How to Kill Ivy

Differences Between Ivies, Methods for Killing the Bad Ones

Ivy growing on wall

Mark Cornell / Getty Images

There are many plants with the common name, "ivy." Some are harmless and valued as ornamentals. Others are noxious weeds; a few fall somewhere in between, having both their champions and detractors:

Reasons for Killing Ivy

There are reasons to kill any of these ivies except for Swedish ivy, a harmless houseplant commonly grown in hanging baskets. All of the others, despite having good points in some cases, have at least one drawback.

English ivy is moderately attractive and takes over an area, thereby serving as an effective ground cover to suppress weed growth. However, this effectiveness is a double-edged sword: An invasive plant, English ivy grows so rampantly that some regard it as a weed, itself, and wish to kill it to keep it from becoming a nuisance. The vines can also climb trees and kill them by keeping sunlight from reaching their canopies.

Boston ivy doesn't have as many detractors as English ivy does, but the two plants do share a problematic feature. Both have holdfasts that allow them to scale buildings and trees. Vine-covered buildings or trees are pretty, but here's the rub: If you ever need to remove the ivy, you may damage the host in the process of pulling the vines off. That's how firmly the holdfasts become entrenched. Some who have one of these ivies growing up a house wall or tree decide to kill the vine before it takes over any further.

Ground ivy is a lawn weed. If you can stand having a little of it, it does release a pleasing fragrance when mowed. But those who love manicured lawns want to kill it, seeing it as a competitor to grass.

Poison ivy is universally despised. Those who have kids in the yard will surely wish to kill any poison ivy that's around.

How to Kill Ivy

The method you use to kill an ivy depends on the type and circumstances. Whereas great care has to be taken when killing poison ivy you can be more relaxed when removing creeping Charlie. Many choose to pull it up by hand. It'll likely come back, but this is still the best option if you want to stay organic and don't mind spending a little time weeding. If hand-pulling doesn't suit you, use a selective broadleaf herbicide so that you don't harm your grass.

When people talk about killing ivy they usually mean English or Boston ivy (the process is the same for both). It's easiest when you're removing a patch on the ground. Spray it with an herbicide containing glyphosate. After die-back occurs, cut vines down to the ground using pruners (for thin branches) and a pruning saw (for thick branches). An organic alternative is to dig out the roots. Dispose of the vines (don't compost them). Be prepared to repeat this process; ivy doesn't die easily.

How to Kill Ivy Attached to a Tree

It's tricky to kill ivy attached to a tree (because you can't use an herbicide). Here's how:

  1. Cut all Vines

    Cut all of the vines where they're emerging from the ground, all around the base of the tree.

  2. Make Cuts in Higher Vines

    Make another series of cuts in the vines, but this time at about 5 feet up the tree trunk.

  3. Peel Vines From Trunk

    You now have a 5-foot section of vines that's been detached from:

    • The root system
    • The vines that have grown farther up into the tree.

    Slowly peel this 5-foot section of vines off the trunk, one vine at a time, and working very carefully so as not to harm the bark of the tree. Dispose of the vines properly.

    Don't attempt to remove the vines that have grown farther up into the tree. Severed from the root system (and therefore cut off from their water supply), they'll eventually die.

  4. Dig Roots

    Dig out the roots of the ivy, all around the base of the tree. It's hard to get them all, and some re-growth is bound to occur, so be on the lookout for any new shoots and remove them immediately.

How to Kill Ivy Climbing a Wall

It's even trickier to kill ivy climbing a wall (because you'll want to remove the tenacious holdfasts, too, once you have removed their vines).

  1. Spray Ivy

    Spray the ivy with glyphosate.

  2. Cut Vines

    After the leaves have yellowed, cut the vines where they're emerging from the ground, all along the base of the wall.

  3. Peel Small Sections

    Slowly peel small sections of vine off the wall, working very carefully so as not to harm the siding. Wherever there's too much resistance, cut the vine off with your pruners rather than risking harm to your siding. Dispose of the vines properly.

  4. Dig Roots

    Dig out the roots of the ivy, all along the base of the wall. You won't get them all, so some re-growth will occur. When it does, remove new shoots immediately. An alternative, if there are no other plants around, is to spray with glyphosate.

  5. Remove Holdfasts

    The best method to remove the holdfasts from the wall involves three steps:

    • Prepare a solution of 1 part bleach to 3 parts water, add a bit of dish soap to it, and mix it in a spray bottle. Spray it onto the wall, a section at a time.
    • Scrape off as many holdfasts as you can with a paint scraper, a section at a time.
    • Remove what remains with a stiff-bristled brush.
Article Sources
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  1. English ivy, Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board

  2.  “Ivy Removal in a Home Landscape.” Oregon State Extension.