English Ivy (Hedera helix) is a popular landscaping plant that is usually used as a ground cover. If grown under the right conditions, English Ivy forms a thick mat of dark green or variegated leaves, depending on the variety, that prevents weeds and other plants from growing through it. In some parts of the U.S., English Ivy is considered an invasive plant that takes over the countryside and crowds out native plants important for wildlife.
English ivy grows best in areas that are well-drained but provide a moist environment. If the soil is allowed to remain wet for long periods of time, the roots of the vines will rot and the English ivy leaves turn yellow and often die in large patches. If you live in an area with high humidity and hot temperatures, good drainage becomes especially important to avoid fungal diseases.
The soil where English ivy is planted should be well-aerated to allow oxygen to reach the roots of the plants. Sandy soil cannot hold water or nutrients for any length of time and needs to be amended with organic matter. Heavy clay needs to be broken up and organic matter added, because heavy clay can hold too much water or become impacted so the ivy cannot set down roots as it covers the ground.
Fertilize English ivy with a standard garden fertilizer that you can purchase from any plant nursery or department store. Do not use a lawn fertilizer, because the high nitrogen content will burn the shallow roots of the English ivy and kill the plant. Timed release garden fertilizers are best, as they do not need to be applied as often.
English ivy has roots that allow it to climb walls of brick and masonry as well as trees. Once the structure becomes covered with the English ivy, the thick growth allows moisture to remain on structures, including trees, causing decay or fungal problems. Rather than letting the English ivy completely cover a structure, try pruning with a pair of hand shears at an even level of 3 or 4 feet high against the structure to create interest. This allows some air circulation around the upper parts of the structure or tree. In some parts of the U.S., English ivy grows so rapidly that it needs to be pruned often to prevent it from outgrowing its bounds. When pruning for control, prune anywhere along the vine as needed. Do not dispose of the pruned vines pieces anywhere they can take root and escape into the countryside.
Where to Plant
Plant English ivy on the north side of a structure or a tree where the area remains moist and does not receive direct summer sun. English ivy does not grow well in direct afternoon sun, so exposure to dappled shade or morning sun and providing shade from the afternoon sun keeps the plant from getting stressed.