Boston Ivy Leaf Drop: Reasons For Leaves Falling From Boston Ivy
By: Teo Spengler
Vines can be deciduous plants that lose their leaves in winter or evergreen plants that hold onto their leaves all year long. It is not surprising when deciduous vine foliage changes color and falls in autumn. However, when you see evergreen plants losing leaves, you know that something is wrong.
Although many ivy plants are evergreen, Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) is deciduous. Read on to find out more about Boston ivy leaf drop.
Leaves Falling from Boston Ivy in Autumn
Boston ivy is a vine that is especially popular in dense, urban areas where a plant has nowhere to go but up. This ivy’s beautiful, deeply lobed leaves are glossy on both sides and coarsely toothed around the edges. They look stunning against stone walls as the vine rapidly climbs them.
Boston ivy attaches itself to the steep walls it climbs by means of tiny rootlets. They emerge from the vine stem and latch onto whatever support is nearest. Left to its own devices, Boston ivy can climb up to 60 feet (18.5 m.). It spreads out in either direction as well until the stems are trimmed back or broken.
So does Boston ivy lose its leaves in autumn? It does. When you see the leaves on your vine turning a brilliant shade of scarlet, you know that soon you’ll see leaves falling from Boston ivy. The leaves change color as the weather cools down at summer’s end.
Once the leaves fall, you can see the tiny, round berries on the vine. The flowers appear in June, whitish-green and inconspicuous. The berries, however, are blue-black and beloved by songbirds and small mammals. They are toxic to humans.
Other Causes of Leaves Falling from Boston Ivy
Leaves falling from Boston ivy in autumn usually do not indicate a problem with the plant. But Boston ivy leaf drop can signal problems, especially if it happens before other deciduous plants are dropping leaves.
If you see your Boston ivy losing leaves in spring or summer, look closely at the foliage for clues. If the leaves yellow before they drop, suspect a scale infestation. These insects look like small bumps along the vine stems. You can scrape them off with your fingernail. For large infections, spray the ivy with a mixture of one tablespoon (15 mL.) of alcohol and a pint (473 mL.) of insecticidal soap.
If your Boston ivy lost its leaves after becoming covered with a white powdery substance, it might be due to a powdery mildew infection. This fungus occurs on ivy during hot dry weather or very humid weather. Spray your vine with wet sulfur two times, a week apart.
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Read more about Boston Ivy
Boston ivy is one of about ten species from North America and Asia belonging to the genus Parthenocissus. It is not actually an ivy but a member of the Vitaceae, or grape family. It’s a particularly good climber for covering large walls or fences, with the added bonus of a magnificent display of foliage colour in autumn. Don looked at a planting of Parthenocissus tricuspidata growing over a brushwood fence at Homeworld, in Kellyville, New South Wales. This works particularly well, because when the plant loses its leaves in winter the brownish tracery of the stems blends with the grey/brown of the brushwood.
Common name: Boston or Japanese ivy
Botanic name: Parthenocissus tricuspidata
Description: Deciduous climber which attaches itself to walls by means of sucker-like discs at the tips of branched tendrils. The leaves are 3-lobed and turn brilliant shades of red, yellow and purple in autumn.
Best climate: Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart and the Mountains.
spectacular autumn colour excellent for covering large walls good for softening a brushwood fence quick coverage
disc-like suckers permanently mark walls
Boston ivy needs some kind of vertical support to climb on, and a position in full sun for best autumn colour. Pruning is not necessary except to control size.
Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) is available at your local nursery. Expect to pay around $14.95 for a 200mm (8″) sized pot.
Grape Vine or Boston Ivy— the leaves are useful and tasty
Wild Grape, River Bank Grape, Frost Grape, Muscadine, Mustang, Fall Grape, and for all you Master Gardeners: Vitis Riparia, Vitis Berlandieri, Vitis Rotundifolia grow all over North America. Rural Ontario is positively crawling with the fast-growing stuff, and so is Toronto. Look for them flourishing on falling-down fences along roadsides, clambering over scrub between farmers’ fields, and inching up the walls of homes in the city or country.
These climbers grow like weeds. When the Vikings first arrived in North America – onto the shores of what is now Eastern Canada – they dubbed the place “Vineland” for the indigenous grapes that grew everywhere and over everything, from Quebec to Texas, the Prairies to the East Coast.
More common growing on homes and old edifices in Toronto, are Virginia creeper and Boston ivy. Virginia creeper is toxic, so leave the tiny purple berries for the birds and the distinctly different looking leaves for glorious fall colour.
Boston ivy (Parthenocissus Tricuspidata) on the other hand, is quite edible its leaves can be used interchangeably with grape vine leaves. Also known as Japanese creeper or Japanese ivy, it’s native to Japan and other parts of Asia. But, it’s one of those species that’s been here so long now, and done such a fabulous job of insinuating itself into our surroundings and architectural history, that it really does seem at home here, plus, it’s perfectly useful in the kitchen.
Fun fact: all that Boston ivy growing over those venerable old institutions of higher learning is where the term “Ivy league” came from.
In spring and summer the leaves of both wild grape and Boston ivy are wonderful for wrapping foods such as dolmades or foods headed for the grill.
In the garden, give them something to climb on, lots of sun and dry air circulation, as dampness promotes fungus and can rot the berries. They’re happy in a multitude of soil types and situations, as long as there is good light, air, and adequate moisture. But take note, these vines grow quickly. Expect it to rapidly cover whatever you plant it near, and be prepared to do a fair bit of cutting back.
Grilled Whole Ontario Trout in Boston Ivy Leaves
This is not so much a recipe as a guideline. Trout is suggested, but just about any fish will do, whole or filleted. A whole fish is best, as the cavity offers a place to stash flavourful ingredients.
Rub the fish, inside and out, with either butter or olive oil, then season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Into the cavity, stuff some fresh herbs, seasonal greens, citrus, etc. For this dish we used fiddleheads and asparagus, but use whatever is available and preferred.
Place thinly sliced lemon or lime inside and on both sides, then wrap it all up, in a couple of layers of freshly plucked and well-washed (just cold water) grape vine or Boston ivy leaves. Don’t dry the leaves wet leaves help slow down the charring and keep the fish moist on the grill.
Cooking time depends on the thickness of the fish, but generally count on 10 minutes for each 2.5 cm of thickness. Flip the fish midway. Use a meat thermometer it’s cooked when it reads 120F — 140F/50C — 60C at the thickest point, but do take it off the grill before it’s fully cooked, as it will continue to cook in its own heat.
Planting Nursery Stock
Purchase container grown stock to assure that the vine establishes itself promptly. Be sure to keep it moist during this time.
Remove the vine from its container. Spread any matted or tangled roots. Dig a hole wide enough to accommodate the spread roots and as deep as the container. Set the vine in the hole so that the top of its soil ball is level with the soil surface. Fill the hole with soil, firming it around the vine stem. Plant the vine about 12 inches from its intended support to give the roots room to spread.
English Ivy Leaves Falling: Is It Dying or Dead?
If your ivy plant’s leaves are falling, it is a sign of a serious underlying problem. This is because ivy plants are evergreen, which means they don’t lose their leaves all year round. A few leaves can drop off in strong winds, but if you are witnessing mass leaf loss, it is time to take action.
Can It Be Saved?
As is the case with other forms of English ivy problems, the leaf loss can be stopped if you can find the problem responsible for it and solve it. However, there is one cause of leaf loss that the plant will most likely not recover from, as you’ll see below.
If you find your English ivy leaves falling en masse, you could be looking at the following causes:
- Unfavorable environmental conditions
- Root rot and aerial blight
Solution and Prevention
Here is a closer look at why your English ivy leaves are falling and the best solutions:
Unfavorable Environmental Conditions
Your indoor ivy plant losing leaves is a sign of environmental imbalance. This is especially true if it is happening during the winter, where keeping the plant close to drafty windows and doors can trigger leaf loss. The dry winter air from heating your home may also lead to the same results.
To solve this problem, move the plant to a spot where the draft isn’t a problem and increase the humidity in the environment with a humidifier. Some options you should consider include Homasy Cool Mist, Geniani Top Fill, and Honeywell HCM350W.
You’ve already seen how insects can pose a threat to the health of your ivy plants, but they can also be the culprit if you find the leaves on your plant falling off. This is especially true if the leaves feel sticky and turn yellow or brown before falling off. The usual suspects still apply here: mealybugs, aphids, and scale.
Hose down the plant or apply insecticidal soap to treat pest infestations.
Aerial Blight and Root Rot
Aerial blight and Rhizoctonia root rot are two plant diseases that always combine to damage ivy plants. If your plant develops this disease combination, it will start dropping leaves. The case for this disease being the cause of the problem grows stronger if you find brown lesions and reddish blotches on the foliage. Unfortunately, there is no recovery for your plant once this disease has settled in. Consider growing fresh English ivy with new potting soil.
The solutions above assume you have covered the basics, such as using adequate fertilizer, growing the plant in a pot that is the right size, and ensuring adequate watering.
English Ivy Not Droopy nor Leaves Falling but Dying
If you find your English ivy looking frail with exactly having droopy leaves or shedding lots of leaves, it could be an early warning sign that something is wrong. It may only be a matter of time before the problem becomes evident. Any of the potential causes of English ivy problems can be keeping your plant from looking fresh. They include the following:
- Pest infestation
- Excess or under fertilization
- Unfavorable temperature
- Excess or under watering
- Inadequate light
- Excessive sunlight
- Lack of nitrogen
- Excess salt in the soil
- Plant outgrowing the pot
- Root rot /aerial blight (or other diseases)
Gradually go over each of the solutions discussed above, starting with the simplest to the most complicated, then take note of how the health of the plant changes with each one. However, these changes are not instant—unless a lack of water is the main problem. With any solution you implement, you need to wait at least a couple of weeks to see if it will bring any changes to the appearance of the plant.
A Tale of Two Vines – The Quest To Cover The Fence!
One of the most common requests I get when visiting a customer is what will grow on my fence?
Well I know firsthand that both popular vines, Boston Ivy and Virginia Creeper, will cover the fence nicely and without the need for trellises to boot! I have both in my back yard that is surrounded by fence with narrow gardens between fence and the pool we inherited when we bought the house. Both vines provide nice fall colour and both are deciduous and lose their leaves in the late fall.
Here’s my opinion of the pros and cons of both of these vines.
1) Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Virginia Creeper is five-leaved ivy, or five-finger vine, it is a species of flowering plant in the vine family Vitaceae, native to eastern and central North America.
I didn’t plant Virginia Creeper but I “borrowed” it from my neighbour behind me. We are in a corner house so my backyard faces the side of my neighbours’ garage. When we moved in 8 years ago, the vine was covering their whole garage wall, right up the soffits.
I appreciated those few weeks of the vine covered garage. If I had to look at a brick wall in my backyard then it was great to see it covered with green… that is until they had it removed from their house, much to my chagrin.
Well I quickly learned there was no such thing as ‘removing’ Virginia creeper! Pro or con, you decide.
As it grew back with a vengeance, my next door neighbour and I decided to train it over the back and eventually side fence between us. If I had to look at a brick wall, I might as well have a green covered fence!
Side fence between next door neighbour and I.
We were quite successful in a short period of time. The vine filled in nicely but needs constant trimming to keep it in check. You can see at the base of the fence that it even grows on the ground and seems to make a beeline for the pool. Since it is a deciduous vine it does allow for some hard pruning to keep it in check.
And even though Virginia Creeper plants attach to fences and walls with “pads” inside of tendrils, they still do a fair bit of twining and are constantly twining through my Japanese Maple (my one show piece in my virtually gardenless back yard). But my biggest pet peeve, believe it or not, is it also interferes with my ornamental grasses that I squeezed in front of it. It is constantly growing throughout the grass, ‘pulling it down’.
Virginia Creeper pulling down ornamental grass.
2) Boston Ivy, Parthenocissus tricuspidata
As for Boston Ivy, I didn’t plant it either. It was already planted in the narrow garden that I inherited along the fence but it was just a small patch and didn’t look like it was going to do much.
Well I guess this story is similar to the tortoise and the hare… as fast as the Virginia Creeper grew the Boston Ivy took its time filling in nice and slowly. It’s much bigger glossier leaves creating a thick matte along the fence attaching itself with similar tendrils as the Virginia Creeper.
So while I spent the last 8 years taming the Virginia Creeper, the Boston Ivy crept up on me and pleasantly surprised me with a nice glossy display.
I have tried to remove the Creeper from the back fence this summer and have let the Ivy fill in nicely. The nice cool spring may have contributed to its great growth this year but it has certainly taken its time.
Fence with vines.
So good or bad, I am sure when my customers want to know what will cover their fence, they mean now and not in 8 years!