Garden Detective

Jessica Damiano's award-winning garden blog gets to the root of things.

How to remove English ivy

English ivy vines overtake part of a tree.

English ivy vines overtake part of a tree. (Credit: Handout)

The holidays are here, so pick a nice day to deck your halls with English ivy.

First, don a pair of rubber gloves--a vine you grab may be poison ivy. Using pruners, cut away some nice vines from the base of a tree that's overladen with English ivy and gently pull them off the tree, being careful not to injure the bark. And while you're at it, cut away all the ivy at the base. This time, don't try to remove the vines. Although this will result in ivy die-off, it's better than allowing trees to weaken or topple under the weight. Some people, however, must like the look of dying trees smothered in ivy, since I see them everywhere. 

Because they emerge at the tree tops, I never noticed the berries of the English ivy until a tree came down last January. According to the National Park Service, the blue to dark green (nearly black) berries are highly toxic. Imagine how delicious this fruit looks to hungry birds when in the cold of winter most other berries have gone. Birds will eat them, and if not poisoned at first, will fly to another tree and regurgitate them, wasting precious energy in the effort. This is one way ivy travels to the base of the next tree. The other way is by ground runners. I love to take the end of a long vine (20 feet sometimes) and pull it out of the ground until I get to the root where I give it one last yank. Then, I wind it into a ball and set it aside. After doing this a few hundred times, I discovered that a set of large pliers made it easier on my hands. They grip the runner well and maximize the pull, especially with the final yank.

Once you cut the vines at the base, clear the area of all ivy to at least two feet out from the foot of the tree. Dig down, and most likely you'll notice vines girdling the tree. Cut and remove what you can. I use a limb saw or reciprocating saw to cut thick roots as close to the ground as possible and a foot or so up the tree.

So be of good cheer. You rescued a tree on a lovely winter's day. And oh, deck your halls with mistletoe instead. Happy Holidays!

Reader Julie Sullivan has lived in Huntington for 33 years. She recently retired from a 20-year career as executive director and founder of the Association for Resource Conservation, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to solid  waste reduction through On-Farm Composting and the Materials Resource Center in Ronkonoma, and is currently a member of the Huntington Conservation Board and a volunteer for the Long Island Invasive Species Management Area's program to help locate and identify Long Island's non-native invasive plant species at New York State's IMapInvasives.org website.

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