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War against English Ivy

 
pollinator
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OK, I need help finding a way to eradicate English ivy.  This stuff has been growing in the bed for almost 100 years and the roots are huge and deep (the bed is about 70 ft long and about 5-6 foot wide). Problem is, anything we try to plant in the bed along with an old time lilac are being chocked out. The ivy is smothering and killing via rot or strangulation everything there. Roses, gone; peonies, gone; elderberries, gone; ninebark, going. This stuff just has to go! So, traditional wisdom is to dig and pull roots, but due to the extensive system, and our hard-packed soil in that bed, my husband and I can't handle digging the whole system out, it'd be like trying to dig a mature tree out at this point by hand. Has anyone had any success with a non-toxic, slightly less back-breaking way to get rid of this plant?
 
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Are there other areas you can garden and just abandon this to the ivy? I know it sounds horrible but hear me out.


I have a similar situation and for years I tried to kill mine. But then I learned that it's a fantastic bee flower in fall and pollinators really rely on it, both native pollinators and honeybees. We have a dearth in fall due to drought.

One thing that could work is to wait until a very hot summer day. Cut the vines and put cut ends into buckets of vinegar. The hydrostatic pressure system of the plant should pull the vinegar up and kill the plant
 
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I haven't dealt with mature Ivy roots, but I have dealt with some other stubborn ones. I use our high-powered power-washer with a zero degree nozzle as a "water knife" to cut the dirt away from the roots. If you can get them cut back enough, using something like *real* EDPM pond liner to smother them, pulling it back every few weeks to chop of anything trying to re-grow, I would expect you would get it to die at which point any roots left should rot in place and build soil. If you want to speed up the soil building/rotting part, watering the roots with 50 urine/water solution should speed things up.
 
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"War" is the right verb.  When we first moved in, we had a backyard full of the stuff.

I mowed it relentlessly.  I ran the mower over it two times a week and just keep setting the blade height lower and lower, until I was hacking it back just at ground level.  I did this for a year, and severely sapped the strength of the plant.

Then I covered it with 5 mil. black plastic and let the sun beat on it for a couple of weeks.  I pulled the plastic back and mowed it again, and then returned the plastic to cover it again.  Finally, when it felt like it was mostly dead, I left the plastic on top of it and threw a foot of wood chip mulch over the plastic sheeting.  A year later, I raked back the mulch, pulled off the plastic, and pulled what remained of the ivy roots out with a garden fork.  That finally killed it all.

I think if I were to do it again, I'd use my propane weed burner and scorch the crap out of it between mowings.  I might not even need to use the plastic sheeting this time around.  And burning stuff with a flame thrower is about as much fun as you can have.
 
Denise Kersting
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@James, there are a few other areas I can garden, but this stuff is creeping into the lawn and taking over. I'm afraid to let it get any more out of control than it is. I also want to keep my old lilac and ninebark from dying, the birds really love the hiding in them and waiting for a turn at the feeder. I've never seen many bees or pollinators with the ivy, as there aren't any flowers, but they do congregate at my mint and sage patches that I let go to flower. @Jay, the power washer idea is brilliant! We have a portable washer, and I can certainly give this a try! We are in an old city, so having a garden of any kind is a bonus here. Our last house further downtown we had 12ft by 10 ft wood deck (width of our rowhome). Here, our backyard is roughly 50 ft by 70-75 ft.  Not sure if I can get my hands on any pond liner, but I have a box of black contractor bags I could try if needed, not great, but we aren't leaving the house much right now, and urine is, ahem, free and plentiful. Edit to say, I hadn't seen Marco's response, but we have a propane torch for weeds too, so that is something else we could try!
 
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I'm actually trying to introduce it on a few dead trees for aesthetics and wild-life habitat.  Also trying to get it growing on the corners of my home to get it up on the gutters and (maybe) eventually shade my home.  Very small so far; will be years before it it is a pro (or a con).
 
James Landreth
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The flowers are usually under the leaves and rarely seen. I'm told they flower more when climbing due to a hormonal trigger.  If you still want it gone I understand.  I merely wanted to mention some of the pros


 
Jay Angler
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James Landreth wrote:The flowers are usually under the leaves and rarely seen. I'm told they flower more when climbing due to a hormonal trigger.  If you still want it gone I understand.  I merely wanted to mention some of the pros

I'm a little further north and it's considered quite invasive here.

That said, planting a replacement that is bee friendly sounds great. Here my raspberries bloom a second time in late Aug and later depending on the weather. It isn't warm enough for the fruit to be very sweet, and I spot both the bees and the wasps (wasps are important caterpillar controls) on the bushes visiting the flowers and actually sucking the juice out of the berries. What other late bee plants do you think might work, James?
 
James Landreth
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For late summer through fall:

Perennials:
Sourwood tree
American witchhazel
Silverberry  (makes fruit over the winter for harvest in spring!)
Goldenrod

Annuals:
Sunflowers (be sure they're not the modern ornamental kinds that have had the pollen bred out)
Buckwheat planted in mid to late summer

Because I don't till, the trees and shrubs are vastly preferable.  My farm mentor planted acres of forage but could do so because she tills
 
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Removing English ivy where invasive is a recommended endeavor IMO.  The berries of mature (climbing) vines are eaten by birds in the fall and spread to neighboring areas via droppings.  Robust Ivy is a tree strangler, winding tightly around the base roots as well as covering the trunk and branches.  

Interesting article about ivy removal and replacement plants:
https://waynecountynysoilandwater.org/wp-content/uploads/English-Ivy-fact-sheet.pdf
 
Denise Kersting
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Well, we've started the removal process. Sigh. Back-breaking, but must be done to save our shrubs and ideas for new plantings. (it killed all my previous attempts to plant elderberries and such). We've removed about 1/4 to 1/3 of the ivy, the war is fully on. Hubs is dealing with a poison ivy infection, as that is also intermixed, so that is another headache to deal with. I'd like to get him some Rhus Toxicodendron, but with all the current shut-downs, I don't know if I can.
 
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Josh Garbo wrote:I'm actually trying to introduce it on a few dead trees for aesthetics and wild-life habitat.  Also trying to get it growing on the corners of my home to get it up on the gutters and (maybe) eventually shade my home.  Very small so far; will be years before it it is a pro (or a con).



Ivy can be quite destructive to both the envelope of your home and the surrounding environment - would you consider a climber without invasive tendencies, like Virginia Creeper, as an alternative?
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