In the past week, I've had two people call and ask about hardy English ivy.
In both cases, the ivy hasn't looked well, with brown leaves and seemingly dead vines. The frigid winter we experienced seems to be taking the majority of the blame.
Some of you are likely responding with a sympathetic, ''awww,'' while others are probably thinking, ''good riddance.''
English ivy, or Hedera helix, is one of those plants that people either love or hate. In my house, this battle has been waged. When I was a little girl reading books set in England, I wanted to someday live in England in a large brick house covered with ivy. Since it is unlikely I will ever reside in a manor house on the English countryside, I decided I could duplicate the setting by planting English ivy in my front garden. It was when the ivy began to grow up the house that the husband decided it had to go.
English ivy is considered a noxious weed by many who have had to deal with its bullying growth habits. It not only forms a dense mat where it chokes out other plants, but its long, trailing vines can reach as long as 80 feet, crawling along the ground until it reaches a structure where it can begin to grow upward.
English ivy doesn't limit itself to buildings. It will grab onto to tree trunks and climb upward, clinging to the tree's trunk and branches with tiny, hairy roots. When it reaches its full height, the vine will send out rootless tendrils, wrapping itself around branches, covering leaves and compromising the tree's ability to photosynthesize. It doesn't happen overnight, but eventually the suffering tree will succumb to the weight of the ivy and simply fall over.
For this reason, when ivy-loving backyard gardeners began asking if their hardy English ivy would recover from our harsh winter, finding information to answer that question was not an easy task. Most everything I could find about English ivy was how to get rid of it, not how to save it.
Hardy English ivy is native to Europe and was probably introduced into the United States when European settlers first came to this country. It is still a popular groundcover for those who love the plant, which I still do in spite of its faults. It fills empty spaces on the edges of tree lines, holds weeds at bay all the while providing an attractive and virtually maintenance-free alternative to fussier perennials.
English ivy has very few pest problems and when they are attacked by a fungal infection or poor growing conditions, they easily, and quickly, recover. Ivy can grow in both sun and partial shade and can handled a drought, but it doesn't like extremely wet conditions. English ivy is not a bog plant.
If your ivy looks a bit winter weary, chances are good it will recover with time. The roots of this plant are strong and even though what is showing above ground looks sad, the roots are simply waiting for better weather. It isn't surprising that a harshly cold winter and wet spring has taken its toll, but with a little patience, new growth is probably hidden somewhere underneath those dead, brown leaves.
Gently rake the brown growth away but try not to disturb the vines that might be trying to produce tender, new stems. If you like, you can feed the plants at the soil level with a balanced fertilizer.
And if some plants don't recover and leave bare spots among the ivy mat, replanting with rooted cuttings will quickly fill in those areas.