How to Water Ivy Plants

Why is my ivy turning yellow

I love ivy plants, but the watering can be tricky. If we water them too much, they can develop root rot, whereas if we do not water them quite enough, they can wilt and not grow well. How we water our ivy can also depend on the time of year, the size of the pot, and the maturity of the plant.

In this post, I share all the best tips and secrets that you need to understand how to water your ivy plants and tailour your watering to their individual needs in their environment.

To put it succinctly…

We need to water ivy plants with a generous soak when the top inch of the soil is drying out. Mist the ivy leaves with water once per week if indoors to increase humidity. Typically, watering ivy once every 7 days meets the ivy’s watering requirements to keep the leaves green and avoid root rot, but this can vary due to climate.

Keep reading for my method of establishing the optimal watering frequency for ivy in your home or garden and all the best watering practices for growing ivy plants…

How Often To Water Ivy Plants (Indoors and Outdoors)

For us to understand our ivy plants’ watering needs, we need to acknowledge how they grow in the wild…

Ivy plants are adapted to growing in woodlands and forests in well-draining, relatively moist soil with some shelter from direct winds and some humidity.

Ivy is very adaptable and can grow in many different environments (English Ivy grows like a weed in the UK!), but they prefer soil that is rich in organic matter and evenly moist yet dries out slightly between bouts of watering.

If the soil dries out completely or the humidity is too low, then what I’ve found is that the ivy can develop brown leaf margins, a sign of drought stress. If the soil is too damp or saturated, the ivy leaves turn yellow and fall off.

To water ivy successfully, indoors or outdoors we need to recreate the water cycle and the typical soil moisture levels of their native environment.

I water ivy my plants with a generous soak, then allow the top inch of the soil to dry out slightly before watering again. Typically, this means I water my ivy once a week in the Spring and Summer and once every 2 weeks in the Winter.

Waiting for the top inch of the soil to dry before watering your ivy applies, whether your ivy is indoors or outdoors.

Indoors I mist the ivy leaves with water as the air in our homes can be very dry, particularly with air conditioning or sources of heat in Winter.

Misting once a week helps to reduce water loss from the leaves and creates a slightly humid micro-climate that replicates the conditions of the ivy’s native woodland habitat.

I found outside of Winter and Summer, I only have to mist my Ivy once a week, and it still looks great, but when I lived in my apartment in New York, I had to use indoor heating in Winter and air conditioning in Summer.

This dried out the air and my ivy started showing signs of drought stress with drooping leaves and brown margins. Therefore, I had to increase my misting to once every 2 days to counteract the dry air, which I can report was effective.

There are other solutions that also work, such as placing your ivy in a bathroom (which is naturally humid) or using a humidifier, which I use for some of my tropical plants. To be honest, in my experience, you can get away with just misting your ivy rather than using a humidifier.

Factors That Affect Watering

It should be noted there are several factors that can determine how often ivy should be watered, such as:

  • The humidity and temperature range of your climate.
  • The size of the pot or container (smaller pots and containers can dry out much quicker than larger pots).
  • Whether the ivy is in an open, exposed, windy area outdoors or in the air current of air conditioning and near sources of heat when indoors.
  • The capacity of the potting soil to retain moisture.

My Best tip: The method that I use to establish how often to water my ivy according to specific climate and conditions is to feel the top inch of the soil with my finger to detect the level of soil moisture. If the soil feels moist, then I delay watering. If the soil feels as though it is starting to dry out, this is the perfect time to water with a generous soak.

Once you know how long it typically takes for the top inch of your potting soil to dry, you can establish a consistent watering schedule to keep your ivy plant healthy, whether indoors or outdoors.

Top tip: If you struggle more with overwatering, here’s my favorite hack. Plant your ivy in a clay or terracotta pot, as they are porous and dry out evenly. For me this significantly reduces the risk of root rot with my ivy plants and they look great.

Plastic pots can work well, but bear in mind plastic is impermeable, which means it retains water and does not dry out as quickly. This means you have to pay close attention to the soil’s moisture by feeling it regularly.

How to Know When Ivy Plants Need Water

If your Ivy is drought-stress or underwatered, then the first and most obvious symptom is the leaves turning brown.

What I have observed that happens is that the Ivy leaves can turn brown at the leaf margins due to low humidity, or the whole leaf can turn brown, dry, and crispy due to a lack of water.

If the Ivy is in soil that has dried out completely, eventually, the leaves start to drop.

Important tip: As soon as you see these symptoms, water your ivy with a generous soak and mist the leaves. When this happened to me, what I found helped was to place the ivy pot in a basin of water for 10 minutes or so, which allowed water to infiltrate the soil completely so that the roots could uptake the moisture they desperately required.

This works better than just watering your ivy plants normally, as I’ve found that when soil dries out completely, it can sometimes repel water off the surface of the soil.

I also recommend misting the leaves once per week to help your ivy to recover after drought stress.

(For more on how to save ivy plants, read my article, how to revive a dying ivy plant).

Symptoms of Ivy Plants that are Overwatered

Ivy plants that have too much water around their root ball turn yellow with their leaves dropping off.

We must consider that too much water around the ivy’s root ball can be due to watering too often, slow-draining soils, or pots without proper drainage.

Our Ivy plants require well-draining soil and the roots do not tolerate being in damp or boggy soil. Too much water in the soil excludes oxygen and prevents root respiration which interferes with the root’s ability to uptake nutrients and water, causing the yellow leaves.

Saturated soil also promotes the conditions for root rot, which causes the ivy plant to die back.

Ivy is a hardy plant but from my experience, it is much easier for an ivy plant to recover from drought than it is to recover from a period of overwatering so if in doubt, keep the soil, slightly on the dry side.

(To learn how to save yellow ivy plants, read my article, why is my ivy turning yellow?)

My Best Method For Watering Ivy

Whilst the variability of climate, temperature, humidity, and whether your ivy is indoors or outdoors can all affect how often you should water your ivy plant, the method for watering stays the same.

Water your ivy with a good soak so that excess water trickles from the base of the pot.

Watering this way with a good soak ensures that the water has infiltrated all the potting soil so that it is evenly moist and the roots can uptake the moisture they require.

Avoid this common mistake!

Of course, if we water the soil too lightly, it results in only the top inch or so of the soil being moist and the water does not reach the roots further down in the soil where it is needed, which can result in ivy leaves that turn brown, crispy and dry as a result of drought stress.

Watering with a good soak so that all the potting soil is consistently moist recreates the level of soil moisture that ivy plants typically experience in their native woodland habitat.

Well-Draining Potting Soil Prevents Ivy Dying of Overwatering

I learned the hard way that watering ivy properly so that the plant is healthy is only possible if the ivy is planted in the appropriate, well-draining potting soil to avoid root rot from too much moisture around the root ball or due to slow-draining soils.

I’ve experimented with horticultural grit, perlite, orchid potting mix, and sand, and what I found was I had the best results with planting my ivy in 3 parts ordinary potting soil to one part perlite for added drainage and good soil structure.

Ivy is hardy and adaptable so almost any good potting soil is appropriate for ivy but adding perlite ensures that the soil stays porous so that water can infiltrate properly and oxygen can reach the roots for root respiration.

I found orchid potting mix worked well, too, as did grit, but I found that my ivy planting with some sand as an amendment didn’t grow as well, which is why I recommend perlite.

If the soil is too compacted rather than a light structure, then this can cause water to pool around the roots of your ivy and exclude oxygen, which causes the leaves to turn yellow, and the ivy can die back.

This happened to me with my ivy because I compacted the soil too much and didn’t add any soil amendment.

However, I have learned from my mistakes and I’ve found that with the right soil mix, it is much easier to maintain the perfect moisture balance for ivy plants and prevent any effects of overwatering to keep your plant healthy.

(Read my article, How to Care for English Ivy Indoors).

Water Ivy Plants in Pots With Good Drainage

As we discussed earlier, our ivy plants do not tolerate having their roots in saturated soil for a long period, so your pot or container must have a drainage hole in the base to allow excess water to drain away from the roots.

Watering with a good soak so that excess water trickles from the base of the pot is also the best method for watering ivy plants to ensure the soil is evenly moist and that all the roots have access to the moisture they require.

If your ivy is in a pot without drainage then water pools around the roots causing root rot and your ivy plant dies back.

Water can still pool around the roots in your pot if:

  • The drainage hole in the base of the pot becomes blocked with roots or compacted soil. If you notice your soil draining slowly, then it is worth checking to see whether you should clear the hole in the base to allow water to escape properly.
  • Saucers and trays underneath your pots. Saucers or trays underneath your plant pot to prevent water from spilling in your home but you should empty the saucer or tray regularly to prevent water collecting and keeping the soil too damp for your ivy plant.
  • Decorative outer pots. Ivy plants are sometimes sold with decorative outer pots that do not have drainage holes in their base which prevents water from escaping and keeps the soil damp causing root rot, so either empty the pot of water regularly or plant in a pot with drainage holes in the base.

(Read my article, on how to revive ivy with brown leaves).

Key Takeaways:

  • Water ivy plants with a generous soak once every 7 days during active growth in the Spring and Summer and once every 10 days during Winter. Mist the leaves with water once per week to increase humidity and slow water loss from the ivy’s leaves.
  • Ivy plants should be planted in well-draining potting soil, ideally amended with perlite, for improved drainage to prevent root rot and to emulate the soil conditions and levels of soil moisture of the ivy’s native environment.
  • Plant ivy in pots with drainage holes in the base to prevent excess water from pooling around the roots, which causes root rot.
  • The symptoms of underwatered ivy plants are leaves turning brown, dry, and crispy, whereas overwatered ivy causes the leaves to turn yellow. Water ivy plants with a generous soak when the top inch of the soil feels dry. Typically, watering once weekly is optimal for ivy plants indoors and outdoors.

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