Homeowners Urged to Remove Destructive Ivy from Trees

by Katie Pyzyk March 15, 2012 at 11:52 am 19,401 88 Comments

There’s an effort underway to reduce a choking threat, but it’s not what you might think. English ivy is choking off trees and homeowners are being urged to remove the destructive plant.

Although the ivy is often considered decorative, it can actually strangle the life from trees. It can steal nutrients and water from trees it wraps around, and can accelerate tree rot by holding moisture close to the tree trunk. It has been known to kill trees and add enough weight to cause trees to topple during storms.

β€œOur trees add financial value to our properties and quality to our lives,” said Nora Palmatier, President of TreeStewards of Arlington and Alexandria in a press release. β€œThe investment is worth it. Unfortunately, English ivy is a threat to that investment.”

The Arlington Regional Master Naturalists offer the following tips for removing the ivy.

  • Clip all ivy vines at the base of the tree. The goal is to separate all the vines from their source in the ground.
  • Leave the cut vines on the tree. Pulling them off could harm the tree. The cut ivy will die and blow off over the next year.
  • Create a barrier ring by pulling up all ivy vines from the ground for at least two feet around the tree. This protects from future infestations.

Poison ivy often hides among non-poisonous species, so remember to wear long clothing and gloves while working with ivy.

Palmatier said trained volunteers for Tree Stewards can come to your home and demonstrate how to remove ivy. To request this service or for more information about removing ivy from trees, go to the Tree Stewards website, or email [email protected]

  • drax


    Get rid of it, and for God’s sake, don’t plant it! There are plenty of better choices.

    • NPGMBR

      Wow, didn’t know this stuff was so bad. Learn something new every day!

  • meh..

    Tried that….and it comes back within a month…
    Ivy is the worst!
    It’s almost taken over my entire back yard.

    • Good Grief

      You must be my neighbor..

  • Westover

    I would like to know what the county is doing about the ivy along the bike trails (mostly around 66-Bon Air) and public parks. It is more ivy than trees and shrubs in most places.

    • Quoth the Raven

      Oh, please don’t ask that! Next thing you know, they’ll come in with huge tanker trucks and just poison everything in sight. Removing ivy is hugely labor intensive, and I don’t know if there is a better/different way to do it. But it does need to be done, and I agree the trees along the paths you mention are in trouble from this stuff.

      • drax

        No, they don’t spray. They bring in volunteers to rip it out by hand, and sometimes they bring in equipment to dig it up by the roots.


        • Quoth the Raven

          That’s a good thing. Thanks for the link.

        • Henry

          Sometimes they have sprayed. Here’s 15th and Quincy before spraying several years ago. http://bit.ly/invasiveon15th

          • drax

            You saw them spraying?

            You got an “after” pic? Because spraying that area would probably kill everything in sight, including the trees.

      • I.V. Hater

        Are you kidding? It’s a real problem. Walk thru just about any Arl park and see how many trees are about to get eaten up by ivy. The stuff is invasive. I’d be for trucking in feral hogs if they’d eat the stuff. DDT, flamethrowers, swarms of locusts–whatever it takes.

        But yeah, try the snip method first. πŸ™‚

        • ncooty

          Funny you should say that. There are companies that rent out herds of goats for that exact purpose. The goats are also highly skilled at leaving behind fertilizer. πŸ™‚

      • Bluemontsince1961

        Drax is correct. I live close to the Custis and W&OD trails and I’ve seen signs posted on the westbound W&OD trail just past the Patrick Henry overpass where they have signs about why the ivy is being removed and that volunteers remove it. As far as I know, that’s how its always been removed, I don’t recall anyone ever spraying it, at least in that area.

        • Saxy Taxy

          WTF is the county parks dept doing? Why volunteers for basic services?

    • Arlington, Northside

      Nothing to say you can’t remove the invasive species yourself. I took care of the stuff myself that was blocking the sidewalk on Patrick Henry Drive by the I-66 Bridge.

    • DreamO’s

      Invasive Species Removal

  • veeta

    English ivy is the bane of my garden, coming into my yard from three directions. Once it is manually pulled, smothering it with cardboard and a thick layer of mulch helps. I advise staying away from plastic based weed mats as they eventually break down and you have a mess.
    I hate to see it killing trees. A tree fell in my neighborhood last year, taking out a carport and damaging a car and house. It was covered with ivy, and I strongly suspect that was a major factor–so maybe that will convince people. I also think it harbors mosquitoes in places where it forms a ground cover.
    Note that some people can be allergic to its sap and develop a poison ivy-like rash–lucky me. Wear gloves and sleeves just in case!
    meh, in your case I recommend hiring a service to take it out and replant–it will save you a lot of pain and time.

  • Wiz

    I hate this stuff so much. Can I use a flamethrower on it?

    • drax

      It is probably as impervious to fire as it is to Roundup.

      • BoredHouseWife

        dont use roundup. plz for the love of god stop using it.
        (not directed at drax, unless he uses it a lot)

        if its kudzu you can eat it.

  • Goats?

  • Arlington, Northside

    Ivy on old brick walls = Classy
    Ivy on trees = Deadly

    • Roycroft

      Ivy on old brick walls is also bad. Ivy breaks down the mortar and it takes advantage of any weakness in the structure, holes, cracks, etc it grows right into these spaces. It is a mess when you try and remove it.

      • Arlington, Northside

        Yes, it is not something good for structural walls, but non-structural when kept trim and in check adds a bit of class. With out it Harvard would just be another expensive college.

        • ncooty

          Unfortunately, allowing the ivy to climb is what allows it to fruit, thereby spreading further. Other native climbing vines can provide similar decoration without the invasive risks of English ivy.

        • Henry

          Ivy only looks nice until you’ve had to get rid of it.

  • GreaterClarendon

    I’m going into my 4th year of battle with it at my house. First two years, spent hours yanking it out to the root. Last year was pretty easy, just pulled wherever I saw the ivy growing. Can’t use Ivy poison on it, since that basically kills everything around it. I don’t know what the former home owners were thinking letting it grow like it did. You can win the battle, but it is a continuing – but lessening – project.

  • KalashniKEV

    I have a destructive tree that I’d like to remove… it’s partially obscuring my view of the lower portion of the monument AND southern portion of the Capitol.

    • nom de guerre

      Dan Snyder has some experience with this issue…

  • Thank you posting this important information about English ivy. For those who are facing large swaths of the stuff, keep in mind that you don’t have to remove it all at once. The first priority is to keep it from climbing anything so that it can’t flower, fruit and get spread by birds. Then work on a small section at a time. I’ve been working on an old patch on my property for a couple of years now. It’s been hard work, but now I have more space for my native plant garden. I find that after cutting and digging out a section, putting down several layers of newspaper and covering it with a couple of inches of composted leaf mulch reduces re-sprouting. I can then plant through the newspaper, which will decay over time.

    • ncooty

      Thanks, Cliff. That’s useful advice. πŸ™‚

  • Ren

    But where will the rats hide out after it’s gone? There’s nothing like walking by an ivy patch in DC after dark and seeing one of those buggars spring out with a squeak.

    • jackson

      They’re all being trucked into Arlington, right? πŸ˜‰ Cooch!

      • BoredHouseWife

        no worries the black squirrel gangs will drive them back:)~

        • st

          Why you got to be racist?

  • John Fontain

    I urge everyone to wait until next January 21st to remove their destructive ivy and other invasive plant species. That way we can properly commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.

    • Josh S

      A joke only for those who have truly been paying attention.

      • drax

        We could even send volunteers from Arlington to help Donaldson Run clear their ivy too.

      • BoredHouseWife

        it went over my head. could you illuminate me plz?

        • drax

          Someone joked about a weed removal event as a service project for MLK Day in comments on a story, saying it was weird and not really related to King’s legacy.

  • So much good advice in the comments here! What I wonder is: Why do some plant nurseries still sell this pest?

    • novasteve

      WE NEED TO BAN IT! The government must force us to not use ivy like everything else. We are children and we need the government to treat us as such!

      • MacTieran

        lol. Ivy doesn’t ruin trees, people ruin trees.

      • drax

        So the government should never ban a harmful biological agent that spreads through the community and causes damage, steve? You gonna go out and buy some anthrax now?

        • novasteve

          Are you really going to compare ivy to anthrax?

          • drax

            I’m not comparing ivy to anthrax, I’m destroying your thoughtless logic. Again.

        • B-Rad

          Are you trying to describe ivy? Should they ban it?

      • ncooty

        The question is about the level of public risk–i.e., the extent to which one person’s use or ownership of the ivy infringes on others’ property rights or safety. It could also be handled by holding property owners accountable when their invasive plants spread beyond their property–e.g., paying for the control and removal from adjoining parks.

        I think that sort of accountability might be more effective than a mere ban. It’s about taking personal responsibility for your choices.

        • novasteve

          Doesn’t work that way. If you have a tree with big branches that extend over someone else’s yard, and a storm comes and knocks branches down, your neeighbor who owns the tree isn’t responsible for the damage to your property.

          • John Fontain

            “If you have a tree with big branches that extend over someone else’s yard”

            “your neeighbor who owns the tree”

            Is it my tree or my neighbor’s?

          • drax

            I’m having lots of fun with my new termite farm next door to your house, Steve. They’re busy little creatures.

        • BoredHouseWife

          if its on your side of the fence (property line), its yours.

      • drax

        Steve, you can also go to get a long list of plant and animal pests and disease vectors from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol that the evil nanny state won’t let us import.

        While you do that, I’m going to start a huge termite farm next to your house. It will be awesome! Don’t complain, now – you wouldn’t want the government treating us like children.

        Oh, and for God’s sake, think before you post sometimes.

        • novasteve

          You won’t mind if I target shoot my M1A at your termite farm, ,would you?

          • drax

            Yes, I will. That’s illegal and dangerous.

            Unlike my termite farm, right?

        • esmith69


          • esmith69

            +100 to drax, obviously. not sure why it didn’t post right away

    • nom de guerre

      I believe one of the largest commercial propagators of English Ivy is located in Virginia and that may be why it is only considered an “moderately” alien plant invasive species. A classification of highly invasive alien plant species would prohibit the propagation and sale of English Ivy in Virginia.

      • drax

        It’s ridiculous. As if they can’t just grow something else that’s better. Jeez.

        • nom de guerre

          I am sure that they can grow a lot of things that are better but that would involve stock or seed, fertilizer, pest control, greenhouses, water, work, and more work, etc. None of that is required for English Ivy-the only thing that is required is time.

          • drax

            Plenty of plants require little or no work or resources. There are hundreds of non-invasive plants that would qualify.

  • novasteve

    If someone plants something that attracts bees and a neighbor is allergic to bees, should that neighbor have a cause of action against the other neighbor?

    • nom de guerre

      Only if the neighbor plants something that attracts smokers and automatic transmissions.

      • Quoth the Raven

        That was really funny. Nice work.

    • drax

      Hey, steve, this must mean you wholly support the right of people to have chickens in Arlington! Glad you’ve joined the movement!

      And also cows and pigs and goats. Right?

  • Mark

    So glad that this is finally getting some attention. Arlington mouths off about its environment and “greenness” while at the same time, ivy and other invasive plants are tearing down a large percentage of its mature trees in parks and along the bike trails. It’s a travesty and it appears that the County government spends virtually nothing on it and depends on overworked and under appreciated volunteers to do something about it. Addressing this environmental and visual ugliness should take a much higher priority.

    • John Fontain

      Yes, this is a travesty in the truest sense of the word!

  • Barb

    We had someone come in several years ago to remove the ivy growing up most of the very large trees in our back yard, and from underneath all the azalea beds in the front. Mulching to keep the weeds at bay underneath the azaleas is a huge challenge, but it beats having the shrubs being choked out and overgrown with the ivy. And the trees in back are happy campers for the same reason!

  • TuesdaysChild

    Can we come up with a list of other things Homeowners want to get rid of?

    Group houses are on my list.

    • drax

      Sneak over and plant English Ivy in their yards and the tenants will suffocate under it in a few months.

  • Cindy

    Every little bit helps. Even if it keeps the ivy from spreading, it’s worth at least trying.

  • Mike

    Can’t stress enough that it’s after ivy reaches the top of something vertical, like a tree, post or wall, that it matures, flowers and sets seeds that the birds then carry off into the parks where they do so much damage. Spread the word.

    • Oops

      Oops, I have one of those ivy trees in my yard, and it forms a nice screen to block the neighbors. I didn’t know what it was for the longest time, because it no longer looks like ivy.

  • BoredHouseWife

    and you will lower the skeeter population too!

  • ksu499

    I hear that something called kudzu is a good substitute.

  • Laura

    Really glad to see this getting some attention in Arlington. Kudos to TreeStewards and Arlington Master Naturalists for getting the word out. Hope the county will get more involved in addressing the problem of English Ivy and other invasive plants.

    • Jane Stubbs

      The County could do more to educate the public, but there is not even remotely enough staff to get rid of all the Ivy out there. Homeowners planted it (or their houses came with it) and volunteers and homeowners will have to be the major players in it’s removal. When I finally pulled mine (and a very little “re-pulling” every year), Virginia Creeper showed up to take it’s place.

      • drax

        Va. Creeper is a native plant that doesn’t kill trees.

  • Don’t mind ivy in moderation

    I’m actually trying to grow ivy to cover bare spots in my hilly yard, but it won’t spread! I promise to be responsible and keep it in check, but it doesn’t like my soil, I guess.

  • Lisa Shepard

    I had a tree expert knock on my door and educate me about the ivy. what did I know? I thought it was decorative. We are talking about ivy on a five decades old tree, and it was tough to get the ivy off. it was literally strangling my two trees.

  • Lisa Shepard

    Thanks to TreeStewards and Arlington Master Naturalists for bringing this problem to the public. It was probably someone from one of these groups that stopped by my house.

  • Ace Ventura, Invasive Detective
  • CF

    Lose the ivy! It’s a great place for rats to hide. Yes, I said rats, which are a problem in Arlington. The secod I saw rats in my yard, the ivy all got ripped out. The second the ivy was ripped out, the rats were gone.

  • Monica Dinan

    We ripped up the ivy under our tree 18 years ago. We did not use any herbicides and have never had it come back. Just wear protective clothes and pull it up by the roots after it has rained so the ground is soft. All kinds of unwelcome critters live in that english ivy. That is reason enough to get rid of it.

  • mona

    We are ripping it out of our yard, but how do we dispose of the cut ivy? I do not want to put in into the county yard waste bags since it may continue living and growing in the mulch the county provides to homeowners!!


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