Tree Stewards Used Leap Day to Free Trees from Ivy

Red and white oaks, black gum, hickory and tulip trees can grow straighter because 40 volunteers removed invasive English ivy from the base of their trunks on Leap Day.

Led by Tree Steward intern Romana Campos, members of Arlington’s Trinity Presbyterian Church were joined by Tree Stewards, Arlington Regional Master Naturalists and Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia to free 126 mature trees from their heavy ivy burdens on a cold Saturday morning. Some volunteers mulched an additional 60 trees on the church’s campus on North 16th Street.

The work helps to fulfill Trinity’s mission as an “Earth Care Congregation,” according to Campos, who is a church elder, and Diane Allard, who heads the grounds ministry. Work had been scheduled in two shifts, from 9 a.m. until noon and from 1 to 3 p.m., but with such a robust volunteer turnout, most work was completed by 11 a.m., when workers enjoyed brunch in a church social hall.

Campos said she learned the importance of rescuing the mature trees from English ivy from Tree Stewards Nora Palmatier and Don Walsh, who consulted with her about obtaining a tree from Arlington’s Tree Canopy Fund, which is administered by EcoAction Arlington. Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria have been promoting care of mature trees for a decade, most recently with their “Mature Trees Are Valuable Trees” campaign. One of the most ubiquitous threats to trees is English ivy, which has been targeted in the Tree Stewards “Choking Hazard” campaign.

English ivy (Hedera helix) is a non-native ground cover still sold by garden stores despite its tendency to smother the ground, shading out more valuable native plants. Immature on the ground, ivy seeks to climb, and trees are nearby targets, especially in woodlands like the four acres that surround Trinity Presbyterian Church. Once up the tree trunk, the ivy matures, flowers in August, and bears fruit in late fall. Birds eat the berries and spread ivy far and wide.

On tree trunks, ivy can kill trees by holding too much moisture next to the trunk, where pathogens can take hold, and by climbing into the canopy, blocking light that trees need to conduct photosynthesis that feeds the roots. In addition, ivy in tree canopy often adds so much weight that otherwise sturdy branches bend downward, weakening the tree’s structure.

Killing ivy is relatively easy. Ivy is carefully cut at the base of the trunk and very gently removed from a foot or two of the trunk without disturbing the bark to create an ivy-free window. Ivy is easily uprooted by hand pulling at the tree’s base to form a “life ring” a few feet wide around the trunk. Ivy remaining on the trunk will turn brown, die and fall off. The on-ground life ring must be maintained every few years to prevent the vine from heading skyward again.

To learn more about non-native invasive plants in Northern Virginia, here are resources from Arlington and Fairfax counties:

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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