Indoor Ivy Topiary
Patricia Riley Hammer
The simple and innocent phrases "house plants" and "indoor topiary" may have lead us to believe that some ivies and ivy topiary are only happy living in the house. This is not true. In almost all cases, ivies prefer living outdoors as much as possible but are well adapted to visit indoors to help decorate the house part of the time.
For years we have been lead to believe that only a few ivies are "hardy" and the rest are house plants. In truth, all ivies can grow outdoors planted in the ground or in containers. Some ivies are simply more tender than others and will require more winter protection. Information about "wintering over" landscape ivies has been covered in previous newsletters and journals.
Here in Southern California, I recommend that an ivy topiary spends at least 25% of it's life outdoors in the shade year round. The amount of time indoors and out could vary considerably, but basically they should be out a few days each week or one week each month. The more time outdoors the better. Beautiful interior design photographs in major house or garden magazines include lush healthy ivy topiary. Indeed, they can become an integral feature of your living space, but if you plan to keep them in the house all the time there is a trick. Professional interiorscapers buy two and rotate them regularly. You will find they live much longer, look better and you will not need to replace them nearly as often. One caution, when you rotate ivy outdoors, be sure to find a shady place. Do not send them straight out into full sun. They will sunburn.
In areas of the country where the temperatures drop down below freezing for prolonged periods, potted ivies and ivy topiary need to have winter protection since their roots are above ground and can freeze. By considering a few simple requirements, ivy topiary can be happy indoors while the weather is too harsh to be outdoors.
People have difficulty maintaining ivy topiaries indoors for three reasons: light, heat, and humidity. The topiaries do not have enough light, the house is too hot at night, and the heated air is our homes is too dry. During the winter months "house plants" suffer usually from all three situations at once...a formula for disaster and almost sure failure for ivy topiary.
Occasional fall frost will not kill potted ivy, it is only when the roots begin to freeze that we see winter damage to ivies in containers. Potted ivy can remain outdoors until the temperatures begin to dip down below freezing. Once it does it is time to consider bringing potted ivies and topiaries inside.
Try to find a location that is cool at night. An unheated sun room or spare bedroom that is not heated will work nicely. Many of us like a toasty environment and heat our houses at a nice even temperature day and night, but ivies prefer cool night temperatures at least ten degrees cooler than the day.
Try to locate the winter house guests in a location that will have as much natural light as possible, but not in a window that will offer direct sun for a long time each day. Direct sun could burn the leaves or cause extreme temperature variation that is unhealthy for the ivy.
The amount of water in the air is lower in the winter naturally as colder air will hold less moisture. This is compounded in our homes since forced hot-air heat decreases the moisture content of the air. Ivies often suffer from the lack of moisture in a hot, dry house in the winter. To help raise the humidity, mist over indoor ivies as often as possible-at least once a day. If misting regularly is not possible consider using a pebble tray. Cover the bottom of a plastic or aluminum tray a layer of pebbles or course sand. Add water to just below the top of this pebble layer and set the potted ivy topiary on the pebbles. Make sure the pot is not sitting in water. As the moisture evaporates from the tray it helps to add moisture to the air around the topiary.
A hot dry house with poor air circulation is the perfect environment for spider mites. Fortunately, spider mites hate cold water. Spaying with cool water will wash away most of the insects. Regular baths in cool soapy water will help the ivy and discourage insect problems. As spring approaches the ivies will be eager to go back outdoors. But they will be tender, having been living in a foreign environment all winter. Be gentle as they will take time to acclimatize to the out of doors. Wait until all danger of frost is over before returning ivy topiary to the outdoors full time.
Good cultural care such as regular watering, fertilizing and grooming all summer will prepare your topiary for their winter stay indoors. When it is time to bring them indoors again next fall, be sure to inspect carefully to be sure you are not bringing in any unwanted freeloaders that would be more than happy to stay in the house and avoid the winter.