HARDINESS: Zones 4 to 9
PREFERRED SOIL pH: Slightly acid
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Average
PREFERRED LIGHT: Partial shade
ATTRIBUTES: Shade-tolerant vine with lobed leaves and fall color; for covering walls
SEASON OF INTEREST: Spring to late fall
TYPE OF VINE: Deciduous perennial; climbs with adhesive holdfasts
FAVORITES: Compact 'Lowii; vigorous 'Robusta'; 'Veitchii' for foliage color
QUIRKS: Can attach to almost any surface; very vigorous
GOOD NEIGHBORS: Provides a textured, colorful backdrop for any shade-tolerant plant
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Fertile, moist soil in partial shade
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Can cause structural damage to wood surfaces and roofs
RENEWING PLANTS: Lives for years; renewal not necessary
CRITTER RESISTANCE: Excellent
SOURCE: Bedding plants
DIMENSIONS: To 60 ft (18.3 m)
Boston Ivy in the Landscape
No vine provides coverage comparable to Boston ivy, making it unsurpassed for covering large, blank masonry walls. Native to China and Japan, this perennial vine is grown for its glossy green, sharply lobed leaves, which are arranged in overlapping tiers so dense that the support behind them disappears. The leaves of some varieties are purplish when young and may become veined or edged in pink as they mature. In fall Boston ivy turns brilliant red, and in winter the leafless stems draw interest with the lines they trace, stretching ever upward until they reach 60 ft (18.3 m) in length.
Boston ivy fastens itself to a surface with adhesive, suckerlike pads called holdfasts. They cause no harm to brick, stone, or stucco, but can hold moisture against wood surfaces, contributing to its decay. And, should you need to pull the vine down to paint a wooden structure, substantial work is involved in removing holdfasts and their residue from the wall.
Focused Fall Color
Several cultivars show special characteristics. Both 'Beverley Brooks' and 'Lowii' have smaller leaves than the species and grow a bit shorter. On the other end of the scale is 'Robusta', an especially vigorous, large-leaved cultivar. For maximum color, try 'Veitchii' or 'Atropurpurea'. These start and end the growing season with reddish purple leaves that are green in summer.
All in the Family
The North American native counterpart to Boston ivy is Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). With 5 slender leaflets splayed out like the fingers of a hand, Virginia creeper foliage is less glossy than that of Boston ivy but also turns bright red in fall. Vigorous but not dense, this care-free native vine is just right for informal natural areas or as a groundcover.
Growing Boston Ivy
Plant Boston ivy in spring, in a partially shaded site. It is not fussy about soil but grows vigorously in fertile soil high in organic matter, so amend the planting hole with leaf mold, compost, or dried manure if your soil has a lot of clay or sand. Keep the roots barely moist throughout the first growing season, and in subsequent years when rainfall is lacking. Young vines may need some training to get them to climb until the holdfasts unfurl from the stems and touch the support. Press the stems against the growing surface by propping them behind a brick, or a similar object. The stems will soon send out holdfasts to grab the wall on contact.
Don't let this vigorous vine, which grows several feet each year, get out of control. Prune in any season to keep the vines away from eaves and window or door frames, and to contain size. Its thick leaves are an adequate deterrent to pests and diseases.