English Ivy

It seemed like a good idea at the time. We had just moved into a new house, and the back yard was pretty empty. One of the few things growing out there was a crab apple tree. A friend offered me a half flat of English Ivy and I planted it in the shade under the tree and forgot about it. Now, 20 years later, the Ivy has engulfed the crab apple and is trying to take over the rest of the world, beginning with my yard.

English Ivy is one of 5 species in the genus Hedera. The official name is Hedera helix, but it is also known as Common Ivy.  English Ivy is a perennial, and has evergreen leaves on woody vines. It is easy to grow in zones 4-9, too easy, as I have learned. Used as a ground cover, it will grow about 8 inches tall, and it will grow under trees where it is difficult to grow grass. It is sometimes used to control erosion on slopes, and some feel it adds a nice touch to buildings when it grows up the walls. Used mainly as an ornamental plant, English Ivy attracts birds, bees and deer while providing a dense evergreen shelter.

English Ivy can be grown in well drained soil, in partial to full shade. Younger plants will have lobed leaves of dull green, with lighter veins. The leaves come in a variety of forms; wavy, curled, cupped, ruffled and can be variegated with white, yellow or pink. On a mature vine, the leaves are glossy, and have no lobes. When the vine is mature, which may take many years, it will form stems that have flowers in the fall, on the branches that are exposed to the sun.  Some describe the flowers as insignificant, but they are full of nectar and are a good food source for bees. In late winter or early spring, dark purple berries appear, which are popular with the birds.

Sounds good, right? Not really. If you are not vigilant at cutting back the vines in the spring, this plant will spread like crazy. In many areas of the United States it is considered an invasive weed, or a noxious weed. Some areas do not recommend planting it, and others ban it altogether. The berries that the birds enjoy have seeds inside. The seeds are distributed by birds, and will probably grow just about anywhere that they fall. In this way, English Ivy spreads to forests, parks and natural areas. Because the Ivy can form such a dense mat, it crowds out weeds, but also desirable plants, destroying the habitat of some animals.

As a climbing plant, English Ivy can grow up to 50 feet above the ground. It has little things called aerial rootlets that have a glue like substance, enabling them to hold on to any surface. The bad news is that Ivy climbing a tree can cause the tree bark to become diseased or rot. Ivy covering a tree also reduces the amount of sunlight reaching the tree’s own leaves.  Plus, the Ivy can grow so heavy that a strong wind will cause the tree to fall. Ivy growing on a building may look pretty, but in reality the rootlets are damaging the wood and mortar.

So, how do you get rid of English Ivy? Actually grabbing it and pulling it out is the best way. It has shallow roots and the stems are strong, so they don’t break while you pull. Wear gloves though, the leaves may cause contact dermatitis and the berries are somewhat poisonous to humans. If it has grown up a tree, as in my case, cut the vines as far up as you can reach and remove them. Make sure you get all of them, all the way around. Wait for the vines on top to die, and make sure no new vines grow up there. As you can see by the photos, the vines can grow up to 5” thick, so removing them will take some work. As I have learned the hard way, it is important to learn about plants before placing them in your yard. I wish I would have taken the time to read about  English Ivy 20 years ago!

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5 Responses to “English Ivy”

  1. Kem Says:

    The next time I am tempted to yank out the slow growing vinca and just stick ivy in, I will re-read this post! The city of Baltimore used to have banks of ivy in which they had planted daffodil bulbs. It looked very nice in the spring.

  2. Baz Says:

    I think I’ve got some ivy at the bottom of my yard growing on top of a wall.. it’s very thick.. as a result my yard has a very pungent smell.. is that normal for Ivy? could it be something similar.. I’ve no idea what the plant is

    • margaretsgarden Says:

      I was not able to find any reference to English Ivy being smelly. In fact I found one web site that recommends using English Ivy inside your house to keep away odors. The ivy in my yard does not have any smell that I’ve ever noticed.

  3. Marcie Says:

    I have done the same thing you did. I left the ivy for 20 years. It killed my pine tree. I just took the pine tree down and now I’m attempting to get rid of the ivy on my front lawn. I am currently digging and pulling it out. 24 compOst bags latter, I see some surfacing from below the 4 inches I dug. I’ m trying to kill it. I can’t use poisons due to the other tree. All I can find in researching is to cover that portion of the lawn with black tarp and let it sit for 1year. Any one have other methods?

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