Hedera helix, or English ivy, is a prolific climber and clinger that produces tri-tipped leaves in various shades of green. Many gardeners have a love/hate relationship with ivy because its quickly spreading nature can work against landscape plans if it is allowed to grow unchecked. Perfect for large areas needing a hardy ground cover or for disguising an unattractive garage or shed facade, ivy will thrive with careful thought to planting and a little routine maintenance.
Ivy is characterized by tri-lobed, green-shaded leaves that grow on an evergreen vine. As the vine crawls along the ground or up a structure, it can spread indefinitely and reach up to 50 feet tall. Leaves vary slightly in shape and come in almost every color of green imaginable, including variegated forms. Hedera helix forms clusters of demure green blooms followed by tiny dark berries.
Preferring shady spots, English ivy likes moist soil and will thrive in climate zones 5 to 10. Colder areas may experience trouble with winterburn, so provide some protection for climbers by planting on a north- or east-facing support. Hedera helix will climb up trees, walls and fences and will provide ground cover in shady areas that cannot support grass.
Prepare the bedding site with 3 inches of organic matter, such as composted pine bark, to a depth of 6 inches to improve soil quality and drainage. One-foot spacing is preferred for quick coverage of a site, while 2 feet between plants will save you some money if you are willing to wait for results.
Maintaining English ivy is easy, as in most cases growth will be so prolific your only concern is keeping it in check. Prune back the starts in spring to a desirable height and to contain spread if necessary. Remove any diseased or dead foliage at this time.
H. helix Baltica is a tree climber with glossy, classically dark ivy leaves. Galaxy is a cultivar for a star-shaped, deep green leaf. Choose Pixie for interesting texture and white striping and Goldheart for a pretty, yellow-centered leaf. Woerner and Harrison cultivars have purple and maroon-shaded foliage for winter interest.