Charlotte Gardening 101: Watch Out For English Ivy In Your Garden

By: Kate Bolkin, Community Arborist at TreesCharlotte

Are you of those people who swears they can’t keep plants alive?  Well good news ~  there’s a way that you can help save trees and the local ecosystem by killing a certain plant!

English ivy (Hedera helix) is one of the most wanted invasive species in North Carolina, and you can help get rid of it.  English ivy was introduced to the US as a shade-tolerant, low maintenance climbing vine and groundcover, but has since become out of control.  This ivy threatens the health of beautiful, large trees by shading out the inner canopy and adding extra weight to its hosts.  The ivy also grows in carpets along the forest floor, which chokes out native plants and creates ecological deadzones for wildlife.  

How to control English ivy

Stop buying it: Many invasive plant species like English ivy are still sold across many popular garden centers.  The easiest way to help reduce the spread of English ivy is to stop buying and planting it (and encourage others to do the same).  

Removing English ivy from your trees

Cut it back from your trees:  Cutting back English ivy from your trees is relatively simple if the infestation isn’t severe.  Before you begin, be sure you are wearing long sleeves and gloves.  

  1. Cut all vines around the base of the tree with pruners or loppers.  Use a saw for thick, woody vines.
  2. Repeat this step a few feet above the initial cuts, so that the vines growing up the trunk appear to have a “chunk” taken out of them.  Do not pull vines off the tree’s bark.  English ivy vines have strong “hairs” that attach themselves to the tree, and pulling can result in the bark ripping off.
  3. Optional: Treat the woody stumps with an herbicide targeted to kill woody, broadleaf vines.  This will help kill some of the vines in the ground before you hand-pull them out. Just be sure to keep any chemicals from touching the tree. 
  4. Within a handful of weeks, the ivy on the tree will start getting crispy, turn brown, and die off.  

Check out our video to see how to remove English ivy from trees.  Keep in mind, it will grow back if not removed from the ground.

Removing English ivy as a ground cover

Remove it from the ground:  Unfortunately, getting rid of groundcover ivy is a bit more complicated than mowing it over.  If the roots are still in the ground, the plant can (and will) sprout back.  There are a few ways you can go about this…

  1. Hand pulling:  Starting at the base of the tree, grab a vine and get pulling. It’s best to wait until after it’s rained and the ground is soft to make the pulling easier.  You can also treat the ivy with a mixture of white vinegar and a teaspoon of dish soap or herbicide about a week before you plan to pull.  This will kill some of the top ivy and the vines will loosen their grip in the ground.  Just be sure not to spray any trees or plants you intend to keep.  Spraying alone will not kill the ivy.
  2. Sheet mulching: Sheet or “lasagna” mulching is less physical effort than hand pulling, but takes longer to complete.  First, weed whack or mow the top of the ivy.  Grab as many flattened carboard boxes as you can and cover the infested area, overlapping the boxes slightly so none of the noxious ivy can poke through.  Cover the cardboard with a thick layer of mulch and water thoroughly.  About 6 months later, the mulch and cardboard should be broken down and the ivy underneath should be dead.  You can then replant with native plants to beautify the space.

Other invasive vines to watch out for:

Unfortunately, English ivy is one of many invasive vines that are threatening our landscape.  Some important ones to know (and remove) are…

  • Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)
  • Kudzu (Pueraria montana)
  • Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda)
  • Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis)
  • Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)

What to plant instead:

If you like the look of vines, you’re in luck. We have lots of native vines and groundcover that you can plant instead.

  • Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens
  • American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens)
  • Passion flower vine (Passiflora incarnata) 
  • Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia tomentosa
  • Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens
  • Climbing aster (Ampelaster carolinianus
  • Wild ginger (Asarum canadense
  • Creeping blueberry (Vaccinium crassifolium)

Please do your part to save the trees and kill that invasive ivy!