Not the Ivy League

Ivy is one of the most common forms of ground cover. Its popularity is fueled by the ease with which it grows and the lack of attention it requires. Ivy is the epitome of “plant it and leave” gardening. It can grow in many different climates and is a hearty plant that can withstand many shifts in temperature.

Planting Ivy in your garden will not only add a beautiful and lush cover across the ground, but it is actually beneficial to the ground itself. Ivy has roots that burrow deep and intertwine, thus creating a “net” effect through the soil. The network of roots protect the soil from erosion and in turn, helps to keep your garden from becoming flooded out.

Ivy can also quickly cover a trellis with its beautiful foliage, making a lush wall of green that works perfectly as a natural privacy wall. We’ll look at the best way to plant Ivy in a minute, but first, let’s look at a few of the most common types of Ivy found at nurseries which you can plant to enhance your garden.

  • English Ivy (Hedera helix)---The most common style of Ivy, it is very dark green in color and has thick veins. English Ivy is one of the hardiest types and is ideal for under trees, hillsides and borders. Very fast growth rate. Plant approx. 10-14” apart.


  • Heart-Leaf Ivy (Hedera helix scutifolia)---Also known as Itsy Bitsy Ivy, it’s a smaller version of English Ivy and has a heart shaped leaf. Plant approx. 10-14” apart.
  • Algerian Ivy (Hedera canariensis)---Sometimes called “Elephant Ear Ivy” due to the large leaves it exhibits. Leaves generally grow to be 6” wide, but they have been known to grow up to 8” wide. Dark green center that slowly lightens as it moves outward toward the edges with a yellow outer edge. Other popular names include Canary Ivy and Madeira Ivy. Plant approx. 18” apart.


As stated earlier, Ivy is a very strong and hearty plant but it does best when it’s planted in a shady portion of the garden or yard. When planted in direct sunlight, the Ivy can become withered and it is susceptible to winter-burn.

Spring is the ideal time of year to plant Ivy. The plant should be well watered, as well as the ground where you are going to be planting the Ivy. Most Ivy grows best when it’s planted about 12 inches apart, however, when planting Algerian Ivy, 18 inches apart is the general rule.

If you are planning on allowing your Ivy to grow vertically, like up a wall or trellis, then be sure to plant the Ivy as close to the base of the trellis or wall as possible.

If you are planting new Ivy, it’s recommended not to fertilize the plants for approximately 3 to 4 months. Simply watering them should be enough until they get established. Once established, it’s okay to fertilize the Ivy with an all-purpose fertilizer (10-10-10). Ivy can be trimmed as often as you like, however 2 to 3 times per year promotes the best growth.

Although Ivy is an evergreen and is rarely bothered by frost, it is still capable of becoming diseased. While most disease is easily preventable by following proper fertilization and watering guidelines, there may be times when you see a leaf that has become shriveled and black. Simply removing the affected leaves will ensure that the disease doesn’t spread.

Ivy can also attract certain pest, some of which are easy to get rid of and some that are not. Here’s a list of common Ivy pests and how to remove them:

  • Spider Mites---Spider mites are difficult to see, but you will know they’re there if your Ivy has a very fine webbing over it. The leaves may appear dusty looking. They’re easy to get rid of by using a solution of soapy water to dip the leaves into.


  • Aphids---Aphids are the size of a flea and can be found around the stem tips or leaf axis. If the infestation is serious, you will notice a sticky film on the Ivy which may turn into a black mold. Use rose dust to get rid of them, or a commercial product directly manufactured for aphid removal.
  • Mealybugs---Mealybugs resemble a small piece of cotton and can be difficult to get rid of. To protect the Ivy as much as possible, it’s best to attack these bugs on a one-on-one basis. Dab each mealybug with a Q-Tip soaked in alcohol. It’s best to keep an eye on the plants for about 2 weeks to ensure you don’t have a repeat visit.
  • Scale---Scale are little brown bugs that have a very hard outer shell. The outer shell makes them impervious to sprays. They can usually be found on the stems or on the underside of the leaves. If found, remove the affected portion of Ivy.

As with every plant, attention and care serves the Ivy best. While it may seem as though it grows like a weed, proper pruning and fertilization can ensure your ground cover doesn’t get too out of control and provides your garden with exactly the look you want.

Dave Donovan is a freelance copywriter living in Atco, N.J. An electrician for 15 years, an injury forced him to pursue his true passion - writing.