English ivy 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 actually strangle trees, accelerate rot, attract mosquitoes and cause 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
- 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 the day 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.
- Pull all ivy vines out of the ground around the base of the tree, making a 2 feet “life saver ring” 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.
- 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.
If you’re located in the Arlington/Alexandria, VA area, contact info@TreeStewards.org to get a demonstration on how to remove ivy from a tree in your yard. TreeStewards are trained volunteers from your community who share their tree knowledge.
Additional Education Materials
Download 2-sided mini poster about ivy removal.
Download a PDF presentation to share.
Download a Slide presentation to share (on a computer only)
These materials were developed for TreeStewards and Arlington Regional Master Naturalists under a grant from the Tree Canopy Fund of Arlington, Virginia. These materials, created by Biodiversity Project of Chicago, may be adapted and distributed by anyone who wants to protect their trees.
Please let us know if they are useful in your work by emailing info@TreeStewards.org
I cut a 6-inch gap in some 2-3″ diameter ivy on trees about a year ago and yes the ivy growing the rest of the way up the trunk died; but after a year the cut stumps of ivy have all sprouted new strings of ivy which are spreading up the tree again. This sucks! So now I guess I’ll re-cut the ivy stumps again a little lower and dab some herbicide on the fresh-cut ivy stumps, hoping they’ll carry it down to the roots. Any other ideas or experience with this?
Dear Oscar –
Thank you for cutting these ivy vines – we Tree Stewards and the trees thank you. And what you’re seeing with regrowth from cut vines can happen. In cases where the ivy is really dense, it can start re-growing so annually cutting thru vine and searching for any smaller vine that may still be growing from ground up is necessary. It can be a slow process but if you’re seeing dead ivy at top of tree, you’ve made a huge difference. Use of herbicide on your own property is legal yet read the instructions carefully as to amount, dilution, timing as all of those impact whether it’s useful. Most public lands have strict regulations that allow only certified practitioners use. Using chemicals is something that should be done only after studying the literature and labeling on effectiveness.
The regeneration of English ivy on cut vines also depends on the environment. Here in Virginia where we often have extended dry weeks, it doesn’t happen that much yet I understand areas with lots of rain like Seattle experience the problem. There can also be a micro-climate of moisture around a specific tree if it’s surrounded by lots of others. We suggest you get in touch with your local Extension agent for guidance or search the web for your state groups dealing with invasive plants. Here is a good guide from Clemson University discussing removal and herbicide use. https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/english-ivy-control/
Good luck. It is an ongoing struggle but so worth it for the trees.
Supposedly, Ivy is only bad for trees if it grows into the top of the tree and the tree cannot get the light it needs to thrive. It you prune the Ivy you can have both – some Ivy on tree (lower part) and the rest of tree can live happily ever after.
VaGirl, This is incorrect information. English Ivy is an invasive vine that damages trees it grows on by smothering their bark and by siphoning off water and nutrients that the trees need to sustain themselves. Also its weight alone can do damage to the tree and cause it to topple in a storm. If you allow ivy to grow on vertical surfaces, it will produce flowers and fruit and the seeds will be dispersed to other peoples’ yards and to wooded areas where will also weaken and/or kill trees. Please consider removing your ivy. Thank you.
Is ivy just as bad for shrubs and bushes? We have a bunch of bushes that look weak and have ivy underneath.
Last fall I began to attack the ivy smothering a tree in my yard. I cut through the stems at about chest height and hoped that would kill it. After reading this page I can see I have more to do, especially since the ivy doesn’t look that unhappy beyond sort of drooping in some areas. It’s also dropping a lot of berry clusters – is this a sign of something? I’ve never seen so many berries falling before and they’re making a big mess, but I hope this means the ivy is in distress. Any thoughts?
I did the same thing. I completely removed a band of ivy stems from around my huge sycamore. If you do this, the ivy cannot take up water and will die. After a year it will all be dead and after another year most of it will be gone.
Oh, good. It must be hanging on for dear life, and perhaps trying to propagate by dropping all these berries. I’m going to work on it some more just to be sure. The tree is very tall and fairly close to my house, so I really want it to be healthy.
When you say “most of it will be gone,” what do you mean? Does it fall off? Thank you.
Hi Dori, Yes, the upper parts of the ivy just dry up and gradually start.to fall away from the tree.
We have two tall maples with trunks completely covered in ivy to the tops. Two summers ago I cut a one foot gap in every vine on the trunk near the base of one of the trees. Some vines were up to 3 inches in diameter. All the ivy is dead now. many of the dead leaves have blown away, and the smaller vines are hanging separated from the trunk and slowly disappearing. But those big vines don’t look like they are going anywhere anytime soon. I attacked the ivy on the other tree this week and I’m looking forward to seeing the trunk emerge over the next couple of years. The job was difficult because the trees are on a very steep slope, and I believe the maples serve an important function in stabilizing that slope. The arborist I consulted felt the ivy posed a threat to the maples and advised cutting it so I did.
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18 months later update: The ivy was visibly browning within a few months and it is now all dead, dying and coming off. We’re about to hit spring and I’m looking forward to seeing the tree burst into leaf again.
You’re completely wrong about ivy. It does not harm trees and is hugely beneficial to wildlife – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/plants/wild-flowers/ivy/
Local context matters — notice that your link is from the UK, where English ivy is native. In the US, this plant is a nonnative invasive species, and has not coevolved with native insects and wildlife (and so does not benefit our native wildlife.) In the US, English ivy displaces native species that *are* beneficial to our local wildlife, and *does* harm trees.
I wonder if this method works for Kudzu
Yes, beneficial to wildlife but it does bring rot to the tree. I’ve been pulling 25 yr old ivy from a 150 yr old oak. The ivy embedded into crevaces including under the bark. The old ivy vines died away and began to rot inviting mold, rot, and bugs. I pulled one embedded vine the size of my wrist out. It had encapsulated water and held it against the bark of the tree causing the tree to begin to rot in these places. Yes, it is wrong for trees.
The harm it can do is greatly increase the windage of a tree and thus causing them to come down in strong winds. This happens a lot here on the west coast of canada. That is the biggest risk of heavy ivy growing high up into tall trees….
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Awesome post. I want to share a few things on removing Ivy from trees.
You can cut right back to kill ivy on a tree, then each time it comes back (and it will), spray with glyphosate onto the new growth. Works best from May onwards, I find. It will take time to win, but it will lose if you are determined.
However, The usual way is to go around the base of the tree chopping through all the ivy stems (just be careful not to hack away the tree bark by mistake). This will kill it without having to spray weed killer around.
Anyway, Keep up the good work…
Last year we removed the ivy off a huge tree, and this year it is dying. Could damaged bark be the cause? Is there a remedy?
Looking for evidence that ivy kills trees.
When ivy tops the tree canopy, it will block sunlight on the tree’s leaves. This interrupts photosynthesis and kills the tree by starving it of the sugars it needs to produce.
If I could put a picture of some of the dead trees in the back of my yard in a wooded section you would agree that ivy kills trees. I have one big pine tree that I think I can save but the ivy has smothered every bit of tree growth except for the top. Ivy smothers out all growth from a tree and once it covers the whole tree it will die.
I cut around the base of hemlocks on my property to get rid of the Ivy. The next spring the Ivy was dead or dying and as it disintegrated we found that it had been supporting dead skeleton trunks on those trees. Those trees couldn’t be saved.
Thank you so much for the fabulous resources! I’m taking on English ivy in the Asheville, N.C. area, and I’m linking to your information on my website. Asheville is a bit behind the curve in dealing with this issue, but there is a growing contingency of people here who are trying to save our trees. Resources like yours are much-needed! https://ashevilleivyremoval.com/
Great information and I just followed the instructions to remove ivy roots and vines around an old maple tree in our yard. Intending to do this for a while and had thought about pulling the vines from the tree until I read about leaving the cut vines on the tree. One question: how long does it take for the cut vines and leaves to decay and fall from the tree? Thanks, John
You should begin to see dead ivy within a month or two.
On my tree I saw the ivy dying and browning within 2 or 3 months. It’s now about 18 months later and the tree looks good as new (70 foot sycamore that had ivy right to the top).
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I linked to this page on https://colinpurrington.com/2018/11/kill-english-ivy.
Thank you, Prof. Purrington.
I just linked to your 40 Reasons article. I wish the world would heed your excellent advice.
I have a huge 50+ foot sycamore at the end of my garden and ivy had gone right up about 40 feet. I borrowed a small chainsaw from a friend (some of the ivy trunk was 4+ inches in diameter) and the tree now has a 5 foot zone from the ground up with no ivy at all so I’m looking forward to the ivy dying and gradually coming off.
If the vines completely gird the tree, and they are thick so that you don’t wanna strip them off vertically, I don’t advocate it but I have had success with a dremel and a a circular blade, but with a chainsaw I don’t know. I don’t use chain saws. I mean, the procedure calls for first doing no harm, and that means gingerly being cautious and careful especially about the tree’s skin.
The ivy roots on my tree were a good four inches in diameter so a Dremel wouldn’t have touched them. Rest assured I was extremely careful with the chainsaw and never touched the actual tree.
A 6-inch, battery operated chainsaw for large-diameter vines is a huge time saver. It’s also better than a hand saw (straight blade) for getting through the vine without damaging the bark, especially when the vine is in a crevice, as they often are. I have a Kimo, but I’m not endorsing the brand. It’s a new saw. So far, so good.
According to an article on the BBC’s website, I’ve does not kill trees and provides food and cover for much wildlife and insects,birds, bats etc. They say that unless the tree is structuraly unsound, there is no need to remove it. Worth consideration .
I understand, but that’s Britain. They may have different terrain, or different trees. Me? I live in a doggone swamp. What I’ve observed in No. Va. is that the ivy traps moisture against the tree, causing the bark to rot. If that alone doesn’t kill the tree, it leads to invasion by bugs in the rotted part, which can also kill the tree.
BTW I originally pulled ivy off the trees. The past few years, I’ve been cutting the space and yes, it dies off quite nicely and the vines drop or blow off the trees.
Hi Katheryn Z.
My opinion: All rules have exceptions – errors can change in importance – but look at a tree covered in ivy. It depends on the context, and look around the tree; clearly the ivy is “taking over.” That’s not intended by nature, maybe not really what you would see in, say, old-growth forests.
In secondary places, symptom of human intervention is plant invasion, and remedy is indicated. You’ll notice the extent of invasion of the non-native plant, and you will do your best to avoid spread of same if that area is important to you. And contrary to recent statements in that bbc report, I have seen trees ruined by ivy; when it circles and squeezes the bark, it disrupts the xylem/phloem processes among other factors mechanical/physical. There are worse offenders than English ivy other: celastrous, the wisterias, not really VA creeper. And poison ivy taking over a tree, I think, is equal parts obnoxious to the tree as the visitor. It’s a matter of degree is all.
English ivy is a native plant there and that’s a factor in different behavior and interactions. I’d challenge anyone who thinks ivy is harmless to trees to visit Richmond and see what it’s done to our parks. Watching birds extract insects out of bark and access nesting holes in healthy trees not engulfed in ivy begs the question of how they would easily do this on ivy-smothered trees. Ivy, as ground cover, also eliminates diversity of native plants and their food sources which our native insects and wildlife depend upon. There is research that suggests food sources from invasive and non-native plants does not provide the nourishment birds, particularly in the case of migratory species which also depend on phenological timing of food sources.
I live in Oxford, UK, and Ivy has totally dominated some plumb trees we have on our allotment, so much so that the plumb trees leaves are no longer visible. I’m fairly certain it is going to kill the plumb trees if I don’t take the ivy off. I’ve got the secateurs and the lopper out and will be annihilating it this coming Friday. I want my plums!
Just a small update form me 18 months later. I’m the one who had to use a chainsaw to remove a five foot band of ivy from around the base of a huge sycamore. Over about a year, the ivy completely died and started dropping out of the tree and now that spring is here and the sycamore has burst back into life it ooks amazing! 110% healthy and absolutely gorgeous in it’s new burst of greenery and the remains of the ivy that nearly went to the top of the tree are now barely noticeable.
Do you know of a No Ivy League in Alexandria, VA?
I have not heard of the No Ivy League in VA, but I’m excited to hear about it. I am on the West Coast of California—our group is the Humboldt No Ivy League—we are a small group of dedicated volunteers with California State Parks. We have been working to remove ivy in Trinidad State Beach and Patrick’s Point State Park for the past 9 years. We have made some terrific progress, but the ivy infestations are severe and will take years to get rid of. It is so rewarding to see the native plants return in abundance once the ground is liberated from ivy.
Thanks for the article! It’s been really helpful at removing the ivy from our Rockefeller size tree. The one thing we noticed is that the ivy has really spread throughout our backyard and neighborhood and is REALLY old. So when we are trying to remove the roots around the tree, they seem a bit too deep to get to. Any recommendations for how we can safely, even gradually prevent the ivy from growing back if we can’t get to the roots. It may be a bit longer of a process.
It’s hard to get big roots, but just keep tugging. Sometimes they give way at a weak point. Often they do not. In that case, sever them with a soil knife or loppers. And be sure to return year after year to repeat your cutting. Be vigilant. If they don’t have sunlight, they’re doomed. No leaves, no climbing, no problem.
We have a large old oak tree and only about 1/4 branches are getting leaves. If we cut ivy and follow your steps will it revive itself or is it too late?
It might, but only if you remove the ivy. If, next spring, it does not leaf out more fully, please consult qualified arborists (get 3 opinions) before you give up on the tree.
My Old Age Project is install a maintainable way to keep Ivy off the house and the trees (it crawls through eaves and windows, allowing leaks and critters). For the house: 28 inch border cleared, landscape fabric, edging, stones on top. Yearly examination to keep it away (easy). Trees: 3-4 feet cleared. Landscape fabric at the edging (about a foot or so, to allow nutrients). Edging. Mulch on top. Yearly examination and clipping. My goal is to have it so in my dotage, someone can go around with a trimmer once a year and maintain. I’ve had to use a shovel between tree roots to get out 30+ year old roots. (The bambooooOOOOoooo is another topic entirely.)
We have two beautiful old oaks on the property line between our home and our neighbor’s home. The trees are closer to our house than theirs and have been neglected to the point that there are ivy vines with 8″ diameters. We were given permission to remove the ivy because everyone is in agreement that the trees are in danger. We have severed the ivy ‘trunks’ but I am worried that the ivy is so old and dense that it has developed a root system higher in the tree than we can reach.
I work with a group—the No Ivy League—in Coastal Northern California that is working to get rid of English ivy in our State Parks. A main priority for us is to liberate the numerous trees (Sitka spruce, Redwoods, Alders, etc.) that are being engulfed in ivy—some with large stems like you describe. Once you sever the stems around the trunk, the ivy will dry up pretty quickly. While some ivy stems may have rooted in the crotches of the tree in some places, it’s doubtful there would be enough soil to sustain ivy to the degree that it is being sustained from the ground. The very best thing you can do is cut the ivy stems around the tree and watch, with satisfaction, as the ivy drys up and the tree is liberated from the strangling effects of the ivy.
Never fear, Bobbi. Ivy on the trunk will die if at least one foot of growth between the ground and what remains on the trunk is both severed and very gently removed from the bark. Some folks like to cut ivy at the base of the tree, clearing the “life ring” from the base, and then standing up and cutting all the ivy at chest height, very gently the ivy stems downward and off the tree. The idea is to make the cut so large that the ivy will not regrow into its remnants on the tree. If ivy loses contact with the ground, it will die. It may take awhile, but it will happen. Check your trees annually and remove any new growth.
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Thanks so much for the informative article. I have pulled ivy off trees now knowing the harm I was causing. What ground cover that is not harmful to trees would you suggest instead of ivy down slopes that also house trees? We also have dogs so hopefully somewhat sturdy ground cover that would keep the soil for the trees on the slopes.
oops sorry for the sp. forgot to edit my typing
Sedges native to your area will hold soil on the slope much better than ivy and doesn’t require cutting. You could, if you want to, cut sedge twice a year. Aside from that, it’s carefree. Not sure how it acts with dogs; they both tend to flop a bit. But try it. The dogs may love it.
I did as you told above and within just two days all of the vines have wilted and look to be dying quickly. I had previously cut the vines, but it didn’t quite work. I ripped out the roots after a big rain about 1 foot away from the tree. I’ll be adding mulch soon. The oak tree has been shedding small twigs off the ends of the branches, a sign of stress, so I wanted to move quickly on killing the vines. I was grateful that you recommended a way that doesn’t involve chemicals. I am a resident of DC and would’ve had to call a tree doctor soon if I couldn’t take care of this myself. Thanks for the huge help!
Black poplar laden w/ thick English ivy:
Once I clip the numerous thick 1″ thick vines at the base of this 75-100 year old black poplar, given the tough thick bark of the tree, do I leave the vines on or pull them off the trunk?
I tested by pulling one vine and it did not seem to pull any bark. I am concerned about the upper bark being thinner. The local arborist said ok to pull as this bark would not cause harm. Feedback welcomed.
Oops, sorry we overlooked your question. You were correct to carefully check the bark when first removing as the bark is like the skin — you don’t want to damage it. We generally recommend leaving the vines/ivy growing once cut and they will dry out and be blown away. Also, we’ve seen some folks who really, really tug on the vines and can do significant damage to the bark. Our general way to ensure all ivy vines are removed from 3 foot height to the ground so we can be sure every vine is removed. Sometimes one overlooks one vine and the ivy keeps alive a year later…then we have to go back and make sure to get it all.
As long as you keep checking the bark is not coming off or being ripped, you are ok. Glad you’re doing this!
We have a large old oak tree and only about 1/4 branches are getting leaves. If we cut ivy and follow your steps will it revive itself or is it too late?
Thank you for the article. We just moved into a house in Ventura CA, and there is a beautiful flowering tree (unidentified at moment) that is strangled by ivy. The base of tree has very large old ivy vines around it and it is completely entangled above in the canopy. The tree is still flowering and seems healthy so I will work on it at base immediately, and over the next year I will gradually attempt to remove the dense vines above. Who knew you could get a rash from this type of ivy! Thank you for informing me. I removed some vines the other day and now wonder if the slight rash I have is from the ivy.
I agree with DC Arborist. We’ve lost a great deal of canopy cover throughout the US. We can start at home by maintaining the old growth trees we have and adding trees where appropriate.
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Also, when thinking about ivy’s impact, also consider eliminating solid canopy cover so gardens can grow……..massive tree canopy prevents sustainable urban agriculture and healthy nutrient initiatives.
Maintaining vegetable gardens and committing to dense canopy shade are divergent and contradictory objectives
Tree canopy and gardens do not have to be mutually exclusive. Just follow the rule: right tree for the right place, right garden for the right place.
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