You Can Beat Ivy If You Do It Right

Getting Ivy Out of the Trees

If there's widespread ivy on the ground and trees, and you have to work in stages, save the trees first and tackle the ground second. Cool months are the best time to work to avoid heat and insects.

Helpful tools include: good pruning saw, machete, hatchet (thick vines); loppers (smaller vines), flathead screw driver and crowbar (helpful for prying off small to large vines), chain saw (large vines). The tools selected have a lot to do with the amount of vines and trees to be tackled.

If the tree has thick, bushy ivy in the way and obstructing the tree trunk, create a comfortable work space for yourself first. Choose a spot to begin to trim ivy leaves back closer to the trunk by hacking (pruning saw or machete) or clipping (hedge clippers). This provides a clear view of the vines to be cut.

Be aware of any poison ivy. Remember, 'leaves of three let it be'.

It's tempting, but don't pull hanging vines from overhead branches. It could be a weak branch that may fall and cause injury.

1. When vines are high into the tree canopy, at about shoulder height or where it's most comfortable to work, completely sever all vines from around the tree. A single remaining vine can continue to nourish ivy high into the tree. Always take care not to damage the tree bark. Vines above the cut take about 2-5 weeks to wilt, yellow, and begin to drop off. If there are no signs of dying off after a couple of weeks, check to make certain all vines were completely severed.

2. If possible pry off the vine below the cut down to the base of the tree or as close as possible. Large vines usually can't be removed without pulling away a good deal of tree bark. If this happens, leave it in place, closely monitor for new growth on the vine and use herbicide on the new, tender leaves that sprout or continue to persistently cut back the new growth until the plant dies out. Herbicide instructions are coming up.

3. Rooted vines at the soil line will remain alive and must be pulled or treated with herbicide to prevent the plant from growing back up the tree - which it quickly will if left unattended. English ivy naturally heads towards vertical surfaces to reach more sunlight in order to mature and reproduce.

Composting cut vines is only safe when vines are dead otherwise they will root in other material as it decomposes. Dispose of as yard waste.

Getting Ivy Off the Ground Near Trees

Dense mats of ivy near the tree's base traps moisture against the trunk and root flare. This can lead to diseases and decay at the tree's base.

Manual removal (digging\pulling) of widespread ivy surrounding trees can be labor intensive work if there're a lot of impacted trees and thickly matted vines involved. Whether by manual or chemical methods, clear ivy in a circle extending a minimum of 4 feet around the base of the tree in order to keep it from heading back towards the tree for a good period of time and to protect the health of the tree.

In level landscapes, frequent mowing or using a string trimmer may be an alternative to using herbicide, but be careful in thick ivy where stumps or rocks can be hidden beneath.

Depending on your budget and their availability, goats and sheep do a great job at eating invasives plants. However, remember roots will resprout new growth that will need to be removed.

If Using Herbicide, Know How to Get the Most From it and Use the Least Amount Possible

If at all possible, cut the invasive plants back or use the goats or sheep to reduce the amount\size of invasive plants, which will substantially reduce the amount of herbicide needed.

~ Timing is Everything~

In the southeast the most effective timing for foliar (leaf) application of herbicide is February (any day when the temperature is to hold at 55 degrees for at least 24 hours after spraying) through October during the growing season. Avoid treating during drought stress conditions when the plant can't effectively move the herbicide sprayed on the leaves down to its roots. Herbicides easily penetrate newly sprouted (light green) leaves because the thick waxy coating on hasn't developed yet. This is a great time for action. Allow a little more time to see the effect of the herbicide when treating older waxy leaves and if you're treating in the late summer to fall. It could be as long as 4 or more weeks.

~ Systemic herbicides readily available to homeowners~

Triclopyr, found in products such as 'Ortho Poison Ivy & Tough Brush Killer' (8% triclopyr) and 'Bayer Advanced Brush Killer' (8.8% triclopyr), is a "selective" herbicide that will kill broad leaf weeds and their roots and not grasses and grassy-like weeds, flowers or shrubs. (It's not recommended for lawns.) To help the triclopyr better penetration the waxy coated ivy leaf, purchase and add a non-ionic surfactant to the triclopyr. ALWAYS READ THE LABEL BEFORE USE! AND REMEMBER MORE THAN THE RECOMMENDED AMOUNT ISN'T BETTER.

It'll take at least 2-5 weeks for the treated ivy to show signs of dying, so be patient.


Foliar Application - herbicide is sprayed or brushed onto the leaves of plants. Monitor for re-growth.

Stump treatment - is another option for thicker mature ivy vines when working in areas with nearby plants you want to protect. (Desirable plants are safe from effects of spray when dormant.) This method requires a stronger concentration of herbicides than foliar treatment so apply the herbicide full strength. A small squeeze container works well to control the small application needed for this method.

In at least 40 degree temperatures, cut the stem above ground, and immediately (otherwise this won't work) apply herbicide to just to the stem below the cut. The only portion of the vine that will carry the herbicide down to the root is the thin outer layer of the vine, so heavy spraying is not necessary. Monitor for any re-growth.

Be thorough and understand that just once won't get rid of all the ivy. Schedule 'ivy look out' walks around the yard every few months.


thick mature woody vines

cutting ivy at soil line with long handle loppers