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Australian Grow Guide: Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata)

Boston ivy can be grown in a sunny position or even in part shade. However, the autumn colour will be enhanced when the plant is exposed to sunlight.

Boston ivy is a popular plant that many gardeners use to cover fences or grow over walls on different structures around the garden.

This climbing plant has lovely soft green leaves that turn a brilliant red colour in autumn before dropping off to reveal the bare stems and branches in winter.

boston ivy | Plant care

Here’s everything you need to know about growing Boston ivy in your garden.

How to grow Boston ivy in your garden

Boston ivy is quite easy to grow as long as you give it the right conditions.

Light requirements

Boston ivy can be grown in a sunny position or even in part shade. However, the autumn colour will be enhanced when the plant is exposed to sunlight.

Boston Ivy Parthenocissus tricuspidata 2 | Plant care

As this plant prefers a somewhat cooler climate, if you experience hot, dry summers, it’s best to give the plant some protection from the afternoon sun as this may scorch the leaves.

Temperature and humidity

This plant is suitable for many climatic zones around the country. However, it grows best in the coastal, temperate and southern areas including Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, Canberra, Hobart and Perth.

This indicates that the plant prefers a somewhat cooler climate in winter and doesn’t need a high level of humidity. It will also grow quite happily in mountainous regions in Queensland.

Boston ivy is also frost-tolerant so it’s ideal for colder regions. 

Soil requirements

Boston ivy prefers well-drained soil that has been enriched with some organic matter.

Water requirements

You should keep your plant well-watered, in the beginning, to help the roots to establish themselves in the soil.

It’s also a good idea to cover the soil around the base of the plant with a layer of mulch. This will help to retain moisture. Just keep the mulch away from the main stem.

Once your Boston ivy is well-established, it should only need watering once a week if you’re experiencing an extended period of dry weather.

Fertiliser

It’s a good idea to feed your newly planted Boston ivy every six weeks with a slow-release fertiliser such as Dynamic Lifter. This will ensure that the plant puts on lots of new growth.

Boston Ivy Parthenocissus tricuspidata 4 | Plant care

Once the plant has become well-established, it only needs feeding twice a year in spring and autumn. 

Pruning

Be prepared to prune your Boston ivy regularly to help contain its growth so that it doesn’t take over your garden or grows where you don’t want it to.

It’s recommended that you should prune Boston ivy at least three or four times a year to help maintain its shape and control its growth.

Problems, pests and diseases

As this plant is a hardy and vigorous grower, it generally doesn’t have any problems with pests and diseases.

Scale might be a problem on young plants but this can be wiped off with a damp cloth or one that has been dipped in isopropyl alcohol.

In some cases, powdery mildew can be a problem, especially in areas with high humidity. This can be difficult to control but many gardeners have had success by spraying affected areas with a mixture of milk and water.

However, powdery mildew will not kill the plant and is just unsightly when it infects the leaves. In this case, you can just prune off the infected leaves or wait for them to drop off in late autumn. 

Growing Boston ivy on a fence

Boston ivy is an ideal plant for growing on a fence as there’s not much that you need to do. It attaches itself to the fence with disc-like suckers that are amazingly strong. 

Boston Ivy Parthenocissus tricuspidata 3 | Plant care

It will cover a fence relatively quickly if you plant it in early spring after the danger of frost is past. Although mature plants are frost-tolerant, young plants should be offered some protection.

As the plant starts to grow, you can train it to cover the fence by using some type of support like a string line or trellis until the plant starts to cling to the fence on its own. 

Once your Boston ivy starts to attach itself naturally to the fence, you don’t have to provide it with any further support. Plus, your fence should be fully covered within just a couple of years.

Caring for Boston ivy over winter

In Australia, there’s no need to give your Boston ivy any extra care over winter because, in most areas, the temperatures don’t drop below freezing.

Plus, the plant is deciduous and will be dormant over the colder months. 

However, late winter is a good time to give Boston ivy a prune by removing any stems and branches that are not growing where they should.

Boston ivy vs Virginia creeper

There are some marked differences between Boston ivy and Virginia creeper although both plants belong to the same genus.

Virginia creeper | Plant care
Virginia creeper

Firstly, Boston ivy is native to Japan, China and Korea while Virginia creeper is actually native to the US, Canada and Mexico.

There is also a difference in the leaves of the two plants. Boston ivy leaves have three segments while Virginia creeper leaves have five segments. 

Virginia creeper is also faster growing than Boston ivy. However, its growth habit is not quite as dense. 

Virginia creeper is also not as strong gripping as Boston ivy. Therefore, you might need to help it to climb over a fence or structure by providing a trellis and tying on the stems as it grows. 

Another advantage of Boston ivy over Virginia creeper is that it doesn’t produce berries. This is important if you have kids or pets because the berries produced by Virginia creeper are toxic to humans and animals.

Boston ivy vs English ivy

When it comes to covering a fence or wall in Australia, Boston ivy is a much better choice than English ivy. This is because, in some parts of the country, English ivy can be considered a little invasive.

Boston ivy is also much more spectacular than English ivy because it’s deciduous. English ivy will stay green all through the year, while Boston ivy will display gorgeous autumn colours before its leaves drop off.

English ivy | Plant care
English ivy

Both Boston ivy and English ivy are vigorous growers and will attach themselves freely to any structure that they’re climbing over. However, Boston ivy is unlikely to damage the mortar in brick walls like English ivy can do.

Boston ivy is also not as aggressive in its growth habit when compared to English ivy. 

One way that you can tell the two types of ivy apart is by looking at the leaves. English ivy has dark green, glossy leaves with 3 to 5 lobes and visible lighter-coloured veins. 

On the other hand, Boston ivy has leaves with just 3 lobes and no visible veins.

FAQ

Is Boston ivy invasive in Australia?

Boston ivy is not regarded as invasive in Australia because it’s not actually a true ivy. It belongs to the grape family of plants and can be used in a similar way to cover fences and other structures in your garden.

Does Boston ivy damage walls?

In general, Boston ivy won’t damage walls but if removed, the disc-like suckers can permanently mark the walls and are difficult to remove.

Can you buy Boston ivy at Bunnings?

At the time of writing, Boston ivy is not available from Bunnings but you should be able to find it at a local nursery or garden centre.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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