The Q&A Archives: Out-of-control ivy

Question: I have ivy in my backyard that was present when I moved in but has grown out of control in the past few years. I had planted roses in a bed well away from the ivy at first, but the ivy has grown to invade the rose garden. Does the ivy kill the roses? How can I get rid of the ivy completely? Will the roses grow back in the spring or will I have to plant new ones? Will the grass grow back or will I have to re-seed? Please help!

Answer: Ivy is a good groundcover in certain situations but it needs to be cut back frequently to prevent it spreading beyond its designated space. It can eventually kill roses and other shrubs (or lawn) by smothering them and outcompeting them for water and nutrients. It also adds weight to large trees and can contribute to them blowing over in storms.

If it is not too established, you may be able to begin at the newest growth tips and pull it up, working back towards the older sections of the ivy. If it has rooted down, it will be able to resprout from those roots. You can repeatedly cut the new growth and/or try to dig out the roots, or you can treat the cut ends with an herbicide containing glyphosate. (This is a contact herbicide and will damage all plants.) If you have a wide area to kill out, you can spray the herbicide over the area. It may take several treatments to achieve full control. Be sure to read and follow all of the label directions.

You will probably need to reseed grassy areas if the ivy has smothered the lawn. I should mention that ivy is often used as a groundcover in situations where grass does not thrive, such as shady areas, or slopes, or areas with poor soil, or areas full of tree roots, so you should consider whether or not lawn will actually grow in that area before removing the ivy from it.

The roses may recover, they normally lose their leaves during the winter. (Do not contact the roses or other desirable plants with herbicide.) Remove the ivy from the plants and from the ground around them, top dress with compost and mulch with several inches of organic mulch and hope for the best. Again, roses grow best in full sun all day, or a minimum of six hours of sun including the hour of noon.

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