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You'll Regret It: Ivy

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Just about every single nursery and garden center has at least one variety of ivy available for purchase. It is inexpensive, hardy, and very forgiving with neglectful owners. When planted in hanging baskets or containers in windows or on tall plant stands, ivy will quickly send long and elegant vines cascading down to the floor in a beautiful and rich green display. Overall, ivy makes a terrific houseplant.

Key word: houseplant.

But, so many of us can’t resist the temptation to plant ivy in our yards. We go out with our shovels and harmless little ivy plants with visions of great Victorian mansions tastefully embellished with vines and foliage, and we do it. We plant the ivy.

Expected results:

Actual results:

It may take a while, but if you aren't willing to maintain it, it will become a problem. Once it is established and happy, controlling it will be a non-stop battle. In terms of an invasive, it is worst case scenario—ivy doesn’t require much water, is flexible about light and soil requirements, and cultivars, like English ivy, will continue to grow in the winter months while competing plants are inactive. Ivy has both a groundcover and climbing form, so any space around it can become fair game. While beliefs about ivy’s ability to choke and kill trees and severely damage the structural integrity of buildings have been found to be somewhat exaggerated in recent years, it is nevertheless able to create large shade areas that limit planting, and can give unwanted visitors a convenient ladder up the side of your house. Many have reported having snake, rat, and rodent problems due to the nesting and hiding opportunities afforded them by thick ivy growth. In short, your flower beds, shrubs, and trees are just no match for healthy ivy, and if you have inherited a home with an ivy problem, you probably don’t need us to tell you that.

Removing ivy is tough, but it can be done if you are willing to be as persistent as the plant. Unfortunately, the best method of removal is pulling it out of the ground, roots and all. Begin with any trees or buildings it may have climbed. Locate the vines and completely remove as much of them as you can from on the ground to cut the vines off from the plant. This will starve the climbing vines, and they will begin to die. It is unadvisable to attempt to climb a tree or building and remove it all—thick growth could disguise damaged limbs and building materials or animals to which you wouldn’t want to get too close. As for the groundcover plant, good luck. Just try to get as much of the roots out as you can, and not to leave too many bits and pieces on the ground to reroot. No matter how meticulous your removal, you can expect to see it again the following year, but don’t worry. Though some survivors may come back to haunt you, they will be young and easily removable. You may opt to rip up the groundcover and treat the roots with an herbicide, but be careful. Large affected areas might be expensive to treat, may have to be retreated, and treatment may affect your ability to plant in that area later.

Photos:

Top center: Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar / CC-BY-SA-3.0