Ivy is the common name for several different kinds of climbing vines. Technically, the only true ivy belong to the Hedera genus, which includes English Ivy (Hedera helix), a plant that has been cultivated for decorative purposes for thousands of years. Some other unrelated ivy types include Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata), Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), and Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). The first three of these plants can serve their purpose as a green climbing ornamental, but all can damage buildings or other plants if allowed to grow willy-nilly.
How Ivy Climbs
The different ivy species have different ingenious ways of attaching themselves to walls as they climb:
- English Ivy and Poison Ivy use aerial roots, which look like hairs, to grasp onto and into any crevice or textured surface of a wall or tree. Poison Ivy is also a well known ne’er-do-well in Gotham.
- Boston Ivy and Virginia Creeper are both in the grape family and use long curly tendrils to wrap themselves around objects and also sticky pads that attach to flat surfaces.
Best Ways to Get Rid of Ivy
Collect your ivy removal tools.
Here are some tools you will need to get rid of ivy: a snipper or two-handled pruning cutter of some sort, a ladder, a saw, a scraping tool, a screwdriver, a shovel or gardening fork, and a glyphosate herbicide (sold at Amazon) if you’re into that sort of thing.
Kill the body and the head will die.
Ivy is much easier to remove if it has been dead for a while, or if it is the winter season. There are different ways to achieve this. Spraying an herbicide on the leaves or on an exposed stem of the vine will kill the plant within a week. Alternately, you can saw the ivy plant off near the base. It would be a good idea to do this about a foot above the ground, thus leaving a handle for easy grasping of the roots when you start digging them up. You will notice the leaves wilting and falling off within a few days. Allow a week or two in the summer for the plant to dry up completely.
Start hacking away at the ivy.
Once the plant is dried up and leafless, it should be easier to see what you are up against. A good approach is to remove the smaller stuff first and then carefully pull the main stem away from the wall. You will want to be especially cautious if the wall has started to deteriorate as the ivy will almost certainly have dug itself in, and you don’t want to damage the wall even more while pulling it out. Consider using a sharp scraping tool of some sort to run along the stem to cut the aerial roots as you pull it away. You might also find the leverage provided by a crowbar to be helpful in freeing a stubborn vine.
Getting to the (ivy) root of the problem.
Using your shovel, dig up an area about a foot around the stem of the ivy plant you wish to remove. Look for side shoots or roots. If you have chosen to pre-cut the stem instead of using poison, it is likely that there is new growth coming from the root mass at this point. Be diligent—you will need to get those roots out, unless you feel like repeating this process again next year. Shake out the excess dirt and dispose of the root mass appropriately. Be sure to fill in your hole, and keep your eye out for an any new growth in the future. An ounce of prevention, etc.
Clean up the removed ivy. Now, what are you going to do with all of these ivy vines?
Well you could burn them, weave a basket out of them, maybe feed them to a lamb. A wood chipper wouldn’t be a bad idea for getting rid of the evidence. Just be careful of rocks that might have grown into the roots. Otherwise, check with your area waste disposal engineers. Two options for cleaning up the wall face include scraping and scrubbing with a brush, or a slightly less involved method would be to use a pressure washer. Again, just be careful if the wall has deteriorated, as you will likely do more damage than the ivy would have done.
Should you use poison?
A lot of landscaping professionals are going to reach for poisons right away. They really aren’t necessary if you can access the roots of the plant, and really, why wouldn’t you be able to? The potential for harming other plants in the area and any creature in a fifty foot radius (including yourself) should be enough for any reasonable person to keep the lid on that bottle of poison. There are a lot of reasons to get rid of ivy, but if the plants have been there for any amount of time, they are going to be deeply embedded and therefore very difficult to remove. If you live in an older house, it might not be a bad idea to consult with a structural engineer. They might be able to offer you some suggestions for how to shore up a brick face that has begun to break down. They might also be able to recommend someone that you can hire to remove the ivy professionally.
Best Natural Ivy Control Method
The last two suggestions are alternative plant options, if you like the look of a green wall, but don’t want the permanency of ivy.
Once the ivy roots have been removed, a good mulching ground cover along with properly installed landscaping fabric will help to prevent the new shoots from emerging. It will definitely make them easier to see so you can manually quash the life force of the offending plant. Try a degradable cover like wood chips, straw, or grass clippings.
Protecting with Preventative Preparations.
A galvanized chicken wire or plastic mesh could be attached to the targeted growing surface to provide some structure for any vine to grow onto, instead of growing into, your wall and potentially causing damage.
If you are considering the installation of a new climbing cover vine, perhaps you should look into one that dies back every year. One option would be hops (Humulus lupulis). This herbaceous vine is easy to grow, and the vine dies back to a rhizome every year. It is also useful if you are a home brewer, as hops are an important ingredient in most beers. You will need to provide a trellis of some sort to which the vine can attach itself. In fact, you can get Hops Seeds from Amazon.
Another useful vine option to be considered is the domestic grape (Vitis vinifera). This fruit-bearing vine can grow many feet in a season but does well if it is trimmed back every year and trained onto a trellis.