English ivy is a versatile addition to the yard and garden. It is both a spreading plant and a climbing one, so it is as well-suited to use as a groundcover in areas where mowing and trimming are difficult as it is along fence lines, where it creates an effective and attractive privacy hedge. This evergreen plant offers year-round color and interest and is best for outdoor growing, as it can be quite difficult to cultivate indoors.
Prepare the planting area by removing weeds and grass that could compete with the English ivy as it settles in. You can clear the area by hand or with a broad-spectrum weed killer. If you choose the latter, allow at least two hours after application before planting. Dig a hole the depth of the ivy's root ball and two to three times as wide. Place the plant with the top of the root ball slightly above the soil level. If you are planting in either heavy clay or very sandy soil, add organic matter as you backfill around the plant.
English ivy grows in a range of soil types. It does best, however, in slightly acidic, well-drained soils. Wet, soggy dirt will make it difficult for the plant to thrive. If drainage is an issue, the addition of compost or bagged potting mix in and around the plant is beneficial. After planting, top with a layer of mulch. This suppresses weeds, allowing the ivy to grow without competition, and helps regulate moisture in the soil.
English ivy does best in partial to full shade — some varieties tolerate sun better than others. Areas with filtered sunlight or morning sun are generally better than afternoon and evening exposure. People often take advantage of English ivy's preference for shade by planting it under trees. Once settled in, it acts as a ground cover, spreading and crowding out weeds.
English ivy grows best when the soil drys out a little between waterings. Before supplemental watering, feel the soil; the surface should be dry to the touch. Do not overwater. The plants are more particular about moisture when newly transplanted. Check the soil frequently in the first year. Once established, they tolerate drought well.
English ivy is targeted by many of the same pests that bother other garden plants, including aphids, spider mites, scale insects, and thrips. The vines can also serve as a home for spiders. If you notice changes in the leaves, such as yellowing, blackening, wilting, or dropping, garden pests may be to blame. Treat the plant with a commercial insecticide or by spraying with a solution of dish soap and water.
The diseases that affect English ivy include anthracnose, root and stem rot, sooty mold, and powdery mildew. Many of these bacteria and fungi survive in the garden litter. Another cause is too much moisture in the soil. To keep your ivy healthy, remove fallen leaves and other debris and avoid overwatering.
English ivy is low-maintenance and can survive well without any special care. It can be pruned, either to keep it within the area you want it to grow or to tidy it up. Prune nearly any time of the year, avoiding the two months before the first freeze date in your area, until it becomes dormant.
Propagate English ivy through stem cuttings. Cut pieces of the stem from an established plant with a clean, sharp knife. Remove the leaves from the lower part of the cutting and dip in rooting hormone. Stick the cutting into a container of growing medium and cover with a plastic bag to maintain moisture around the cutting. Place the cutting in a protected, well-lit area, checking the soil frequently and keeping it moist but not wet. The cutting should develop roots and new growth in about 6 weeks.
English ivy is an effective and affordable method of erosion prevention. Plant it on a hillside and it will spread, covering the entire hill. It also attracts monarch butterflies and honeybees. There is a less than beneficial trait of English ivy, too, however. Its aggressive expansion can create problems. The climbing varieties can damage structures, and the spreading type can overrun other plants in the garden. Diligent pruning can keep English ivy in check, but be careful not to neglect it.