English ivy plants can act as ground covers, spreading horizontally and reaching 8 inches in height. But they are also climbers, due to their aerial rootlets, which allow them to climb to heights of 50 feet or more.
They will eventually bear insignificant greenish flowers but are grown primarily for their evergreen leaves. In this regard, they could be classified as foliage plants, as can another popular ground cover: pachysandra.
USDA Plant Hardiness Zones, Sun and Soil Requirements
You can grow these vines in USDA plant hardiness zones 4-9.
Grow this evergreen vine in a well-drained soil in part shade to full shade.
Care, Uses in Landscaping
Their ability to grow in shade has made English ivy plants a traditional ground cover for planting under trees. Such areas in your landscaping can be extremely problematic, as most grasses will not grow well there. Vigorous, with a dense growth habit, this ground cover can be effective where the object is to crowd out weeds.
On slopes, they can be used for soil erosion control.
Some take advantage of the climbing ability of these vines to use them to cover a wall. They scale a wall by means of holdfasts, which are aerial root-like structures. As you can well imagine with a name like "holdfasts," this feature has the potential to result in damage to a wall when removing the vines from it.
Growing such vines on walls may or may not be a good idea, depending on the composition of the wall, your ability (and willingness) to repair the wall as needed, etc., as discussed in this article on climbing hydrangeas.
Their holdfasts also allow them to grow on trees. Homeowners often wonder if English ivy can harm trees. The fact is, any vigorous vine can hurt a tree because the leaves of a vine growing in a tree's canopy will block sunlight that would otherwise be used by the tree's leaves in photosynthesis. The added weight from the vine is also an unnecessary burden on any tree with stability issues.
If English ivy is already climbing one of your trees and you wish to remove it, be careful. Do not just rip the vines off, which could hurt the tree's bark. Instead, cut each vine where you find it at the base of the tree, where it begins its ascent. Cut off from the earth (and thus from a water source), the part of the vine left anchored in the tree bark will eventually wither and die.
This is a method commonly used to eradicate another problematic invasive, Oriental bittersweet.
Other homeowners grow these plants in hanging baskets, letting them cascade over the sides. Indeed, considering their invasive quality (see below), the latter is a very sensible way in which to grow the vines for their beauty without having to worry that they will spread out of control.
Warnings About Growing English Ivy Plants
They have fallen out of favor in many circles in North America, where they are considered invasive, especially in the Pacific Northwest. These days, it seems as many people wish to learn how to get rid of English ivy plants as wish to learn how to grow them. They are also poisonous plants.
English Ivy Plants in History, Culture
In the Christmas carol, "The Holly and The Ivy," we see a symbolism with these two evergreen plants that derives from pagan times. While the druids thought of holly as masculine and suggestive of a male deity, English ivy plants for them represented female divinity.
In the ancient Greco-Roman world, ivy was sacred to the god, Dionysus (Bacchus in Latin).
Where to Go From Here
If you need help identifying potentially invasive plants, so that you can avoid planting them or take proactive steps against the spread of those already in your yard, browse my photo gallery of invasive plants. If you are seeking a ground cover but want one that, unlike English ivy, has pretty flowers, check out my pictures of flowering ground covers. Otherwise, you may wish to use the navigation below: