Get tree-killing ivy out of your yard

By Janet Carroll, Mukilteo Wildlife Habitat Project | Aug 25, 2010

I am obsessed with ridding my yard, and Mukilteo parks and open spaces of English Ivy.  I want ivy out.

Every day, I am astonished at the amount of English Ivy that covers the trees, yards and parks in Mukilteo. Sometimes I can’t help but pull it off the trees, even when I just happen to be out for a walk.

Why is it everywhere?  It needs to go.

The popularity of ivy grew when it was discovered that the plant works well as a ground cover. It holds the soil on steep slopes, and people find its thick, evergreen leaves attractive.

But English Ivy is non-native to the United States.  It is an invasive plant that can often become well established and, later, difficult to control. No natural predators or pests keep it in check.

Ivy attaches to trees, brickwork, and other surfaces with its small, sticky roots.

As it engulfs trees, ivy slowly kills the branches by blocking light from the leaves.  In addition, it can strangle trees around their base and reduce the flow of nutrients up and down the trunk.

In Japanese Gulch Park and Natural Area, ivy has spread throughout the wetland and has killed many trees.

When I purchased my home, ivy had invaded my yard and climbed my trees.

I was determined to rid my property of ivy, so I did some research and taught myself how.  It’s hard work but not difficult. And seeing my lawn and trees without ivy where once it had been, was deeply satisfying.

Here’s how I got my ivy out (and how you can too):

I got out my loppers, pruning saw and a small pruner.

Since I was not sure if I would be allergic to ivy (some people get a rash), I wore long pants, long sleeves and leather gloves.

I started by removing ivy from all the trees, being careful not to damage them as I worked.  

I cut the ivy at about shoulder height all around the trees with whatever tool would do the job.  I did the same thing at ankle height; that was where the thickest trunks occurred, and I often had to use a pruning saw.

Once that was accomplished, I removed every bit of the ivy from between the two cuts.  The rest of the ivy above the cut eventually died.  

Don’t be tempted to pull the ivy down as you might pull parts of the tree down with it, which can be dangerous.  I can attest to being knocked in the head by a large ivy-laden branch – it was not a pleasant experience.  

The tree may not look so pretty when the ivy dies, but it is much healthier.  Eventually the dead ivy dries out and will start to fall off.

Once all my trees were ivy free, I started on the ground around the trees by just pulling out the plant, including its roots, or cutting them if I could not pull them out.

I couldn’t get rid of all the roots, so I occasionally patrolled my yard looking for an ivy leaves that may have sprouted.  That’s when I dug out the rest of roots and get rid of the ivy for good.

On how to dispose of the ivy, I stuffed ivy into my yard-waste container every week for a long time, and in the mean time let the remaining ivy dry out on a tarp.

My yard is now ivy free.  It felt so good to finally be rid of the ivy, that I started on my neighbor’s ivy.

Ivy is on the State Noxious Weed List, but it is not illegal for nurseries to sell ivy. 

The ivies to avoid are Hedera hibernica, Hedera helix 'Baltica', 'Pitttsburgh' and 'Star.’

As an alternative to tree-killing ivy, try other slope-holding native plants like sword fern, salal, kinnikinnick, beach or coast strawberry.  

Trees are great for holding the slope – especially Western Red Cedar and Douglas Fir. Their branches intercept precipitation, protecting the slope as well.

Ivy isn’t the only noxious weed on my kill list.  Look for my next column about the 10th most noxious weed in the world, another dedicated resident of Mukilteo.

Janet Carroll is a member of the Mukilteo Wildlife Habitat Project, which has a goal of certifying Mukilteo as a community wildlife habitat.  Help Mukilteo get community certification by certifying your own yard.  For more information on the project, go to www.mukilteowildlife.org.

Do you have questions about how to get rid of noxious weed?  E-mail Caroll at mukilteowildlife@gmail.com.
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