Growing new ivy over dead branches

(Question)

I have a high and very long south stone garden wall that was covered with ivy. It used to be massive – incredibly thick, flourishing for decades. Three winters ago, a very hard winter, it started to fail and the next winter, another tough one, it died. I was left with a huge tangle of branches and trunks. Last winter wasn’t so rough, and it is slowly growing back in a few patches. The complication is that the ivy had grown up over my wall to cover the walls of the condo development to the south of me; they liked it while it was alive but don’t like the look of all the dead branches, are not willing to wait for it all to come back, and want to cut it all off. My question is: how should I tend the dead wood that’s there, how should I encourage new ivy growth, and how can I make sure that it doesn’t die again so dramatically? Many thanks, Beth Kaplan

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(Answer)

I believe from looking at your photo that you are dealing with either a Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) or Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata).  Both of those plants will present a similar solution.  Your goal should be to prune the dead and damaged branches back to where new growth is presenting itself (this may be the base of the plant).  This will leave you with a bit of greenery for now and should stimulate its growth.  Cutting all dead wood off should help the plant in its regrowth and will fulfill the condo’s request for removal.  With the previous growth that has occurred this will probably be a long, heavy haul.  Gently pull the dead branches away from the wall and clip it off in manageable lengths.  In my experience with both these vines you have to be fairly vigorous with pruning and from your photo you may be leaving very little green left.  It may be possible that the plant died because it needed to be pruned to encourage vigorous growth.  By bringing this plant back to “ground zero” you are giving it the best second chance scenario.  If this plant was Hedera helix, a common ivy grown in Southern Ontario the same solution basically applies and further info can be found at this link:  http://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/askagardener/english-ivy-on-fence-looks-dead/  This link expands on determining dead branches, watering and fertilizer.

Here are some other helpful links:

http://www.bbg.org/gardening/article/pruning_plants_that_ascend

http://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/?s=virginia+creeper