The Silent Killer in Your Yard

What’s scarier than bumping into a spider web, a witch, a black cat or a bat in the dark of All Hallows Eve?

It’s a zombie plant that harbors rodents and mosquitoes on the ground but morphs into a killer of earth’s largest living ancient species when it climbs and matures. Still stumped?

It’s English ivy, which can choke – and kill — the beautiful trees that give our yards and neighborhoods shade and character. What looks like a lovely little green plant can clamp onto trees, accelerating rot, and causing mature trees to fall down during storms.

Ivy can strangle trees, and once it is in the tree canopy, it can block sunlight from the trees’ leaves. Dense ivy cover deprives the tree’s bark of normal contact with air and microorganisms and competes with the tree for nutrients and water. Ivy is a threat. But we can beat it with simple landscaping work.

3 Steps to Remove Ivy from Trees

1. Use garden clippers to cut ivy at the bottom around the entire trunk of all infested trees. The goal is to separate all ivy vines from their source of nutrients in the soil so they will die. If the ivy is not dense, you can pull it from the soil at the bottom of the tree with your hands, especially soon after it rains. On heavily infested trees with ivy vines thicker than an inch, you will need to carefully saw through the vine and carefully, gently ease it away from the bark. Experiment with the tools below to find what works best for you.

TIP: Wear gloves and long sleeves to lessen the risk of poison ivy. Many prefer doing this during the winter months when poison ivy is less virulent, and they will have heavier clothing to reduce the risk.

2. Pull all ivy vines out of the ground around the base of the tree, making a “life saver ring” 2 feet wide all around the tree. This will protect the tree from future infestations. This is easiest to do when the soil is soft from rains; if the ground is very hard and the vines keep breaking, wait until after a rain to remove the vines. The cleared space allows you to see any emerging ivy from roots you missed. Arborists suggest laying a 2″ thick leaf or wood chip mulch for three feet around the tree to preserve moisture in the soil and keep lawn mowers from getting too close to the roots. Keep the mulch 3″ away from tree trunk to ensure air exchange for the bark, and you can spot any ivy trying to reinfest the tree.

3. Once cut, leave ivy on the tree. Do not pull it off because that could harm the tree. Ivy will gradually blend into the tree bark after it is cut. Check up your tree each winter to be sure the ivy remains off.

Please note that ivy’s leaves grow larger and more heart-shaped as the vine climbs up the tree. This mature phase of the plant produces flowers in late summer and purple berry-like fruit in autumn that birds eat and spread far from the initial source. If you’re uncertain about the identity of the vine on your tree, track a stem of it back to ground level until you are certain it’s English ivy. Then follow the steps above to kill its vines on the tree trunk.

Please contact the TreeStewards at to get a demonstration of how to remove ivy from a tree in your yard or to request a speaker.

Additional Education Material

Download 2-sided mini poster about ivy removal.

This was developed for TreeStewards and Arlington Regional Master Naturalists under a grant from the Tree Canopy Fund of Arlington, Virginia. These materials, created by the Biodiversity Project of Chicago, may be adapted and distributed by anyone who wants to protect their trees.
We’d like to know how the campaign is succeeding. Please notify us when you clear ivy from trees or if you are using the materials in your work by emailing

About TreeStewards

TreeStewards of Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia, are trained volunteers who work to protect, preserve, and enhance urban tree canopy through public education and volunteer activities such as planting, pruning, and caring for trees.
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