Ivy is an often maligned and misunderstood plant, but one which has incredible benefits for butterflies, moths, bees and variety of other wildlife.
If you want your Wild Space to be buzzing with life throughout the year, it’s time to embrace this social climber.
The benefits of Ivy for wildlife
Ivy has two different stages of growth – juvenile and mature.
In its juvenile stage, Ivy can provide shelter for adult butterflies and moths, bats and nesting birds. It is also a foodplant for the caterpillars of several moth and butterfly species, like the Holly Blue, which will lay its second generation of eggs on Ivy, and the Swallow-tailed Moth.
As a mature plant, Ivy adds another string to its bow and will begin to flower. This provides a vital source of nectar for pollinators, including butterflies and moths, later in the year when other sources of nectar are limited.
Once flowered, the plant will produce berries that ripen over winter, ready to be enjoyed by birds and small mammals during the colder months.
How to feature Ivy in your Wild Space
Ivy is hardy and will grow in pretty much any soil that isn’t waterlogged, and in sunny or shady positions.
If you’ve got an established hedge in your Wild Space, you can introduce Ivy to it, enhancing its benefits to wildlife. Simply transfer potted Ivy into the ground at the base of your hedge and water well.
Ivy can also be allowed to climb trees. Contrary to popular belief, Ivy doesn’t damage or strangle trees and it isn’t parasitic. So, whilst it may cover a tree, it doesn’t harm the tree in the process.
Where a hedge isn’t an option, Ivy can be used to create a wild boundary by allowing it to grow along a solid brick wall or fence. As long as the wall isn’t cracked or crumbling, the Ivy shouldn’t cause any damage, but just make sure that if you’re growing Ivy along a fence, that it’s sturdy enough to bear its weight. At the beginning you can secure the stems to the wall or fence with twine or plant ties, but it will soon cling without help.
Ivy is also useful for natural screening to hide unsightly areas or to create hidden spaces and sections within a Wild Space. Simply train it to grow through a frame or trellis by weaving the stems through the gaps. You can even buy pre-grown Ivy screens.
Where space is limited, for example if your Wild Space is on a balcony, Ivy can be grown in a pot. Water regularly until it is established and allow it to trail or train it up an obelisk or trellis.
Caring for your Ivy
The best way to care for your Ivy? For the most part, you can let it be.
Regular pruning prevents Ivy from reaching its mature stage where it is most beneficial to wildlife. However, if you do need to trim back excessive growth, or growth that might be interfering with gutters or structures, it’s best to do so lightly.
Where possible, try pruning back your Ivy in patches, allowing different areas to grow and develop each year.
The best time to prune is late winter to early spring, after the Ivy has flowered and the berries are gone. However, be careful to check for early nesting birds or sheltering insects.