Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Ivy Chronicles, Part I

I've always loved Hedera helix. It's just one of those plants I find beautiful. But it was on my "never again" list for at least seven years. (Well, I suppose the list should really be the "Never-again-as-of-this-moment-but-I'll-probably-change-my-mind" list, but I digress.) Ivies always succumbed to something, usually spider mite troubles, exacerbated by the warm dry air of the apartments where I lived. In fact, even if they didn't have mites, the warmth, plus my tendency toward erratic watering, proved their downfall. I even tried to get that ivy look by trying Senecio macroglossus variegatum, which looks very much like Hedera helix. But that plant comes with its own set of quirks, and didn't work out for me, either.

Then, in the fall of 2007, I was offered some Hedera helix cuttings in a situation where it felt awkward to turn them down. Although I loved the shape and petite size of its leaves, the source plant was not especially attractive. It was a bit straggly and its leaves looked rather bleached out, which I attributed to mite damage. But I accepted the cuttings, and brought them home to root. I washed them thoroughly with soapy water, gave them a good cold-water rinse, and placed them in a nice blue glass vase to root in water. I had to admit that they looked kind of pretty. I never had luck rooting ivy cuttings back in the day, so I didn't really expect anything to come of my efforts. But at least I could say that I gave it a try.

I was wrong. The cuttings rooted eagerly. And once I potted them up and started to fertilize regularly, the leaves actually greened up nicely. The pale coloring hadn't been mite damage after all; my best guess is that the source plant was probably just underfed, under lit, and kept overly warm.

My original ivy, as of yesterday

I was psyched. I had a pretty plant. Now all I had to do was keep it alive and mite free. So I started my ivy regimen: Misting it with water every morning and giving it a soap-and-water washing and cool rinse every other week. Now, I do not believe in misting my houseplants for humidity; studies have shown that to be ineffective. However, it is my understanding that spider mites love things hot and dry, and are repelled by cool water. I do have a few air plants (Tillandsia species) that I mist daily as their source of water. So I kept my ivy in the same window, so as not to forget to give any incipient mites their daily discouraging blast of water. With this system, my plant thrived and made it through the winter, looking lovely and full.

View showing whole plant

So spring of 2008 arrives, and I have an idea. I always wanted to try a living wreath, and I always thought that different cultivars of Hedera helix would look gorgeous in such a display. I knew from observation in previous years that the big box stores sell ivies as ground covers and outdoor annuals quite cheaply. So off I go to Home Depot. I found a couple of different ivies with white variegation and yellow variegation with the outdoor plants, as I expected, so I get a few of those.

White variegated Hedera helix, possibly H. helix 'Glacier'

Then, indoors among the houseplants, I found some plain green varieties in a standard ivy shape, and a needlepoint shape. (I don't know if it is the actual cultivar called 'Needlepoint,' so I'll leave it uncapitalized.) They were the same price as the outdoor plants, so I buy a few pots of those. So I'm all set. These will be for my outdoor wreath only. Hah! I make my wreath and of course, I have ivy left over (both variegated types and the needlepoint.) I pot them in pretty red pots, and place them on my porch, where they join my original plant, which is enjoying a season outdoors. So now I have four plants. "That's not so bad," I tell myself, as I slip into denial.

Hedera helix with pointy leaves. The leaves are thinner than pictures I've seen of the cultivar called 'Needlepoint'

Tune in tomorrow for part II.

1 comment:

Ivynettle said...

If I haven't said it before, I'll say it now: Ivy is eeeevil. So many lovely varieties, and I want them all!
Which reminds me that I meant to take cuttings from my favourites to overwinter indoors, but that's just not going to happen. There is absolutely no space. So I'll just have to hope it won't be too cold this winter (I keep my ivy collection outdoors year-round).