English ivy might give a rustic, Old English feel to an area, but when it is growing on a tree, it is anything but attractive. Over time, the ivy kills the tree and everything growing near it. The sooner ivy can be removed from the tree, the better off the tree is. Poison ivy is not as damaging to trees, but it's way less friendly to people. No matter what type, ivy must be removed correctly in order to protect the tree from harm and keep from growing back. Removal is not an easy job, but if you do it right the first time, you won't have to repeat the process.
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Ivy growing on the tree doesn't do much damage to the bark, but it harms the tree in other ways. As its vines envelop the tree, it blocks the tree's own leaves from the sun, which prevents photosynthesis. But this is not the only damage ivy can do to a tree. It also adds weight to branches and causes them to snap during wind, rain or ice storms. Ivy is also a host for bacterial leaf scorch (Xylella fastidiosa), a harmful pathogen for elms, oaks and maples.
Removing ivy from trees is necessary if the tree is to survive, but if it is not done right, you can end up damaging the bark. Ivy has adhesive suckers that attach like glue to the bark. If you simply pull the ivy away from the tree, you strip the bark from the tree. This makes the tree vulnerable to disease and insects. If you strip too much bark from the tree, you can damage its vascular system and prevent nutrients from travelling from the leaves to the roots and back.
Life-Saver Removal Method
The Life-Saver removal method involves removing ivy from the tree and around the base, like the Life-Saver candy with the tree in the centre. It is more labour-intensive, but doesn't require pesticides. Cut all ivy vines at eye level with pruning shears, a hand saw or lopping shears. You may need to use a screwdriver or pry bar to pull the ivy away from the tree, in order to make your cut. Then, slowly peel each vine downward from the bark. Snip off any branches that are fused to the bark as you work down the tree. Continue peeling the ivy back until it is at least 3 to 6 feet from the tree. Ivy that remains on the tree will eventually die and fall off.
Herbicide Removal Method
It is difficult to remove ivy with pesticides without the herbicide also affecting the tree. The waxy surface of ivy leaves and stems does not absorb herbicides very well, so it is better to cut the stems first and then apply herbicide. Use a 25-percent solution of triclopyr amine or glyphosate mixed in water. Apply with a paintbrush to ensure that the pesticide does not get onto the tree. Applying herbicides in the winter when temperatures are above 12.8 degrees Celsius (when trees are dormant) also helps.
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- Oregon State University Extension Service; Fact Sheet on Ivy Removal in a Home Land; Linda McMahan
- Western Washington University: Effects of English Ivy on Native Plants in Sehome Hill Arboretum
- Woodland Tree Service: Ivy Removal
- Virginia Master Gardener Association; Vines and Trees; Jean Ann Feneis
- Ivy Out: How to Remove English Ivy
- Plant Conservation Alliance; English Ivy; Jil Swearingen, et al.