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In this article:

What is Boston Ivy?

Boston Ivy, Parthenocissus tricuspidata, has large glossy 3 pointed leaves and it adheres by itself to walls and fences. It is probably one of the most aesthetically pleasing ways of covering walls and fences, as it spreads across the surface evenly. Boston Ivy has spectacular brilliant red foliage in autumn before going deciduous in winter and losing its leaves.

Is Boston Ivy a form of ivy?

Boston ivy is a member of the grape family Parthenocissus and is in no way an actual ivy! For more on Parthenocissus – Ornamental Grapes check out our fact sheet here!

Will Boston Ivy damage my wall or building?

Boston ivy will not penetrate brickwork or send roots into the cracks of walls and buildings in order to cling to them, so it is perfect for climbing over masonry and other structures.

This makes it a very good choice for a self-supporting climber to grow on your home and fences and other buildings, when you want to create a green wall or hide masses of masonry.

Once I was involved in the restoration of a heritage building and when liaising with a project manager on the gardens, he asked me whether growing Boston Ivy on the façade would damage the building. I told him that because Boston Ivy attaches itself to surfaces using little pads instead of penetrating the wall with roots, it will do no structural damage to the building. 12 years later I am still involved with the same project and the Boston Ivy has flourished, really enhancing the beautiful restored building without damaging the brickwork and woodwork.

Boston Ivy loves…

Boston Ivy loves a hot sunny spot with loose fertile soil and plenty of water. Given these conditions, it will cover anything in no time. 

However, Boston Ivy is a very hardy and versatile plant and it can grow almost anywhere and under any conditions. If the conditions are more adverse, plant more densely and expect it to grow more slowly. Boston Ivy can grow in shade, in pots, in poor soils and confined garden beds.

Plant one plant every metre. 

Layering and Boston Ivy

Layering is where various trees, shrubs, hedges and groundcovers are planted at different intervals so as each subsequent layer can be seen and admired. Each layer usually highlights those before and after it by either colour, shape or texture. Boston Ivy is often used as a green wall layer, covering a fence, arbour or building.

For more on layering, check out our garden advice page Layered Gardens – A Landscape Technique

Hello Hello Plants Nursery Campbellfiled Melbourne Victoria Australia Essence of Toorak Gardens Landscape layering ficus flash hedging boston ivy chinese star jasmine groundcover formal garden topiary cones
A lovely spacious layered look is achieved within a long but rather narrow area.
Here is a fabulous example I photographed in Toorak. At the start you have Chinese Star Jasmine rising to Korean Box hedge then Boston Ivy over the fence, the Ficus ‘Flash’ rising above the fence with the brilliant use of Boston Ivy in this combination.

Boston Ivy in architecture

In a confined area that has too much paving, masonry and fences, Boston Ivy can be used to cover one or more pieces or architecture. As Boston Ivy attaches itself to all kinds of surfaces, you can use it to create living green sculptural shapes, making pillars and beams an exciting feature.

As an example, the entrance of Dan Murphy’s Moonee Ponds is framed by two steel columns, with a steel beam connecting the pair. Boston Ivy is planted at the edge of each column and has totally coated both. The effect is a wonderful; a feature that really dresses up the building.

You can choose one wall or panel and grow Boston Ivy over, clip it neatly to the edges of the wall and thereby confine it to that wall, panel or fence section. This will provide living breathing green relief and additionally create a real feature.

I visited a winery in Tasmania where a large old tin farm shed had a glass & timber façade on the front. All the other walls were covered with Boston Ivy, and very quickly an old farm shed had been turned into a chique wine sales area.

Boston Ivy’s self clinging nature could be used to cover sculptures, ugly sheds, walls, fences and masonry. There is unlimited architectural scope to be explored with planting Boston Ivy.
Hello Hello Plants Nursery Campbellfiled Melbourne Victoria Australia Essence of Toorak layered garden formal garden topiary tree hedging buxus boston ivy ficus

Boston Ivy belongs to a special category of climbers that are self adhering. Some climbers, such as the Hardenbergia or Chinese Star Jasmine require a trellis or framework to wind their tendrils over and to have support their weight. Boston Ivy, amongst others, attach themselves to any surface, including tin, wood, brick, concrete and stone. They require no framework, using either small pads or roots to attach themselves to the surface. In most cases they will cover the surface evenly, with no unsightly large bulges.

Boston Ivy alternatives

It’s worth noting again that a potential drawback of Boston Ivy is that it is deciduous, so it loses its leaves in winter. While that means it puts on a stunning autumn display, this may put certain gardeners off. 

So here are some other self-adhering climbers you may be interested in, a number of them being evergreen and keeping their lush look all year round.

This climber is evergreen meaning it keeps its leaves all year round and takes a little longer to cover the wall. If kept neatly trimmed flat to the wall it keeps very fine, beautiful foliage and can be kept at a thickness of 4-8 cm thick on the wall.

Climbing Ficus is a great choice where space is at a premium as Boston Ivy will be around 25 -30cm thick over the wall.

Ficus pumila grows best in hot sun but also does well in shade. View Climbing Ficus plants for sale online.

This is a large leaf ivy that has a lovely dappled two tone green effect where the old foliage is a rich deep green and the new foliage is a soft bright green.

Canary Island Ivy is popular for making ivy lawns and thrives in sun or shade. Chris says he finds it useful for covering earth and rock embankments as it is evergreen and roots into the ground as it grows, helping to stabilise the surface and prevent erosion.

Hedera English Ivy and Pittsburgh Ivy are also evergreen, and form a thick, luscious and fast growing cover over most surfaces. Hedera Ivy is fast and easy to grow in sun or shade. It need to be trimmed to be contained, and has a real classic look.

Pittsburgh has finer dense foliage and is a less aggressive grower than the English variety. English Ivy has a slightly larger leaf than Pittsburgh and is very fast growing if clipped and maintained and can be used to cover instantly over fences and walls.

Check out our fact sheet on Ivy (Hedera).

Virginia Creeper is also in the Parthenocissus, or grape family, so it is also deciduous. From a distance it looks like a Boston Ivy, the foliage is not as glossy, has 5 points instead of 3 and it doesn’t stick as tightly to the wall, tending to cascade down loosely.

The advantage of Virginia Creeper is that it grows very quickly in almost any conditions, plus it is one of the first to have a change colour in the autumn! Even if neglected, it is surprisingly fast growing and hardy.

Hello Hello Plants is an online plant superstore based in Melbourne, Australia. We maintain our own fleet so we can deliver door-to-door all over Victoria. We stock a select range of the plants you see online at our physical retail nursery in Campbellfield (sadly they can’t all fit). We offer a one-on-one garden design service, and our resident garden guru Chris has over 60 years experience in the plant word and is passionate about educating people on plants & gardening.

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