Ask a Master Gardener: English Ivy | House and garden


Linda Estep

Question: I moved into an older house with established landscaping. I have a very large tree with English ivy wrapped around the base and growing in the canopy. Although it is beautiful, I have a feeling that it is not good for the tree. How do I remove English ivy?

Reply: Well your hunch is correct. Hedera helix, commonly known as English ivy, is not beneficial for your tree.

English ivy climbs and suffocates trees, weighs down the canopy and increases the risk of fire. English ivy grows very well in western Oregon, and is commonly found wrapped around tree trunks, climbing over fences, or crawling on the side of a house. It is a vigorous, fast-growing, woody evergreen perennial that grows like a climbing vine or creeping ground cover.

When English ivy climbs a tree, it can reach 50 to 100 feet. When English ivy ascends the tree canopy, the ivy and the tree compete for the same vital elements for survival: nutrients, water, and sunlight.

English ivy vines can get very heavy and can put your tree branches at a higher risk of breaking during a storm. Over time, English ivy will weaken the tree, making it a target for opportunistic insects. In addition, English ivy is a favorite hiding place for mosquitoes, slugs, snails, and rodents.

Getting rid of English ivy is no easy task. After all, it’s considered an invasive plant in Oregon for a reason, and you’ll need a lot of persistence to eradicate this plant completely.

First, water under the tree as it will be easier to remove the vines from loose soil. Then use a garden mower to cut the ivy stems from their roots around the bottom of the tree trunk. Going as deep as possible, pull and dig up the roots. Cutting, pulling, and digging is hard work, but it’s the best way to get rid of English ivy for good.

The goal is to separate all the vines from their source of nutrients causing their death. Next, cut the vines to about 4 to 5 feet tall from the tree by removing only these sections. Carefully remove these sections to minimize damage to the tree bark.

Now it can be extremely tempting to pull the vines out of the tree trunk, but it can actually cause a lot of damage to the bark of the tree. As difficult as it can be, just leave the vines on the tree and let them die naturally. The ivy vines will gradually blend into the bark of the tree after it is cut.

The reason why you shouldn’t just remove the vines is that the ivy will hang tightly on the bark and by removing the plant some of the bark will also come off and damage will result.

Check the tree frequently for at least the following year to make sure new ivy growth has not started to set in. If so, repeat the above process.

I would like to give you a few words of caution. English ivy is known to cause skin irritation, so it may be a good idea to wear gloves, long sleeves, and long pants when working around these plants. Additionally, ivy leaves are somewhat toxic to dogs, cats, and goats.

And finally, don’t throw English ivy in your compost pile. You will need to put it in a bag and throw it in the trash. You have a big task ahead of you, but with perseverance you can get rid of English ivy.

Got a gardening or insect question? Contact the Douglas County Master Gardeners at [email protected] or 541-672-4461 or visit 1134 SE Douglas Ave., Roseburg. The Douglas County Master Gardeners are trained volunteers who help the OSU Extension Service serve the people of Douglas County.

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