How to Plant and Grow Boston Ivy

This multi-purpose vine covers structures and disguises eyesores with lustrous green foliage.

Boston Ivy Parthenocissus

Boston ivy is a vigorous vine, hardy in Zones 3-9, that grows up to 50 feet long and cloaks horizontal and vertical structures with lustrous green foliage that erupts in shades of red, orange, and yellow in fall. The colorful three-lobed leaves (each lobe is pointed) hang onto the vines for several weeks as if celebrating the end of the growing season. Birds frequently visit to eat the plant's purple-black berries in autumn.

Boston Ivy Overview

Genus Name Parthenocissus
Common Name Boston Ivy
Plant Type Vine
Light Part Sun, Shade, Sun
Height 30 to 50 feet
Width 5 to 10 feet
Season Features Colorful Fall Foliage
Special Features Attracts Birds, Low Maintenance
Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Propagation Seed, Stem Cuttings
Problem Solvers Deer Resistant

Where to Plant Boston Ivy

You may want to use Boston ivy to cover buildings, walls, trellises, arbors, and fences. Or you can let it do its thing to hide eyesores like old stumps, dead trees, and piles of rocks. The vine clings to vertical surfaces using adhesive holdfasts (sucker disks) that stay on the structure long after the vine is removed. For that reason, you may want to reconsider growing this climber on structures with painted, wood, or shingled exteriors. If you're comfortable letting this fast-growing ivy cover your house or garage, prune it annually to prevent it from growing over windows and into gutters.

Boston ivy grows in full sun, partial sun, or shade and effectively controls erosion on troublesome slopes.

How and When to Plant Boston Ivy

Plant container-grown transplants from nurseries in spring. Select a location that receives full sun or partial sun. Dig a hole the size of the rootball in well-draining, loamy soil for each plant and space them 5 to 10 feet apart. Place the plant in the hole and fill around the roots with soil, pressing down lightly on the soil to remove air pockets. Water the plants well.

When planting Boston ivy from seed, prepare a garden bed in spring by breaking up the top 6 inches of soil and adding compost if the soil needs it. Sow the seeds and press them 1/2 inch into the prepared soil. Water the garden bed and keep it moist until the seeds germinate. After the seeds germinate, thin the weaker seedlings until the remaining plants are spaced at least 5 feet apart.

Boston Ivy Care Tips


Boston ivy does best in full-sun locations. Although full sun produces the best fall color, it can be too much for the vine to handle in warm climates; the leaves could scorch. In that case, position the vine on a north-facing or east-facing wall to provide some relief. Partial sun is recommended for hot climates. Boston ivy will grow in shady areas, but the fall leaf color will not be as vibrant.

Soil and Water

Count on this salt-tolerant plant to grow in slow-draining clay, average well-drained soils, quick-to-dry sandy soil, and every other soil type. Water the plant well during the first season after planting, and spread a 2-inch-thick layer of mulch around the root zone to keep it cool. Water deeply to support developing roots during Boston ivy's first growing season, then weekly or possibly more often when the weather is hot. After it's established, Boston ivy is drought tolerant.

Temperature and Humidity

Boston ivy is a deciduous, woody vine. It loses its leaves in winter and tolerates freezing temperatures down to 0°F. It can be damaged if the temperature drops below zero. New growth can be damaged by a late frost in spring, but otherwise, the vine has no problems with most temperature ranges. It grows well in all kinds of climates, so humidity is not usually a concern.


Use an all-purpose fertilizer during the spring, following the manufacturer's directions, and if necessary, a high-phosphorous fertilizer to aid root development when first planted.


After the plant is established and begins growing rapidly, plan to prune annually in early spring before the leaves emerge. Trim the leafless vines back significantly to maintain the desired length and shape of the vine.

Pests and Problems

Boston ivy grows so quickly that pests and fungi don't have much opportunity to invade or infect it. Problems that can arise include powdery mildew, which can be treated with a spray mix of 1 quart of insecticidal soap and 1 tablespoon of alcohol. Bothersome scale can be treated with a sulfur spray done twice, two weeks apart.

How to Propagate Boston Ivy

Propagate Boston ivy in the spring from stem cuttings or seeds.

Cuttings: In spring, take 6-inch cuttings from new-growth stems, making the cut just beneath a leaf node. Remove the leaves from the bottom half of the cutting, dip it in rooting hormone, and plant it in a 4-inch pot filled with a lightweight soilless mixture. Place a clear plastic bag over it to retain humidity. Set the pot in a warm area that receives bright (not full sun) light. Check it regularly by tugging gently on one of the leaves; resistance indicates rooting has occurred. Remove the plastic bag and wait until new growth appears before repotting or moving it to a garden location.

Seed: In spring, prepare a garden bed by loosening the soil to 6 inches and amending it, if needed. Push the seeds 1/2 inch into the soil and water. Keep the soil moist until the seeds germinate; then, thin them to 5 to 10 feet apart.

Boston ivy seeds aren't hard to find at garden centers, but they can also be harvested in the fall from the Boston ivy berries. Place several ripe berries in a strainer. Press gently on the berries to separate the pulp from the seeds. Rinse any remaining pulp off the seeds and soak them in warm water for 24 hours. After the soak, place the seeds on a paper towel. When they are dry, put them in a clear plastic bag with moist sand. Put the bag in the refrigerator until spring planting time, checking it occasionally to make sure the sand remains moist.

Types of Boston Ivy

Virginia Creeper

Virginia creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Parthenocissus quinquefolia bears dark green, hand-shaped leaves that turn bright red in fall. It can climb to 50 feet and is native to areas of North America. Zones 3-9

Boston Ivy

Boston Ivy Parthenocissus tricuspidata

Parthenocissus tricuspidata offers ivy-shaped leaves that turn bright red and purple in fall. It can climb 50 feet. Zones 4-8

Companion Plants for Boston Ivy

Boston ivy has a pronounced presence in the landscape, whether it's climbing a trellis or fence or rambling up the side of a building. Because this deciduous, woody vine sheds its foliage in fall, you may want to supplement it with evergreen shrubs and conifers in the foreground to provide winter interest. Dwarf or small varieties of arborvitae (Thuja), juniper (Juniperus), pine, and spruce will provide color and texture through the drab winter months.

Other great companion plants include low-maintenance shrubs that thrive in a variety of growing conditions. Call on mock orange (Philadelphus), ninebark (Physocarpus), and potentilla to enhance full-sun or part-shade areas. These easy-to-grow shrubs will provide spring and early summer flowers at the foot of Boston ivy. Complement full-shade plantings of Boston ivy with rhododendron and camellia shrubs.


Arborvitae (Thuja spp.) are rugged evergreen trees that grow 20 feet tall. They handle being trimmed well and can be shaped into topiary plants. Some varieties remain green-leaved year-round, while others take on a bronze cast in fall and winter. They need some protection from winter winds. Zones 2-7.


Ninebark (Physocarpus spp.) shrubs have colorful foliage and white or pink blooms, but in the winter, the bark is the standout feature. It peels back in layers as though the shrub is exfoliating, adding interest at a time of year that needs it. It grows to 10 feet tall in Zones 3-7.


Rhododendrons (Rhododendron spp.) are classic garden plants available in many colors and sizes. Grown mostly in shady areas, the plant is covered with huge clusters of blooms from early spring to late summer; a few bloom in late winter. Zones 3-10.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does Boston ivy lose its leaves?

    Yes, since Boston ivy (unlike English ivy) is a deciduous, woody vine, it loses its leaves every winter.

  • Is Boston ivy destructive?

    No, it won't do harm to buildings or structures, although it can create a mess that's hard to clean up.

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