Stroll across a university campus and you might spot Boston ivy clinging to buildings—especially in the Northeast where it inspired the name Ivy League. You may want to use it to cover your own buildings, walls, trellises, arbors, and fences. Or you can let it do its thing to cover eyesores like old stumps, dead trees, and piles of rocks. This vigorous vine, which grows up to 50 feet long or more, 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 visit frequently to eat the plant’s purple-black berries in autumn. But be careful, the berries are poisonous to people and pets. This ivy is rarely bothered by deer.
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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 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.
How to Care For Boston Ivy
A fast-growing tendril-type vine, Boston ivy grows well in full sun or shade and tolerates most soil conditions. Count on this salt-tolerant plant to grow well in slow-draining clay and quick-to-dry sandy soil and every soil type in between. It does an admirable job of controlling erosion on troublesome slopes.
Growing Boston ivy does come with some challenges. The vine clings to vertical surfaces by using adhesive holdfasts (also known as sucker disks) that stay on the structure long after the vine has been removed. For that reason, you may want to reconsider growing this climber on structures with painted, wood, or shingled exteriors. If you are 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 does best in light conditions that range from full sun to part shade (choose full sun for the best fall color) and average well-drained soils. Plant container-grown transplants from nurseries in spring. 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. After 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.
More Varieties of Boston Ivy
Parthenocissus quinquefolia bears dark green, hand-shape leaves that turn bright red in fall. It can climb to 50 feet and is native to areas of North America. Zones 3-9
Parthenocissus tricuspidata offers ivy-shape leaves that turn bright red and purple in fall. It can climb 70 feet. Zones 4-8