English ivy (Hedera helix) is a hardy, evergreen vine native to Europe, western Asia and northern Africa. It grows quickly, even to the point of being invasive, when given the conditions it prefers and makes an attractive groundcover for larger areas. The leaves are lobed, with strong veining. Smaller leaved varieties grow more slowly than the larger species and are not as likely to become weedy.
Ivy will grow in many different types of soil, from somewhat heavy to light and sandy. Soil with extreme amounts of clay slows growth and should be amended with plenty of organic matter such as peat moss, compost or steer manure. In areas such as the Southeast, where ivy grows slowly because of high heat, it is important to maintain an open, well-draining soil texture by not walking on beds.
Being a highly adaptable plant, English ivy tolerates a wide range of soil pH levels, from acid to neutral, though its ideal pH is slightly acid, 6.5. It grows poorly in alkaline soils with a pH above 7.0. Such soils should be amended with plenty of organic matter, especially peat moss, which lowers the pH level.
Well-established English ivy plans will tolerate a bit of drought, surviving well through dry Pacific Northwest summers, though they prefer even moisture. They grow slowly, if at all, in wet, soggy conditions. Water deeply and infrequently, allowing the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings. Newly planted ivy starts should be watered more frequently, with only the surface drying between soakings. Keep the soil evenly moist in this way for a year to two years before allowing the soil to dry more often.
Ivy is a shade-loving plant and will grow well under the shadiest conditions, but in cool, cloudy climates such as the Pacific Northwest, it also will grow in partial to full sun. Water more often if you choose to plant the ivy in a sunny spot.
Ivy needs no extra fertilizing in most situations, but if you are trying to grow it in a pot, or under less-than-ideal conditions, use a high-nitrogen fertilizer to promote the growth of strong shoots and leaves. The best time to fertilize is between the beginning and end of spring, when growth is strongest. Avoid applying fertilizer during summer or hot weather.