English Ivy vs. Vinca Minor -- Opinions Wanted

clickermel(z6a SW Ohio)July 16, 2005

Hello everyone,

I have a large shady area (gets mostly dappled sunlight only) under trees that doesn't grow grass very well. It is also horribly rocky. The soil itself is very good but it is 2/3 rocks for the first 2 inches or so (the past owners, for some reason, thought a large-rocked gravel driveway through the backyard to the barn would be a good idea. The rocks appear to have bred and are now taking over a good portion of the shady area of the yard).

Weeds and violets grow OK in this mix but not prolifically. Getting a backhoe in here and exchanging 2" of rocks for 2" of topsoil is not an option due to our budget.

In my search for a groundcover that is:

- evergreen (zone 6a)

- low (6")

- fast-spreading

- thick enough to block out weeds once grown in

- capable of surviving in that rocky soil

- capable of standing up to the dogs (3 large breeds; they live in the house but spend probably a total of a couple of hours per day outside) . . .

I came up with two options: vinca minor and english ivy.

Pros and cons of each, for those of you with experience? Or any other options I hadn't considered?

I'm looking for something that can fill in fairly quickly, as I don't want to dig eight gazillion holes in that rocky soil. It's a fairly large area, maybe 30' x 50'.

THANKS for any words of sage advice or wisdom you could share!

:-) Mel

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I hate to suggest ivy, but it would probably do better than vinca. Could plant a mix of the two. Have you considered bunchberry? also in zone 5 my sweet woodruff is as 'evergreen' as is my ivy and vinca, it might do better as an evergreen in zone 6

    Bookmark   July 16, 2005 at 1:31PM
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clickermel(z6a SW Ohio)

Love the look of the bunchberry -- I think it gets too warm here, though. (Just north of Kentucky.) I've considered Sweet Woodruff but it's a little tall and isn't evergreen -- although I like it enough that I might have to set aside a shady spot for it somewhere :-).

So you think the ivy will spread faster and will take better in the rocky soil, then? I like your idea of planting both -- perhaps the ivy around the trees, and the vinca near the fence. Or vice versa. Or I could plant them both and let them fight it out ;-).

:-) Mel

    Bookmark   July 16, 2005 at 2:42PM
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creatrix(z7 VA)

Just watch out for the ivy going UP the trees- vinca won't do that.

In a mixed bed, the ivy beats the vinca, in my experience.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2005 at 4:05PM
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isn't it odd, how rocks migrate? and here we all mistook them for inatimate objects! but they'll wind up 10 feet from where you laid them in just a year or two...hence your wide swatch of stones.

the cons of english ivy are that it's only slightly less of a monster than kudzu, and will want to climb the trees (eventually blocking out the sunlight, and killing it) and if you have starlings, they will eat the seeds, and you run the risk of it popping up in the woods 2 miles away...

and oh, it also makes a nesting ground for rodents- though if you have the dogs out there for part of the day every day, that shouldn't be the kind of an issue that it is in a bed that only gets tromped on every few months, eh?

I would encourage you to look into false lamium/ yellow archangel, which is an invasive, spreading, stubborn trailing groundcover that has nice striped leaves, and will laugh at your growing conditions as it spreads. it's a favorite of mine, since it will grow on my parent's shale outcropping where nothing else will. it's a little taller than you're looking for- but only for a short while, as once it grows about 7" tall, it flops over, and starts to root along its stem lenght.

depending on the layout, you might be better off mulching over it, and treating it as a bed with really good drainiage?

    Bookmark   July 18, 2005 at 11:12AM
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clickermel(z6a SW Ohio)


Love the user name! Nice to see another Dead fan :-).

Yes, we've long suspected that the stones are hiding little feet somewhere. They have taken over about half of the entire backyard, much deeper in some places than in others. Add that to the shade factor and grass is very unhappy there and won't stick around.

It's pretty much the right half and center of the backyard, so I can't turn it into a garden. I've already taken up 1/4 of the dogs' available space with other gardens :-).

I like the look of ivy, but don't want to pose an environmental hazard. If I want a vine to crawl up something there is plenty of virginia creeper 'round these parts that I can transplant! (Which I might do on the side of my barn.) We do have starlings -- lots of them. But does ivy flower, especially in shade? If not, where does it produce its seeds?

I love the yellow archangel -- I've put some around the base of the trees. My mother started with a handful of plants 5 years ago and it has completely taken over where she has let it. I do, however, want something evergreen, because a) it looks good in winter and b) it will help reduce the amount of mud the dogs can bring in. I don't believe archangel is evergreen, is this correct?

So, if there is no way to keep the ivy from spreading by seed to other properties (doG knows we have enough of that nasty invasive wild grape around here, I'm always pulling it off my trees) then I guess vinca would be the more responsible solution for the main shaded area (I might put the archangel around the fenceline too).

Anyone know how fast this stuff fills in?


:-) Mel

    Bookmark   July 18, 2005 at 4:55PM
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creatrix(z7 VA)

Ivy will not flower until it is well up into the tree. Kept at ground level, it will not bloom. At ground level, it stays as a juvenile form. Once up the tree, the plant matures. The leaves become more heart shaped, and it blooms.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2005 at 5:24PM
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:) my best friend says I'm more Sugar Mag than chinacat- but then, I've pulled him out of a few jams along the way ;)

the archangel is evergreen in zone six, but it wouldn't stand up to a lot of tromping of the canine sort once it's been frozen.

maybe wintergreen? either alone, or with the vinca? red berries in the winter, purple flowers in the spring?

(I loathe ivy outside. hate it, hate it, hate it.)

    Bookmark   July 19, 2005 at 10:13AM
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clickermel(z6a SW Ohio)

Good info to know about the ivy, Creatrix. Is that because it will finally get sun while up in the tree?

Chinacat, what is wintergreen? I do have wintercreeper here as well in various places; are they similar? Although I think the dogs would probably squash the red berries and then track it into the house :-).

It will be interesting to see whether the archangel stays evergreen or not this winter. I'm in the northern end of zone 6, but am only about an hour north of KY, so it doesn't get as cold here as in the northern part of the state.

I think I might like the look of the archangel in a wide ring around the trees and at the fenceline under the shrubs I eventually choose (so many cool choices for shade!) with vinca filling in the rest. Oh, and virginia creeper to go up the side of the old barn. I know I'll have to keep an eye on the creeper to keep it in check and put in some kind of deep edging around the archangel to keep it from overtaking everything (that will be a lot of fun with this rocky soil) but I think the end result will look pretty cool.

Thanks, everyone!

P.S. Chinacat, my dog's registered name is Sugar Magnolia :-)(Maggie for short, of course) and my license plate used to say SGR MAG. Had non-Dead fans scratching their head at that one -- LOL! Also had an old cat named Althea and another named Stella Blue.
:-) Mel

    Bookmark   July 19, 2005 at 10:42AM
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sugar_magnolia(z6 Hamilton, NJ)

Ha -- sorry for the late entry... china cat, pleased to meet you. I am Sugar Magnolia:-) On the cake for my engagement, it simply read They Love Each Other. My 1st dog was Jerry. My husband is Bob (ok that's a coincidence --LOL). My wedding song is Ripple. My recessional song was Eyes of the World. I've met another fan on this forum, BirdSong. Funny how GD and gardening go hand in hand! LOL

    Bookmark   September 19, 2005 at 1:17PM
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pamcrews(6 SW Missouri)

Hello Clickermel. I'm doing some research on ivy because I'm in the same type situation you were in about 3 years ago according to your post. Did you go with the ivy? How has that worked for you. I too have considered both ivy and vinca as ground cover solutions for my rocky slope. I need to do something quick as April rains will be coming. If you went with the ivy how fast did it fill in for you. Would love to hear from you.....pamcrews@yahoo.com

    Bookmark   March 22, 2008 at 9:15PM
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Egads, you are choosing between two yard-eating and invasive plants. Look into what is native to your area for a better solution, and have some patience, so that you don't turn a monster loose in your yard and surrounding areas.

However, if you must choose between these two, go with the periwinkle. It, at least, doesn't seem to produce seed on this continent. That means that while it may take over a yard, it won't be carried by birds into wild lands, and eventually it will die off.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2008 at 11:09PM
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pamcrews(6 SW Missouri)

Ah, too late stoloniferous. Purchase 100 rooted boston ivy cuttings on ebay last night...I guess I'm doomed.


    Bookmark   March 24, 2008 at 8:43PM
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HerbLady49(Z6 PA)

I think that both Ivy and Vinca have their place, and both can be beautiful when properly maintained. I like vinca, because of the flowers and all the great selections of foliage colorations that can brighten up a dark place. The most important thing you can do for a groundcover in a woodland is start your plants off right, by fertilizing and watering. Even after they are extablished a yearly organic feeding can help your groundcover keep up its vigor.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2008 at 10:55AM
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Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) is not a true ivy and does not have the same invasive characteristics as does English ivy (Hedera helix). It is also not as functional as a groundcover, being a true climber and a member of the grape family. It can be used as a groundcover but will form a large mounding plant and will attempt to climb any nearby vertical surface. It is also deciduous and will be a pile of bare stems for upto 6 months out of the year.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2008 at 9:59PM
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Another thing to consider for anyone reading this thread-- deer will decimate your ivy, and ignore the vinca.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2014 at 10:02AM
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