How To Plant, Prune, Fertilize, Water, Grow And Care For Ivy Plants

Hedera, commonly called Ivy, is very easy to grow when planted right and in the right spot. All ivy varieties prefer growing in a well-drained moist soil and shade to part shade. Some ivy varieties will tolerate full sun. Therefore, in design and before planting, it's a good idea to know the sun preferences of the specific ivy variety you intend on growing. You'll find specific sun preferences on any Ivy plant page in the Wilson Bros Gardens website. 

Here's a breakdown of what you need to know regarding planting and caring for Ivy plants...

Cultural Preferences


Though tolerant of many soil types, including clay, all ivy varieties will appreciate a moist but well-drained soil. Constantly soggy or wet soils are problematic. 

Soil pH

Soil pH is a measurement of the alkalinity or acidity of soil, which is measured on a scale of 1-14, with 7 as the neutral mark. Any measurement below 7 indicates acid soil conditions, and anything above 7 indicates alkaline.

Ivy prefer growing in soils ranging from 5.5 to 6.5 on the pH scale. Most average garden soils fall between a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0. 

If you're unsure about the pH of your soil, or whether or not it's suitable for growing Ivy, it's a good idea to test the soil pH in the planting area. You can quickly test soil pH with an inexpensive soil pH tester probe. To raise the pH (make more alkaline) you can add pelletized limestone to the soil. To lower the pH (make more acid) you can apply Soil Sulfur, Aluminum Sulfate, or Chelated Iron. Adding organic compost to the soil or using compost as mulch can also help to increase acidity and maintain acid soil conditions.

NOTE: Under the description tab on every plant page in Wilson Bros Gardens you'll find the soil pH preferences. 


All ivy varieties will grow well in part shade to shade. Some will tolerate full sun. Most of the varieties that require some shade will tolerate morning sun or all day filtered-sun. You can find the sun preferences under the Description tab on every plant page in the Wilson Bros Gardens website. 

Site Preparation For Mass Planting Ivy

Weed Elimination

Before planting, eliminate existing weeds or grasses in the planting area. You can pull weeds by hand or spray them with a solution of a broad-spectrum weed killer for use in landscape beds. Wait at least two hours after spraying a glyphosate-based product before you begin planting. Before using any chemical read the mixing and application instructions on the label. 

Soil Preparation

Tilling the soil in the planting area is optional. There are several reason we usually don't recommend it. Tilling on sloped ground loosens soil making it more susceptible to erosion in the event there comes heavy rainfall. Tilling can also bring buried dormant weeds seeds to the surface. Freshly tilled ground is a perfect environment for weed seeds to sprout in. If you do decide to till, we recommend the application of a landscape weed preventer to the soil surface. 

Also, if you are planting groundcover plants under established trees, be aware that tilling can cause serious damage to tree roots, which can effect the health of a tree. The feeder roots of trees can often extend well beyond the perimeter of the canopy.

If you are mass planting ivy as groundcover over a large area, to determine how many plants you will need, it is often necessary to first determine total square feet of the planting area. Once you have the square footage, and know how far apart you intend on spacing plants, you can calculate how many plants will be needed to fill the planting bed.


Planting Ivy In The Ground

(Scroll down for advice on planting Ivy in containers and pots)

Spacing Suggestion:  Space ivy plants 15-24 inches apart for groundcover

Step 1

Set and space all plants out in the planting area before starting to plant. Alternatively, you can use marking paint to mark the spot where each plant will go, which is often necessary when planting on steep slopes, where plants in containers will not stay put. 

If there will be more than one row of plants, begin by setting out or marking one straight row of plants. It's best to start along the edge of the planting bed making sure to space plants at a distance far enough from the edge of the planting bed to allow for future spreading. For example, plants with a recommended spacing of 24" apart should be spaced at least 12" from the edge of the bed (or surfaced area) to the center of the plant. After setting out the first row, stagger the plants on the second row and so on until the space is filled.

Step 2

If you applied mulch on top of the ground before planting, which is often a good idea before planting vine-like groundcover plants that have long runners, rake a small area of the mulch back in order to dig the planting hole. Start planting by using a shovel or trowel to dig your planting hole two to three times as wide and as deep or not much deeper than the root ball of your plant. Place native soil removed from planting hole around the perimeter of the hole, in a wheel barrow, or on a tarp.

Step 3

Depending on the type, fertility and porosity of the soil in the planting area, it may be beneficial to amend the native soil. When planting in heavy clay or poor soils mix in organic matter such as composted manure, bagged top soil, and or a good planting mix at a 50/50 ratio with the soil. When planting in a sandy, quick-draining soil amending with top soil, organic compost, or peat moss will help to retain moisture and supply vital plant nutrients. When planting in a fertile, loamy, well-drained moist soil there is no need to amend soil.

Step 4

To remove your plant from the container it was growing in, firmly grasp the base of the plant and gently lift and remove it from its container. If the root ball is stuck in the container either cut the container away or place the plant on it's side and gently pound on the side of the container to loosen the root ball. After having removed the plant from the container, use your fingers or a tool to gently loosen some feeder roots around the surface of the root ball. 

Note:  Ivy plants that are root bound, or have long, leggy runners, can be clipped back before planting by 25 to 50 percent of their size to sponsor denser branching.

Step 5

Set your plant in the planting hole so that the top edge of the rootball is at or slightly above ground level to allow for settling. It may be necessary to place some of your backfill soil mixture in the bottom of the hole to achieve proper planting height.

Step 6

After setting your plant in the planting hole, use one hand to hold the plant straight while using your other hand to begin backfilling the soil mixture around the root ball, tamping as you go to remove air pockets. When you have filled the hole to the halfway point you can soak the soil. Then continue backfilling to the top edge of the root ball. To avoid suffocating your plant, do not put any soil on top of the root ball.

Step 7

After planting some or all of your plants, deeply water the entire planting area. For an extra boost, you can also water with a solution of Root Stimulator, which stimulates early root formation and stronger root development, promoting greener, more vigorous plants.

Step 8

Apply a 1" layer of aged, shredded wood mulch or bark or a 1-2" layer of pine straw around your newly planted groundcovers. Avoid using freshly chipped or shredded wood for mulch until it has cured in a pile for at least 6 months, a year is better. 

Planting Ivy In Containers

Ivy is great for use as a soil cover and to spill over the rim of containers, pots and hanging baskets. Plant them alone or mixed with other plants in a well-drained pot that has a drainage hole(s).

When growing Ivy in containers, I suggest using a premium quality potting mix or potting soil, or a 50/50 mix thereof. 

Make sure to choose a container that is large enough to allow for 2 to 3 years of growth before shifting up to a larger size container. This might mean your planting pot would be 6 inches or more in width than the root ball of your plant. If you will be planting other plants in the same container with your Ivy up the size of the container.

Container color will matter as well. Not only will you want to pick a color of container that goes well with the foliage color of your Ivy, you'll also want to pick a container that matches the style of your home or other structures and other plants in the surrounding environment. 

Many nursery & garden centers offer a wide variety of containers to choose from. Before heading out to buy a container take pictures of your home and the surrounding environment. Doing so will help you to choose just the right color and style.

Container Planting Instructions

Step 1

Before filling your container with the soil mix, we recommend lining the bottom with shade cloth or a porous landscape fabric. This will keep the drainage holes from becoming stopped up with soil. Using gravel in the bottom of the container doesn't work well as roots will grow through the gravel and clog the drainage holes.

Step 2

To remove your plant from the container it was growing in, squeeze the container with your hands to loosen the rootball and then try to very gently lift and remove it from its container. Be careful not to damage your plant when removing it from its container. If the rootball is stuck in the container use some snips to cut the container away. After having removed the plant from the container, use your finger tips to gently loosen some feeder roots around the surface of the rootball.  

Step 3

Pour a small amount of your soil mixture in the bottom of the container. Set your fern in the container and make necessary adjustments by adding or removing some soil so that the top edge of the root ball will sit 1/2" to 1" below the rim of the container.

Step 4

Backfill with your potting soil around the root ball, tamping as you go, until the level of potting soil is even with the top edge of root ball.

Step 5

Water thoroughly until water starts to drain from the holes in the bottom of the container. Add more potting mix if settling occurs during watering.

Step 6 (optional)

Apply a 1/2" layer of bark chips or sphagnum moss to soil surface to help conserve moisture. 

How To Grow & Care For Ivy Plants

Feeding - Watering - Pruning

How To Fertilize Ivy

When established, Ivy aren't heavy feeders but young plants will appreciate a feeding in early spring and again in late summer with a slow-release shrub & tree type fertilizer or an organic plant food. Cease fertilization 2 months prior to the typical first-frost date in your area.

How To Water Ivy Plants

Ivy plants prefer a consistently moist soil while establishing themselves, however are exceptionally drought tolerant when established. They do not like constantly soggy soil, which can lead to root rot and other plant diseases. So be careful not to overwater plants.

After Planting

Immediately after planting deep soak the soil in the planting area to a depth of at least 6 inches. For an extra boost, you can also water with a solution of Root Stimulator, which stimulates early root formation and stronger root development, promoting greener, more vigorous plants.

During First Growing Season

In average garden soil you should not have to water your newly planted Ivy every day. More often than not, this causes soggy soil conditions that can lead to root rot and other plant diseases. In the absence of sufficient rainfall, water only as needed to keep the rootball and surrounding soil damp to moist. Keep in mind that deep soaking less frequently is much better than splashing just a little water on the plants every day. Plants planted during the winter dormant season, when not actively growing and evaporation is much slower, will require much less water. So, be extra careful not to overwater during winter!


When established, Ivy is quite drought tolerant. Rarely if ever will it require supplemental irrigation. If during a prolonged period of dry weather you see leaves wilting this could be an indicator that your plants could use a good deep soaking.

How To Prune Ivy Plants

At Planting Time

Ivy plants that are root bound or have long, leggy runners can be clipped back before planting by 25 percent of their length to sponsor denser branching.


When provided the right amount of space to grow and spaced properly, Ivy plants are low maintenance, and very little if any pruning will be required. That being said, they respond well to pruning. If the foliage grows out of bounds: over lawn areas or other surfaces, you can use an edger or string trimmer to clip vines back to any desired length. Keep in mind that like climbing hydrangea, creeping fig, and euonymus, that some ivy varieties will climb walls, tree trunks and other porous surfaces. An annual pruning can prevent climbing. 

When To Prune

Ivy plants can be pruned any time of year. That said, cease pruning two months prior to the average first-frost date in your area. After plants have gone dormant for winter you can resume pruning. 

How To Prune

 Use a pruning blade on a motorized weed trimmer a sharp pair of bypass hand pruners to remove top and side growth as desired. You can also use an edger around the edges of landscape borders.


Happy Growing!

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