Sunday, July 8, 2018

Declare Independence from the English Ivy

Residential yard in Roswell, GA
We separated from the English monarchy over 200 years ago but some people are still being oppressed by the English. Their landscapes have areas smothered by English ivy.

In driving around the suburbs of Atlanta, I’m always disappointed to see how many homes still have English ivy growing in large swaths, like thick green carpets. It also seems to have a copycat effect - some neighborhoods have quite a few yards with it.

I realize that some homeowners inherited the plant from the previous owner, and it has now grown to an intimidating blob, snaking up trees and swallowing small benches and maybe even slow-moving pets.

There are a few consequences of having it that homeowners should be aware of:

  • Vines that climb trees produce flowers and fruit, allowing this plant to spread to neighboring properties (forcing your neighbors to deal with it). I occasionally find seedlings in my yard.
  • The dense groundcover suppresses native vegetation, creating a monoculture that reduces bug diversity (think: fewer butterflies and moths) and creates a correlating downward pressure on bird populations which feed on bugs (only a few can eat the mosquitoes that English ivy supports).

A very manageable section for removal

So, in the spirit of the Independence Day that we just celebrated, are you ready to declare your independence from this foreign invader? The following tips come from two folks. One is a friend of mine who has successfully battled it in her own yard. The second is a landscape architect who helps clients that want to remove ivy and incorporate more native plants.

Many folks are dealing with English ivy that has been used (at least initially) to hold a slope. My friend Sheri says that being ready to plant is important in a slope situation. After learning that lesson on one area where washout subsequently occurred, she was ready the next time. For a shady area near the house, she first collected approximately 100 Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) from plant rescues with the native plant society. She then worked sections of the slope, loosening by hand the roots of the ivy and then rolling it into a mass and tying the cleared ivy with twine for disposal. Each cleared section was then planted with ferns immediately. She only cleared as much in a day as she could replant. The project took several months.

Leah Pine is an Atlanta-based landscape architect who has clients who have recognized that English ivy doesn’t help the local ecosystem.  Her recommendations include:

  • Remove the ivy from trees by cutting them about 6' above the ground and removing the ivy from that point down (pulling it out of the ground). Be careful not to cut into the cambium layer on the tree.
  • Small areas: Remove small areas of ivy on the ground by hand pulling. Note: Wear protective gear in any of these steps when removing the ivy as English ivy sap can irritate bare skin similar to poison ivy.
  • Large and sloped areas: Remove by using weed whacker to remove the thick leaves of the old growth. When the plant re-sprouts with fresh, tender leaves: spray them with herbicide. Note: Don’t bother spraying old leaves as their tough coating won’t allow for much absorption. Repeat this step several times over several months, allowing the roots of the ivy to continue holding the slope while the plants die.
  • To minimize erosion on sloped areas as the ivy roots die, clear a few small sections completely (pull out roots) and plant shrubs or small trees and mulch around them. This also lets you have a little planting fun while working on the bigger area. As you have time, clear new small areas.
  • Follow up! English ivy is not a ‘once and done’ plant. Small pieces of root may re-sprout and seeds may germinate. Be aware and pull them out as they appear (don’t wait until it is overwhelming again).

This slightly sloped area has enough trees to hold the slope without the ivy

Trillium cuneatum
Once you’ve cleared the ivy, be aware that suppressed plants/seeds might appear/sprout. Carefully examine what comes up – it might be native and it might not be! Be choosy and keep only the good stuff. This trillium on the right is a perfect example of what might reappear when ivy is removed.

And that copycat concept that I mentioned earlier? It applies to removing it as well; once one neighbor starts to remove the ivy, others seem to follow suit.

Thanks for fighting the good fight. With more areas being developed every day, our personal gardens will become some of the last opportunities to support the insects and birds that rely on what native plants bring to the ecosystem by removing invasive plants and allowing our native plants to have the freedom to grow.

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