Monday, August 30, 2010

Controlling English Ivy

English Ivy phot courtesy of Cornell  Horticulture
English Ivy (Hedera Helix) is an evergreen perennial vine. Hearty in zones 2-8; ivy is a wonderful way to soften hardscape. It also makes a great choice as a ground cover around the base of trees because it prefers shade and can even tolerate an acidic soil that would make growing grass difficult. It is a good solution for steep hills that are difficult to mow. It provides a nice green cover all year and prevents erosion.

While English Ivy can be a charming addition to a garden design; it can be difficult to control. Each vine can grow up to 9 feet in length and can live for twenty years. When used as a ground cover it can become a massive tangle of intertwined vines that will begin choking out other plants in the vicinity. It is so pervasive that some areas of the Pacific Northwest consider it “noxious” and have restrictions on planting it.

It can be pruned with a pair of sharp hedge clippers or an edger as long as it is done regularly. This prevents it from spreading and gives it a nice clean edge. It will leaf out at the point where it has been cut so don’t worry if it looks too harsh at first.

If the Ivy has already become overgrown and you are looking to cut it back, be prepared. Removing it can take a lot of elbow grease. I just removed about 10 feet of the stuff over the last several weekends by following these steps:

  1. Run the lawn mower around the border to thin it and remove the leaves. Doing so exposes the vines and makes it easier to see what to cut and pull. 
  2. Use a pair of sturdy pruners or clippers to cut the vines at the new edge, disconnecting it from the rest. 
  3. Pull, pull and pull some more. I use a garden claw and hand pruners to cut any vines below the surface if I can’t get the whole thing out.

If you are trying to remove it from a tree trunk or side of a building, cut the vines at the soil level. The climbers will die after a few weeks and can easily be pulled down.

With all of its benefits, English Ivy certainly has its place in many a lovely design. Just be prepared. It’s not quite as low maintenance as you might think.


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