How to choose the best ivy walls for your home

“What is the best ivy to grow on my home?”

“Will growing ivy damage my home?”

These are both questions I get asked a lot on social media.

As many of you know, we have a lot of ivy currently growing on our own red brick home.

Through trial and error and a lot of research, we discovered the right vines and the best vines for our house.

Here are the types of ivy you should and should not use on your home’s exterior.

porte cochere covered in Boston Ivy brick walls of home

Choosing The Best Ivy Walls For Your Home

Ivy covered walls are a beautiful, time honored way to enhance the exterior of a home.

Ivy walls often bring to mind images of old mansions, forest cottages, and grand European estates.

For many people, the idea of allowing ivy to decorate the exterior walls of their home is appealing, however, it can cause a lot of damage if you’re not careful.

Fortunately, there are ivy plants which will not compromise the integrity of your home’s construction.

Let’s explore what could be the right type of ivy for your home.

Boston Ivy growing on brick wall of housesimilar outdoor lantern

Boston Ivy vs. English Ivy: There are 2 different types of ivy which are native plants and commonly seen in the U.S. Northeast, English and Boston Ivy.

We have a lot of experience growing both of these ivy varieties on our home over the years.

English Ivy on house with a turret

English Ivy

English ivy, also known as Hedera Helix, typically produces smaller and darker shaded leaves on thicker stems.

It generally grows slower than Boston ivy.

This may take a few extra seasons to become established, but English Ivy requires less frequent pruning and can therefore be sculpted into more precise and “formal” wall coverings.

English ivy will shed leaves in the winter but somehow seems “less deciduous” than Boston – not quite an evergreen vine, but it does retain more dense wall covering during cold late winter months.

This climbing vine would seem to be the perfect option, BUT – there is one major drawback to English ivy – potential damage to the underlying wall surface.

English ivy bores its aerial roots into masonry, stone walls, wood, etc. and can result in significant damage over time – especially noticeable if it is removed.

ivy covered front facade of homeimage via @BrynnOlsenDesignGroup

Boston Ivy

Boston Ivy, also known as Irish Ivy, takes a year or two to become established and then it is a rapid grower that can quickly transform the appearance of a home.

This common type of ivy thrives in both sunny and shaded spots, though seems to establish quicker in partial shade.

The established leaf shapes can be quite large (3-4”) – these large leaves can transform from lighter green in early spring to lush rich green in peak season and then beautiful rusts and yellows in the full sun of fall.

It’s truly a beautiful plant.

This is not an evergreen perennial, during the winter, Boston ivy essentially disappears leaving only the underlying stems and branches which are hardly noticeable against red bricks and other darker surfaces.

Because of its fast growth habit, Boston ivy requires frequent pruning to maintain its shape and avoid overrunning shutters, windows, gutters, etc.

The main benefit of vigorous growers like Boston Ivy, however, is that it grows up the wall using tiny suckers that don’t burrow into mortar, cracks or crevices.

It generally will not damage underlying brick.

You can literally peal the ivy back from brick surfaces, screens, gutters, shutters, etc.

A gentle power wash sometimes isn’t even necessary to remove any hint that the ivy was ever there.

This clearly makes this great plant such an excellent choice for our purposes.

ivy wall on stone houseImage of our former home in early summer source for outdoor porch rocking chairs.

Experienced Pro Tip:

When planting Boston ivy, it’s a good idea to consider the height and accessibility of the walls where you allow it to grow.

Over time, it can easily climb 30-40 ft from ground level, which may present trimming issues.

Generally, we let it run wild up the chimney but need to frequently trim on walls topped by gutters, moldings and around windows and shutters.

hydrangeas and ivy landscaping

And so the winner is….Boston Ivy!

Our advice is to start with Boston.

We think it’s clearly the better choice.

This climbing plant grows quickly and is not a lifetime commitment.

Boston has more seasonal variety in appearance and is gentle on your home.

However…be prepared to prune frequently!

ivy vines on brick exterior walls of tudor homeIvy which is maintained in a neat and manicured manner via Peter Pennoyer Architects.

Before you plant ivy on your home (especially English ivy) there are a few things that you should take into account.

1.When you plant English ivy, it is very difficult to remove the shoots from the walls once they have grown there.

Therefore, it’s important to consider how long you want your home to be adorned with ivy.

2.Check the integrity of your home before you plant ivy.

This is VERY important.

Ivy is an invasive species and will find any cracks or chinks in the wall and exacerbate the situation.

Make sure you’re working with sound masonry first and foremost.

But, as long as your home’s exterior is sound, you should be all set.

3.If you’re at all unsure about structural damage, you should experiment with growing a trellis of ivy in your garden before you commit.

This is a smart way to test the waters during the first growing season, by seeing the growth rate.

You’ll also get a better sense of the look of the ivy plant before making any final decisions.

Just make sure to plant your ivy at least 15 feet away from your home, so it doesn’t make the jump to your walls before you’re ready!

ivy covered chimney on housepatio umbrella

The pros of ivy walls.

There are quite a few benefits to growing ivy on your home.

Ivy can help to shade and insulate your house which may improve your home’s energy efficiency.

This in turn will save you money on both heating and cooling your home all year round.

Ivy also helps filter out pollutants in the air, as well as soften the noise from your neighbors and other surroundings sounds.

hydrange garden with grass and ivy brick walls

Conclusion

While it may be a commitment, fast growing ivy is a wonderful way to enhance your home’s overall exterior aesthetic.

Ivy covered walls are a great way to make a bold statement and add additional character to your home.

This hardy plant also makes for a beautiful ground cover.

Even more ideas on sprucing up your outdoor space:

The Best White Exterior House Paint Colors.

How to Grow Big Beautiful Blue Endless Summer Hydrangeas.

The Best Looking Door Knockers.

A round up of beautiful flower pots and planters.

Our Smokeless Backyard Firepit Review

How to Grow Big Beautiful Limelight Hydrangeas

Container plants and garden inspiration.

Just a few more things…

Design lovers! Have you joined our fun and VERY helpful design Facebook group?

In this group – members share photos with their design questions and dilemmas from their own home.

Then we all chime in with our best advice!

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Leave a Comment

5 Comments

  1. Jean wrote:

    Ivy is not permitted in some areas. Years ago I ripped out the ivy on my fence. It is so stubborn that each year I still have kill some.
    Never plant it!

    Published on 9.15.20 · Reply
  2. Francie Comiskey wrote:

    Boston ivy is great for both lazy and ardent gardeners. English ivy not so…but…I loved my 30 year old English ivy pole in my backyard. It was so easy to manage both at the top and base. It has to be removed due to a situation in the ground…but I miss it so much. Climbing hydrangea is also excellent on walls, with its gorgeous flower display. Lazy people should stay away from all ivy. Its still one of the most beautiful applications to a house.

    Published on 7.23.21 · Reply
    • Sue De Chiara wrote:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment!:)

      Published on 7.23.21 · Reply
  3. Melissa wrote:

    This is very helpful! I’m so ready for spring and digging in the dirt. Do you have any experience with fig ivy? I’m considering using it on my brick wall.

    Published on 2.20.22 · Reply
    • Sue De Chiara wrote:

      No I don’t, but it sounds so pretty:)

      Published on 2.20.22 · Reply