English ivy (Hedera helix) is a rapidly spreading, climbing or creeping vine. It is attractive as a ground cover, but can also climb almost any vertical surface, according to Clemson University. For these reasons, it is often considered an invasive or undesirable plant, especially in locations where it smothers or crowds out other, desirable plants. Still, English ivy is prized for its hardy nature, attractive foliage and ability to grow well even in shady locations.
English ivy can climb up to 50 feet high. On the ground, it forms a thick, dense mat about 6 inches high. The vine is glossy, dark-green in color. The leaves are lobed and vary from bright, solid green to variegated green and cream. Established English ivy vines will flower with small, green flowers and produce equally small, dark blue berries.
There are many varieties of English ivy, according to Clemson University. 'Arborescens' is a type that features solid green leaves. 'Glacier' has colorful, gray and green leaves with pink borders. 'Conglomerata' has small, delicate foliage (about 1 inch wide) and is often used in containers or hanging baskets.
English ivy is best known for its ability to grow in the shade. For that reason, it is frequently used as a ground cover underneath coniferous trees. English ivy is also frequently planted on north or east-facing slopes, as the vine will prevent erosion. Because English ivy is such a hardy climber, it is also used to cover an unattractive fence, as a screen plant or to decorate a masonry wall. Some types of English ivy are used in containers, where the vine spills attractively over the rim.
English ivy thrives in loamy soil rich in organic matter. It loves soil that is cool and moist, but not overly wet. English ivy does not need to be fertilized, but it can benefit from trimming and pruning. Not only do these plants perform best when cut back occasionally, but overgrown ivy plants can harbor pests such as slugs, snails, snakes and rodents.
Fungal diseases may develop if the soil is overly wet, which can happen in shaded locations that are not dried out by the sun. Gray mold can cover the leaves of the vine, or root rot can destroy the plant's roots. Cankers and bacterial spot are also common problems in English ivy, according to Clemson University. Plant English ivy in well-draining soil and do not water from above to reduce the chances of the plant developing these diseases. If you see fuzzy mold or spots developing on the leaves of the plant, spray it with a fungicide, and if it is in a container, remove it and re-pot it in a clean container and fresh, sterile potting soil.