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Cling to your ivy – don’t cut it back!

Posted: Wednesday 11th October 2017 by Community

Cling to your ivy - don't cut it back!Photo: Linda Moore

At this time of year, the humble climber becomes an unexpected haven for wildlife. Contrary to popular belief, ivy is not parasitic on trees and simply uses them as a “climbing frame”, responding to the availability of light and filling in gaps in vegetation.

In most cases you can safely leave it in place without making the tree worse off. We recommend keeping as much ivy cover as possible and leaving it to grow to maturity, as older plants provide the most food and shelter for wildlife.

The glossy leaves and odd, bobbly flowers also look more attractive on well-grown plants.

Here are five reasons to love ivy:

  • Mature ivy produces hundreds of flowers rich in nectar and pollen right through late autumn and winter when most plants have stopped flowering altogether;
  • Ivy plants also carry lots of high-calorie berries which offer an excellent food source for birds;
  • The glossy, evergreen leaves don’t die back in the winter but stay in place, creating valuable, frost-free hidey-holes for over-wintering insects, small mammals, bats and roosting birds;
  • On sunny winter days a well-grown ivy plant rewards gardeners with a range of colourful bees, butterflies and hoverflies which take advantage of the abundant nectar;
  • In spring, the presence of over-wintering insects provides a ready source of food for birds such as robins and wrens who love to build nests in ivy.

Ivy regulars include Red Admiral, Painted Lady and other late-flying butterflies; Honey bees, hoverflies and nectar-loving wasps; and a newcomer, the little Ivy Bee, which looks like a small honey-bee with clear, pale stripes.

Over 50 species are known to take advantage of ivy, so even in winter you can give yourself a garden wildlife-watching challenge: how many species can you find on your ivy?

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