Ivy Pandemic

If you’ve ever doubted English ivy is dangerously invasive, the following photos will show you what a plague it can be in the native ecosystem. More importantly, I hope these pics will discourage you from planting Hedera helix in areas where it might escape cultivation, and perhaps even prompt you to do what you can towards its eradication in the wild.

Here is my husband, Tim, standing at the edge of the area we’ve been clearing, where you can distinctly see the “before” compared to the “after.”

Ivy eradication--before and after.

Ivy eradication–before and after.

These three photos of an infested area on a nearby property are all taken from the same spot.

Looking uphill towards the neighborhood.

Looking uphill towards the neighborhood.

Looking towards the river.

Looking towards the river.

Looking up into the trees.

Looking up into the trees.

What’s so bad about ivy gone wild?

Ivy can harbor bacterial leaf scorch (Xylella fastidiosa), a plant pathogen that is harmful to oaks, maples, and other natives.

As a groundcover, it forms a dense mat that displaces native plants.

It also creates a welcome habitat for problematic wildlife such as mosquitoes.

As a climber, it kills trees and shrubs by engulfing branches and blocking sun from their foliage.

Vines also keep bark damp, so it’s more susceptible to insect damage and other ills.

Finally, leaf-covered vines capture the wind like a sail and can topple trees during a storm.

Now for a bit of good news—here’s the progress we’ve made clearing the woodland behind our home.

September 2010

September 2010

April 2012

April 2012

Within days of our arrival Tim braved the jungle to sever the huge ivy vines climbing the tall hardwoods. In the two years since then, we’ve worked to remove not only ivy, but also Japanese knotweed, privet, and other alien invasive plants.

This spring, I’ll prowl the hillside each week to remove any ivy that reappears while keeping a close watch (with fingers crossed) for the return of natives. Yes, there is hope. Here’s a handsome native fern that popped up last summer in a (mostly) cleared area.

Native fern, unknown species.

Native fern, unknown species.

In time, after Mother Nature has had her chance to renew the landscape, I’ll plant additional native ferns and groundcovers to help keep the hillside steady. Likely candidates include Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), green and gold (Chrysogonum virginianum), galax (Galax urceolata), and Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens).

16 thoughts on “Ivy Pandemic

  1. Beth Jimenez

    Marian
    Do you have a magical removal method for the scourge that is Hedera helix or is your method the old fashioned,back breaking pull it,wind it up into a ball and throw it in a heavy duty black plastic contractor’s bag? I’ve been pulling for awhile but had nothing compared to what you had to tackle.Your slope is looking beautiful and it’s nice to see what survived the heavy cover and has bounced back.

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair

      Beth–Last winter we only had time to pull part of the area and then we cut back the rest with a string trimmer. Cutting it down to soil level put a hurting on it but of course didn’t kill it. Last summer I sprayed a small part of the most problematic area, but I limit this in fear of hurting a barely-there native. At the end of the 2012 growing season, we hired help for the pulling as soon as the weather cooled with the idea to get as much out before the leaves fell. Yesterday, I found Sweet Betsy trilliums coming up in areas where I’ve seen them in previous years. I have my fingers crossed for the return of bloodroot, which is prolific next door but has been absent here.

      Reply
  2. pam956

    Thanks for the post. I have English Ivy in my yard and pulled it down off of my old live oak. It is still at the base and in some other areas along my side fence. I have been afraid to spray it for fear of hurting the live oak. Do you know of anything that will kill it but not the tree? Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Pam–I would pull the ivy rather than spray. The best time is after a soaking rain. If you are intent on an herbicide (Roundup is good, Bayer Brush Killer is stronger) apply it directly to the ivy foliage with a small brush, taking care not to let any of the herbicide drip onto the soil. The best time to use an herbicide is spring when the plant is producing tender, new foliage. If you cut all the old foliage back now, you will have all new foliage when the plant sprouts. Good luck!

      Reply
  3. Elaine Ko

    Some think ivy on buildings is beautiful also, but it holds moisture on the building and on our brick home could have crumbled the brick in time… it has all those little sucker feet…awful to get off. Anyway we tore it all off and worked hard to keep it off. Not easy. I commend you for getting it out of your gardens and surrounding grounds. Elaine

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Elaine–It is lovely on a house but I agree I wouldn’t want it on mine. Ivy has its place. It looks beautiful spilling over the side of a container and even as a ground cover when it is controlled and cared for. But folks around here plant it and let it take over. Not a good thing!

      Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Thanks! It has been a lot of work and I’m afraid of how much more there might be. Spring will tell. I can’t plant anything new until the ivy is completely gone though.

      Reply
  4. a3acrefarm

    Wow! Congratulations of your outstanding efforts. This is my first visit to your blog. When I saw your photo of bleeding hearts, I knew I’d come to a good place!

    Reply
  5. mdheadrick@sc.rr.com

    What method are you using to remove the ivy? I have a similar situation and was wondering if digging it out is my only reliable option. Millie

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Millie–We’re pulling mostly. This spring I’ll also hand apply brush killer on sprouts that return from roots. I don’t want broadcast spray because I’m not sure what native plants might be trying to pop up. Sounds crazy I know, but I’ve been assured by the experts they’re still there just waiting for the sunlight.

      Reply
  6. Janet, The Queen of Seaford

    Great information on the ‘cons’ of planting ivy. I am VERY impressed with the progress you all have made so far. We had a 10 x 10 foot garden in our front yard in VA and it had ivy in it (not planted by us!) . It took a lot of work to eradicate the ivy from that small area, I am in awe of your accomplishments so far.

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Janet–I’m sure there will be plenty of follow up needed this spring. I’m not counting chickens yet. By the way, we need to set a day to get together once the symposium is a wrap. See you soon.

      Reply

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