English ivy (Hedera helix) grows 6 inches tall and forms large mats of lobed leaves on woody vines. This species comes in a variety of leaf colors, but the dark green ivies tend to be more cold-hearty. When applied properly, English ivy provides line, texture and color to soften structural elements of the landscape, according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences article, "English Ivies to Grow and Know."
English ivy grows best in shade, particularly in environments where extreme summer temperatures cause leaf scorch. English ivy prefers sites where the soil is moist and rich in organic matter. Clemson University Extension's Ivy page says English ivy performs well on north- and east-facing slopes, beneath trees where grass proves difficult to grow and as an under-planting between shrubs. The plant develops a deep, dense root system that holds the soil in place to prevent slope erosion.
Propagate English ivy plants by cuttings in spring, or by layering (covering stem sections to promote rooting) anytime during the growing season. Space plants 1 foot apart to ensure quick coverage, or 18 to 24 inches apart if trying to economize. Set plants in the soil 2 inches deeper than the depth they grew in the container to encourage root development.
English ivy creeps into garden beds, up trees and walls, if left to grow unchecked. Edging strips prevent the ivy from traveling beyond its boundaries. Most gardeners use an edging tool to create a narrow strip of bare soil between the lawn and the garden. Other edging options include brick, concrete paving stones or plastic mowing strips. Cut back all escaping vines, but limit trimming around the edges of the ground cover to two or three times a year. Trim for height in spring to maintain shape and encourage lateral growth (see References 3,4).
Brown spots develop on leaves and stems of English ivy infected with bacterial leaf spot. Pimple-like clusters emerge in areas of dead tissue infected with fungal leaf spot. The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension article Diseases of Landscape Ground Cover Plants says gardeners need to avoid using infected English ivy plants to control leaf spot. Use a soaker hose because sprinklers only sluice pathogens from diseased to healthy plants. Use mulch to prevent the spread of bacteria from infected soil.