The Q&A Archives: Ivy control

Question: I've heard that ivy can be killed with borax but it is good for trees and bushes and grass. Is this true?

Answer: Through trial and error, people found that borax could kill ground ivy. Why did the borax work? Borax contains boron, an important plant micronutrient. However, the difference between plant requirements and toxicity problems is very small. When excessive quantities are present, boron can damage and even destroy plants. We also know that grasses tend to be more tolerant of excess boron than are broadleaves.

But there is little research information on how borax affects turf and ornamentals in the home landscape. So in 1991, Harlene Hatterman-Valenti, ISU horticulture graduate student; and Nick Christians, ISU horticulture professor; conducted research on the effectiveness of borax in control of ground ivy in turfgrass and ornamental situations. Research was conducted over the next two years, and they concluded that, dependent upon weather conditions, borax indeed could indeed match or exceed the performance of common herbicides' in eradicating ground ivy.

ISU research does indeed show that the home remedy for ground ivy works. However, several questions remain to be answered: How long does it remain in the soil? What effects, if any, will the boron have on nearby plants? How much borax is too much? These unanswered questions indicate a need for more study in this area.

Homeowners who prefer using conventional herbicides have some effective options. The most effective broadleaf herbicide products are those that contain dicamba. Trimec? and Weed-B-Gon Lawn Weed Killer2? are two widely sold products that contain dicamba.

Fall (mid-September through early November) is generally the best time to control ground ivy with conventional broadleaf herbicides. Two applications are usually necessary. The second application should be 10 to 14 days after the first. As always, when using pesticides, read and follow label directions carefully.

Regardless of the type of material applied (broadleaf herbicide or borax), the key to successful control of ground ivy is proper application. Once the ground ivy has been effectively controlled and an healthy lawn reestablished, the home gardener needs to use good mowing, fertilization, watering, and cultivation practices to maintain a dense, healthy, competitive stand of turfgrass which should help discourage future invasions of this aggressive weed.

The best way to control ground ivy in flower and vegetable gardens is by hand pulling and hoeing. The key to effective control of ground ivy in gardens is persistence. Repeatedly pull and hoe the ground ivy (remove the plant debris to prevent it from rooting) until it has been eliminated. Once destroyed, maintain clean, weed-free borders around flower and vegetable gardens to prevent the ground ivy from "creeping" back in from adjacent areas.

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