Fabulous Evergreen Ground Covers: Growing English Ivy

A thick growth of English ivy.

Among evergreen ground covers, ivies, most notably English ivy, are well known and highly popular. Not only do ivies easily blanket a growing area, but they are viewed as being distinguished—the sign of a well-loved and cared-for property.

Vigorous climbers, ivy can be used to blanket unattractive fences or walls. It can tackle most surfaces without the need for a trellis, using strong suckers to support the weight of the plant. Evergreen ground covers can help hide a fence, fill in shady, bare spots on lawns and underneath trees, and provide interesting color and foliage to flowers and plants. Ground covers climb over rocks and yard debris, and carpet an area in color where no other plant can grow. As an added benefit, evergreen ground covers keep their foliage and color throughout the year, continuing to provide beauty and color without ever loosing the clean look of the planted area of yard.

There are more than 25 varieties of ivy, and they can be difficult to distinguish, so consulting plant labels, garden centers, or landscape professionals for the most desirable variety for your application is best.

English ivy is the most commonly grown and easy to care for type for garden and landscape needs, and under the right conditions, can be quite vigorous. It can prove difficult to contain when planted near bedding plants and in gardens.


English ivy is a leafy plant characterized by woody vines with alternate leaf arrangement, with colors of foliage ranging from true dark greens to light, variegated leaves with a white or reddish tinge. The size and shape of the leaf varies from plant to plant as well.

Most English ivy is cold-hardy to 10 or 20 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit). Potted plants with roots more exposed to cold are generally hardy only to 10 or 15 degrees above zero.

Ivy likes well-aerated, free-draining soil. Root rot and fungus tend to set in when roots sit in wet soil for long periods. Long hot, wet, and rainy periods result in bacterial and fungal diseases which attack the plant's foliage.


Plant ivy in the spring to a depth of six to eight inches and about 12 inches apart. Plants should be set two inches deeper than the top of the soil the ivy was grown in, to encourage new root growth and proper absorption of water. Ivy can be planted in full sun or deep shade, making it another good transitional plant as long as soil conditions favor it. It is important that the plants and soil have been well watered before planting. New plants should be pruned to six inches as well.

Water and Sun

English ivy is less heat and drought-tolerant than other evergreen ground cover species, so in an area where fast drying of the soil is a problem, ivy is best planted as a shade plant. Ivy tolerates less sun exposure in Southern climates, as it is more heat sensitive than it is cold sensitive. In the South, and during hot spells in the North, ivy requires frequent watering (preferably with a misting bottle). English ivy will not tolerate extreme drought, and will not rebound if watered infrequently during periods of inadequate rainfall. While English ivy may come back from a state of light or moderate wilt, it is unlikely to come back at all once the leaves have begun to dry.

Tip: English ivy does very well as a houseplant. It can flourish in almost any temperature as long as it is getting filtered window light. Fluctuations in temperature can stress the plant, so be sure to keep it away from a drafty door or air conditioner. Allow the top of the potted soil to dry in between waterings, and water less frequently in the winter. Winter growth can often be long and spindly, so cut back to promote strong growth in the spring.

Fertilizer and Pruning

English ivy requires moderate fertilizing. Plan on fertilizing your ivy patches two times per year (spring and fall), with another application during the planting's first summer if necessary. Use a balanced 10-10-10 preparation. Note that new plants should not be fertilized for the first three to four months.

Regular pruning two to three times per year promotes fuller growth, but is not always necessary. In the right conditions English ivy is a very fast grower, so keep a watchful eye, or it may engulf your garden or scale the side of your house. Don't be shy about cutting your ivy back at the first signs of invasive growth. If you wait, you may have a much more serious problem on your hands.

Diseases and Pests

Insects and parasites can be something of a problem to ivy growers. Many kinds of mites and caterpillars like ivy, so check periodically for pests and inspect container plants before moving them indoors. There are many ways to treat the pests, both chemically and organically.

Depending on the critter, treatments can range from spraying with soapy water to using a houseplant or systemic insecticidal spray. Make sure to always read the entire label before beginning any chemical treatment, and be certain it is appropriate for use on ivy. Only use chemical treatments when absolutely necessary! Check the plant every two weeks to be sure you have eliminated all signs of the bugs, or your problem will be a recurring one.

Other Issues

Sometimes the problems associated with a planting of ivy relate more to leaf color and appearance. Many of these issues have to do with the age of the plants, such as when older plants lose their characteristic color tints and variegation. Much of the time there is little that can be done but accept the new color of your ivy. Other problems encountered with a change in the appearance of ivies are the results of a fungus covering leaves, or fertilizers that have not washed away. An adequate watering and fertilizing regiment without overdoing it is the best prevention for these types of problems.