English Ivy Removal
The National Park Service and the Fish & Wildlife Service say, "English ivy threatens all vegetation levels of forested and open areas, growing along the ground and into the tree canopy. On the ground, English ivy prevents the growth of seedlings and herbs while also reducing tree and plant vigor by competing for water and soil nutrients. English ivy has also been confirmed as a reservoir for bacterial leaf scorch, a harmful plant pathogen that affects a wide variety of native and ornamental trees." Further, the mass of vines climbing into the tree canopy retains moisture, encouraging rot, disease, and insect infestation.
In the home landscape or in park lands, it is difficult to know where to begin! Suggestions presented here are drawn from the National Park Service and from the No Ivy League. The latter is a unique organization working in Portland, Oregon; the Web site offers a myriad of information here.
No matter your methods, it is extremely important to work carefully, being certain that the bark of the tree is not damaged. Useful tools include pruners, loppers, a pruning saw, and a sturdy screwdriver (for prying). Wear gloves, preferably leather.
In brief, National Park Service guidelines suggest working around the entire trunk of the tree, removing vines from the soil level up a foot or two. Take care that no small tendrils are left growing, hidden under the bark. It is good to remove ivy several inches out from the base of the tree.
In much more detail, the No Ivy League proposes a number of steps:
Girdling the Tree
- Cut through each vine at shoulder height and at ankle height. Pull the ivy away from the tree between the cuts, taking care not to wound the bark. You may need to pry large vines away. Again, be careful not to damage the bark.
- Remove the vine from the base of the tree to the point where it grows out of the ground.
- Recheck the "girdled" trunk for any small vines you may have missed.
- Leave all growth above shoulder height. This will wither and fall off; pulling can be dangerous both to the worker and to the tree.
- If an ivy vine has many leaves, using a pruning saw to clear them by making vertical strokes parallel to the tree trunk will make it easier to see what you are doing.
- After ivy is cleared, a "lifesaver" may be created (see page 2).
A lifesaver is frequently created after the tree has been girdled. Pull out as much ivy as possible around the base of the tree. Extend the cleared area out at least six feet from the base of the tree all the way around.
In her important book Planting Noah's Garden: Further Adventures in Backyard Ecology, Sara Stein suggests that this ground cover often is most easily attacked by using a steel rake to lift or comb stems that can then be gathered into bunches and cut.
What Do You Do with All That Ivy?
The National Park and Fish & Wildlife publication "Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas" says that vines can be "bagged and disposed of as trash." In Fairfax County we are fortunate to be able to pile ivy and other plant material on the roadside and phone for special pickup. The refuse collection phone number is 703-802-3322.
The No Ivy League also suggests that ivy can be chopped or mulched and then dispersed. Some will resprout, but most will become a nutrient in the soil. Of course, ivy can be chopped and put into home compost containers, too.
Documenting & Monitoring
At a residence, the homeowner will know where ivy has been removed and can easily monitor the area. On a larger scale, such as in a park, remembering where work has been done is a more difficult task. To stem the resurgence of English ivy, you must check for regrowth and remove it. The No Ivy League suggests the following documentation:
- Description of location sufficient to allow return visits
- Physical characteristics
- Pre-project site description, including amount of infestation
- Description of work undertaken, including estimation of vegetation removed
- Recommendation of monitoring needs and other desirable work (e.g., restoration)
But What Can I plant?
See the Alternatives to English Ivy article on this site or in the Bulletin. The Park Service list of suggested native alternatives includes Virginia creeper, crossvine, trumpet creeper, wild ginger, lady fern, foam flower, partridgeberry, creeping phlox, evergreen wood fern, and Christmas fern. Finally, the Virginia Native Plant Society Web site (www.vnps.org) provides information and links to plant lists and growers.