The Q&A Archives: Getting Rid of Ivy

Question: Hi. I live in Atlanta, GA and my house is surrounded by a lot of trees and the previous owners planted ivy as a ground cover. The ivy is covering all the trees in their path. What is the best way to kill ivy and still be able to use the land?

Answer: The first step is to cut and pull all climbing strands that have infiltrated trees. Removal of the bottom three feet or so will kill ivy vines fairly quickly. Depending on the texture of a tree's bark, long sections of vine may be pulled off a tree from the ground (the deeper the bark grooves, the harder to remove the ivy).

However, to totally remove the highest strands, you'll need to be patient or hire an arborist. If you choose the former, cut ivy -- as a rule -- takes a year to turn brown, two years to defoliate and about three years to fall off the trees by itself.

Next comes the ground removal program. It's a program because ivy eradication takes vigilance and repeated efforts. It goes like this: Cut. Pull. Cut. Pull. Cut. Pull.

Ivy removal is excellent exercise -- gentle, steady and exhilarating. Though it is a generally wholesome practice, there are a few precautions to keep in mind.

Be sure to wear gloves, because ivy leaves can cause a painful rash for those with sensitive skin.

If you have any kind of breathing difficulty, wear a respirator as well. Exposure to ivy dust can trigger asthma or a bronchial attack for those with sensitivities.

The easiest way to clear the ground of ivy is to start at an edge and pull the ivy back like a sheet. Now dig out and cut away all the roots you see, rolling the ivy blanket back on itself like a jelly roll. This works best with two people. One person pulls and rolls the ivy mat while the other uses a sharp shovel or half-moon edger to chop away the roots.

There is no easier way to get ivy out. Ivy has waxy foliage that is impervious to most herbicides. Roundup does have a limited effect when spot-applied directly to freshly cut root stems. However, recent studies show that Roundup can persist in soil and near water for far longer than reported (up to several years), so it is not recommended for use near water or in woodlands where wildlife might feed on treated plants.

Best wishes with your ivy eradication project!

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