Climbers such as English ivy can add a lovely pop of green color to your landscape. Unfortunately, they pose a danger to your trees, as they are quite quick and aggressive in their growth. Learn where ivy benefits a landscape, how much growth is safe to allow, and when to intervene.
English ivy was brought to North America from Europe because of its lush, attractive leaves to use as a landscape plant. As with most other non-native species, the English ivy spread out of curated gardens and into the wild. Now it is extremely common to see this ivy everywhere–in a neighborhood, in the woods, on the ground or covering trees and fences.
If allowed to grow unchecked, ivy can be detrimental to your trees in a few ways. First, because it grows so quickly, it uses a lot of water and nutrients. When growing on or next to a tree, they are in direct competition with each other, and the tree may not be getting all the sustenance it needs. Second, the ivy’s adventitious roots (the parts that grip the surface the ivy is climbing) can weaken a tree’s bark and render it more vulnerable to disease or pest infestation. Third, when ivy reaches the canopy of a tree, it blocks sunlight from reaching the tree’s leaves and weighs down its branches. Between the lack of sunlight and the pressure from the ivy, the tree’s branches are much more likely to break in the event of a storm.
To get rid of ivy permanently, wait until the soil is soft after a rain event and use hand pruners to sever the stems from the roots of the ivy. Avoid pulling living vines off of the tree trunk–as we said, the adventitious roots are hugging the bark and can cause significant injury. Instead, allow the vines to die and the roots to weaken and begin decomposing before carefully removing them. After cutting the stems from the roots, dig down and remove as much of the ivy’s roots as possible. Monitor the area in the coming weeks and check for regrowth. Alternatively, you can spray the entire plant with undiluted white vinegar–just be sure to avoid getting it on any surrounding plants, as it will kill them as well. Monitor the ivy over the course of a week and re-spray any remaining green leaves that you missed the first time. Once the vine aboveground is dead, dig up the roots and then remove the rest of it from your tree.
All that being said, ivy is beautiful and can be a beneficial landscape addition–if used properly! It often grows in spaces where our usual turfgrass species cannot, including areas with full shade and in poor soils, so you may consider using it as a groundcover in areas where your lawn is patchy. Because it grows quickly, it is also a great solution if you’re experiencing erosion in your yard and need the roots to stabilize the area. Its hardiness and dense growth choke out weeds and render it an excellent low-maintenance landscape plant–simply be sure to keep an eye on it and prevent the ivy from growing up trees, fences, or other structures.
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