chemicals. But the best way to deal with pests is early intervention.
Stop insects in their tracks at the first sign of danger by physically washing them off.
Periodic washing can really help to prevent pest problems taking hold and becoming more serious. Just stand your plant in the shower and rinse foliage under cool running water (taking care not to disturb soil).
If infestation is more advanced, wash the plant by dunking foliage upside down in an insecticide soap solution. Cover soil over with some foil or plastic to keep it in place in the pot.
Maintaining cooler temperatures and high humidity will help prevent some of the most common insect pests. The only down side is that your plant will tend to grow a little more slowly.
Over to you – give it a go
Though ivy has its quirks and does need a little bit of effort to get going, it’ll definitely reward you for your efforts. It’s a beautifully versatile plant that comes in so many varieties and can be displayed in multiple different ways.
Whether you have it cascading down from a shelf, suspended from the ceiling in an indoor hanging basket, shaped around a topiary frame or plant support, or even grown up trellis on an indoor wall, its wonderfully wild and untamed vines are a lovely way to bring a touch of the outdoors in.
Do you know somebody with an ivy plant indoors or in their garden? Why not ask them for a cutting of a few inches or so and give it a whirl? It might just be the start of a life-long love affair with ivies!