English Ivy is a trailing plant that belongs to the family Ginseng. It is native to Europe but has been introduced to other regions owing to its beauty in landscapes. Such was the case when colonial settlers introduced the vine to North America. Not only does it serve ornamental purposes, but it also aids in creating a ground cover. For this reason, many people took it up as a ground cover.

Over time, the vine spread over a large area, owing to various reasons. For one, people planted it in different regions as a way of landscaping. They would see the aesthetic effect it had on an area and would want the same in their land. Secondly, this vine climbs and can thus take over an area in a matter of months. Thirdly, it produces seeds which birds disperse over vast regions.

It is thus common to come across this plant in open spaces that are under little or no management. It has also spread to natural areas in places where it was introduced. As it spreads, it buries the natural groundcover in an area, thus reducing the native species. It also affects trees by climbing and toppling them. That happens owing to the added weight, which makes trees more susceptible to falling under the pressure of strong winds. As such, it is considered an invasive plant.

As the vine grows, small root-like structures attach to the surface of choice. In so doing, they release a glue-like substance that enables them to attach firmly to the surface. Be it a bark of a tree, brick, wall, or another surface, the vine will take hold. Here, the vine can grow to great heights. Studies show that a mature vine can be up to a foot wide.

It is important to note that there exist various cultivars of English Ivy. Some of these species will respond to the management practices outlined in this article, while others will not. It is thus essential to avoid using any such species in landscaping as there is a chance of invasion. At present, there are more than four hundred cultivars of this species. Tons of alternatives to English Ivy are available on the market at present.

History of English ivy

European immigrants introduced this vine to North America during colonial times. At the time, it was used as an ornamental plant for garden spaces. Records show that there were sightings of this plant in North America from as early as 1727.

Identification of English ivy

Here are some features you can use in the identification of the English Ivy.


At a young stage, this vine depends on adventitious roots present at the nodes. The root system is quite shallow, yet strong enough to support the growth of the vine as it climbs on surfaces. Additionally, the vine also relies on clinging rootlets which adhere to surfaces. When mature, the vine relies on a woody base that is quite robust.


The stems can grow as long as 100 yard in length, as long as the conditions in place are ideal. They can climb as much as 30 ft each year, enabling them to creep up tall trees such as conifers. Along the stem, exists aerial rootlets that cling to surfaces to enable the stem to reach greater heights.


The leaves occur in alternate positions on the stem, and they feature an unmistakable dark green hue. They are simple, and they do not comprise leaflets. When the leaves are young, they have three to five lobes. As they mature, they feature ovate or angular shapes, when they are in the full sun.

They also feature white veins and appear to be waxy. At this stage, they can measure up to 0.6 inch in length. It is common to find gray hairs covering the surface of the leaves in both phases. If humans and cattle digest the leaves, toxicity can occur, leading to deaths. Also, for people with sensitive skin, these leaves can trigger contact dermatitis.


This vine has two stages of growth. In the first stage, where it is young, it grows quite rapidly and invades an area within a short time. In the second stage, which is maturity, the vine produces flowers in the fall with greenish-white hues. These, in turn, result in fruits with stone-like seeds that are ready for dispersal in the spring.


Flowering in this vine is not assured as it depends on the presence of adequate light and nutrients. Where these are lacking, it will not take place. Flowering is thus common high above tree canopies or along steep slopes where light is adequate. This process takes place in the fall, followed by insect pollination. Given that the vine flowers in clusters, pollination takes place with ease. A typical flower will be greenish-white with five petals.


A single vine can produce thousands of fruits in one year. These fruits are fleshy with dark blue or black outer coverings. They mature in the spring and will hold about one to three seeds. It is important to note that an impressive seventy percent of the seeds produced are viable. And they can thus give rise to other vines.

As is the case with leaves, the fruits have been shown to have some toxic elements. Studies show that ingesting the berries can lead to death in humans and cattle. The chances of toxicity are higher when the berries are not mature.

Look-Alikes of Hedera helix

When looking for English Ivy, you will come across several species going by that name. This article mainly focuses on Hedera helix. But it is important to note that the Hedera hibernica also goes by the name English Ivy. These two species are quite similar, and it is quite easy to have trouble telling them apart. However, you can differentiate them by looking at the leaf shapes as well as the trichomes. You could also use genetic testing for the same.

Canariensis is another common cultivar. But in this case, you can tell this species apart owing to the red stems and the three-lobe leaves. Plus, it is rounded at the base.

Reproduction of Hedera Helix

Mature seeds can give rise to this vine. Alternatively, the plant can rely on sprouting fragments as well as root-like stems in reproduction. It thus has numerous means of spreading. When birds feed on the mature fruits, they ingest the seeds, which they then pass at great distances from the parent vine. Also, both the young and mature plants release fragments into the environment. These fragments can give rise to new stems, aiding in the spread of the vine. When this happens, the new plant will share characteristics with the parent plant.

It is important to note that a vine can remain in its young or juvenile stage for up to ten years before it matures. Vines can last for more than a century. There have been records showing vines that lived for more than four centuries.

Where does English ivy grow?

This vine has a wide array of habitats. It is common in natural areas in urban regions, stream corridors, woodlands, and disturbed forests. Where land has moist soils and adequate access to light, this vine can establish. It also requires shade in the summer and sun during the winter months. It is common to come across this vine in natural areas as a result of escapes from landscaped areas.

Impact of English ivy

The English Ivy has proven to be a force to reckon with owing to its ease of invasion. It is aggressive in its spread, and it threatens the ecological system in forested habitats. Where this vine is left unmanaged, it can have devastating effects on such a system. It can lead to the death of thousands of trees through toppling within a few years of invasion.

Affecting the ecosystem balance

It does not help that this vine can survive both along the ground and inside the upper forest canopy. Plus, it grows densely along the ground, producing many leaves and forming an umbrella-like form. In this way, it prevents plants underneath from receiving adequate sunlight, limiting native species from thriving.

Inside the upper forest canopy, this vine will spread out over the tree, creating a shade. In this way, most of the leaves in the host tree will not have adequate access to sunlight. In this way, the tree does not get enough food, and it begins to slow down in growth and vigor. If this continues, the tree could die within a few years.

Death of Trees

As if this is not enough, the vine also adds weight to the host tree, leaving it susceptible to falling in the presence of strong winds. It is common for affected trees to topple over during winter storms. Furthermore, this vine also serves as a reservoir for bacterial leaf scorch. This plant pathogen affects native trees such as maples, elms, and oaks.

Reduction of diversity

Its spread is also imminent when it establishes in an area. Within a few years, it can move to neighbor gardens, parks, or other lands. It does so through seed dispersal by birds as well as vegetative propagation. As it does so, it affects the diversity of wildlife.

Ideally, a forested habitat should boast of a wide array of plants. But the English Ivy creates a monoculture, which, in turn, decreases the number of amphibians, birds, and mammals inhabiting an area. This habitat favors a few animals, such as rats and birds, which feed on the berries.

Increased chances of erosion

Though this plant takes over ground cover, it does little to help with erosion. You would think that this cover would serve as protection for the upper soil layers, but this is not the case. Instead, the vine increases the chances of erosion, more so when it establishes along steep slopes. Given that its root system is shallow, the roots cannot provide the same anchoring that mature trees would. But in the absence of trees, that is all the soil has to protect it.

Injury to humans and cattle

Other than the above adverse effects, this vine has also proven to be toxic to humans and cattle when ingested. Where this vine establishes in an area with cattle, the animals could easily swallow the leaves or berries and die. Humans coming into contact with the leaves could also develop contact dermatitis where they have sensitive skin.


With this vine establishing in an area, the expected effects are loss of shade trees, native flora, and fauna. There will be losses in water quality and forest productivity too. Additionally, the area will be susceptible to erosion resulting

The dispersal of seeds takes place over a long distance, which makes containing infestations a hard task. Also, the vines tangle with native plants, and this makes their removal challenging.

How to get rid of English ivy

Managing English Ivy requires capital, time, and knowledge on how to do so. Luckily, there is a lot of information as to how people can handle these infestations effectively. All you need is investments in the three areas mentioned above.

You can deal with the infestation manually as there are many approaches in this regard. You can decide to dig up the plants, chop them up or pull them by hand. These methods are safe on the environment and have been proven to be effective in dealing with infestations. Total costs incurred in these methods range from two thousand to eight thousand dollars per acre. Even when paying people at a minimum wage, you should expect to invest a lot of hours and money on this. It takes about 300 hours or more to work on one acre.

The other option would be the use of chemicals. In this case, too, there are tons of available approaches. In this method, you can expect to spend as much as twenty times less the cost of manual strategies. The downside to this is that native species are likely to bear the brunt of the chemicals. Research shows that native species often have a slow recovery period in the presence of herbicides. That is not a situation you would face if you were to use manual methods.

The last method is biological. Unfortunately, for this method, you do not have a wide array of choices. No effective biological control agents exist to date, and research on the same is ongoing. However, you can rely on sheep and goats, which will graze on leaves.

Let us take a look at all these methods in detail:

Cultural Means


Grazing has been shown to reduce foliage in large infestations. Goats and sheep come in handy in this aspect as they can graze on the leaves without getting adversely affected. It is important to note, though, that this measure is not effective in the long-term. The vine re-sprouts after a while. If you wish to use grazing as a means to suppress growth, having the animals in rotation would be helpful. That way, each time the vine re-sprouted, the animals would graze on the leaves.

It helps to note that sheep and goats have a preference for native species over the ivy. Thus, if there are other species in the land, this technique may not work. Also, this method would not work for mature plants as their foliage would be above the browsing line.

Given the limitations of this method, it has been proven to be less effective as compared to other means. Also, it works in suppressing and not eradicating the vine, making it ineffective for control purposes. However, you could use it in conjunction with manual methods.

Burning English ivy

You could choose to burn the ivy. However, you should note that it is generally resistant to fires and will, therefore, not spread the fire as desired. But if you keep at it, you could cause cellular damage, which would lead to dieback. Also, this would result in exhaustion of nutrients in the re-sprouts. However, given that this technique calls for a lot of perseverance with little success, it is not as effective as the other means.

Manual Means

Using manual approaches has proven to be effective and safe for the environment. However, it is a costly method. Research shows that manual pulling of vines can reduce their cover by as much as seventy percent in one year. And this figure is devoid of follow-up treatment. With a follow-up in place, the reduction continues by as much as 2% if the original cover.

The unfortunate thing with manual removal is that it costs a lot owing to how labor-intensive it is. Clearing one acre of land of the vine will require at least 300 hours of labor. Where the infestation is dense, it could require up to one thousand hours. However, this will depend on the conditions of the land. Suppose the area has few plants and the soil is moist, the hours could be less than 300. But where the area has steep slopes, high infestation, and dry soil, the hours will increase. There could also be hindrances in the form of logs or other vegetation, which could add to the labor hours.

physical invasive plant removal

Physical invasive plant removal is labor-intensive

Other factors that could affect the hours taken are the volunteers in place. Where you have active and willing people doing the work, the task gets done in limited time. The extent of the root also affects the time taken. For young plants, the root systems are shallow, and they thus require minimal effort. But with aged plants, the roots are more in-depth, and they, therefore, call for added time. The soil conditions will also affect how easy it is to remove English ivy vines. Moist soil is best as the roots will come off with ease. Dry land is trickier as it could lead to the leaving of fragments in the ground.

In some sites, the manual pulling can take place once and get rid of English ivy vines. But this would only happen where the infestation is low. Where the vines have established in an extensive area, there would be a need for a follow-up. After this, there would be a need for maintenance as a means to monitor and deal with any re-sprouts. Ideally, the maintenance would be bi-annual, but in some cases, it could be an annual practice.

Follow-ups will also cost a lot, but not as much as the initial clearance. You should expect to have about 2% vines left in the ground after the initial clearing. However, this percentage could be higher, depending on how sufficient the initial clearance was. From here, you should spend about twenty human hours on an acre. Again, this would depend on how much vine cover remains on the land.

Now that we have covered what you should expect from this method, let us get into how you can do the clearing:

Manual removal of English ivy

You could use several approaches when dealing with the vines, as many of these methods have proven to be highly effective. Some people prefer to pull the vines out one by one using a coordinated approach. Others grab and pull whatever is in reach as they move over the land, also in coordination. The concept here is to remove English ivy roots as much as you can, ensuring not to leave any fragments in the soil. As you do so, you should take caution such that you do not disturb the soil. Pulling should also be such that the native species do not get bundled up with the vines.

Consulting with the authority in charge in your region should give you more insights as to what method is most popular in your area. When choosing a removal method, you have to consider some factors. For one, how dense is the infestation? Two, are there native plants on the land? Three, what is the slope on your ground? Four, how many people do you have helping you with this task? Five, how experienced are the people in your group?

When working on the vines, your aim should be to protect native plants while removing the vine’s root system. Note that vine roots are quite long and fragile. Thus, as you pull the vine from the ground, there is a chance that part of the root could break off and remain in the soil. This fragment could later re-sprout. It helps to pull the vine from the point where it emerges from the ground, as this will give you a better hold of the plant. The churning of the soil should be at a minimum, as this could encourage re-sprouting. Finally, you should deal with one area at a time. When you finish working on a section, you can then move on to another part.

Caring for Native Plants

If there are native plants, there are steps you should take to ensure that you protect the remaining species as follows:

No Vegetation

Where you do not have native plants in the land, you can be more intensive in the removal process. Using forks and shovels can help you in loosening up the root systems. From here, you can uproot and roll up the vines as you bundle them together in a roll.

Keep moving this roll until it becomes too large to handle. You can then cut off this section and dispose of it. There is an alternative technique for this. You can pull out the roots and bring the fragments to the ground surface for disposal.

With Vegetation

In this case, you would have to ensure that you do not disturb the soil as this can encourage re-sprouting. Volunteers will need something on which they can kneel as they work on the vines. Once you position yourself on the ground, you should reach for the vine that is closest to you and pull it out carefully as far as you can. Take this vine and set it aside before embarking on another plant.

Keep doing this for the vines around you, ensuring that you do not move from your position. Once you have cleared the ivies around you, move to another location, and start again. In this way, you will have a huge pile to dispose of at the end of the day.

This method has a ton of benefits. For one, you will not walk around, and this minimizes disturbance in the soil. Two, it is methodical, and you can thus keep track of your progress. Three, you do not bend while working, and this reduces the chances of suffering from aches at the end of the day. Four, follow-up treatment hours are minimal, owing to the effectiveness of the first clearance.

Also, this method protects native plants from getting damaged in the process. You will thus not spend a lot of time and money replanting native species once the clearance ends.

Can you mow the ivy?

Some people opt to cut or mow the vines. However, this method is not advisable, as it is not a long-term solution. The vines regenerate shortly afterward, calling for repeated mowing.

Disposal of English ivy

English Ivy infestations are often extensive, more so when they have been left unmanaged for a considerable time. As such, you could find that you have up to five or more tons of debris per acre. Disposing of this calls for a lot of labor and time, so how do you go about it?

One method is scattering. Here, you take the debris and distribute it over the field. However, this has some disadvantages as you may be unable to tell if some ivies remained. Where the infestation is low, you can scatter the vines without running the risk of re-rooting. But with dense infestations, scattering can lead to piling, which encourages re-growth.

The other method would be to bag the debris and deposit it in a landfill. Considering the staggering weight of these vines, you would add to the costs incurred. Plus, you would be moving useful nutrients off your land.

The third option would be to make a pile using the vines. However, this, too, has some disadvantages. It goes that the creation of piles creates the chance for some vines to re-root. You can avoid this by turning the pile now and then, which also calls for labor.

Your choice of disposal will depend on the costs you wish to incur, as well as the accessibility of the land. Suppose you can access the land, you can move the ivy to another site as this would reduce the chances of re-rooting. But where you cannot, it would be wise to create tall piles that you can monitor.

Are there risks to manual means?

As much as there are precautions to ensure that these means are safe for the environment, there are risks involved in the process. You can expect to lose some native vegetation in the process accidentally. Also, it is quite common to trample the soil to some extent, which can encourage re-rooting.

Where the soil disturbance is high, the chances of weed invasion will increase. Also, soil disturbance exposes land to surface erosion. You can avoid these side effects by having adequate planning and training practices in place. Also, timing is of the essence. Where you can, it is best to limit the removal to winter months as this will minimize disturbances on wildlife.

Chemical removal of English ivy

Remember that as we covered the identification of English Ivy, there was a mention of the waxy appearance of the leaves. Well, this waxy layer serves to protect the leaves from herbicides, and it thus limits the effectiveness of chemicals. When the herbicides are unable to penetrate this layer, the ivy continues to thrive.

However, studies show that some chemicals prove effective. You should thus get a herbicide proven to work on this species. Alternatively, you could use a fatty acid on the leaves as this would increase the uptake of the chemicals.

Using chemicals in an extensive area is not advisable as it affects native species. If you have to use chemicals, it should be in an area with high infestations of the ivy. Also, you can rely on this method to deal with vines where manual control is either dangerous or impractical.

Using Herbicides on Hedera helix

This article will serve as a guide. However, you should note that all herbicides come with instructions that you should follow to the letter. They also feature safety measures that you should follow for your safety and that of native plants. Where you have questions, you could always refer to your local authority for help on the same.

Note that the use of herbicides could harm native vegetation on your land. You should thus time the treatments and apply the herbicides as per the instructions. In this way, you can minimize or prevent adverse effects on the plants.


The application should take place towards the end of fall or the beginning of winter. At this time, most native species are dormant while the ivy is not. It also helps that the ivy leaves begin to reappear at this time, having recovered from the fall leaf drop.

It is always best to wait until the ivy is in maximum vegetative growth. However, note that the more time given to the plant, the easier it is for the waxy coating to develop. You thus need to strike a balance between the two. This technique also holds where there is no native vegetation cover that needs protection.

If you miss any patches or wish to do a follow-up, this is possible through spot applications during the growing season. In this way, you will not harm native plants in the area.

The Process

You should wait until you have a clear day for you to conduct the application. If possible, aim for two consecutive clear days to give the chemical enough time to penetrate the vines. The temperature range also matters, and it should be at least sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit. But where you cannot get that range in your region, work with what you have. As long as the day is clear and the temperatures are above freezing, the application should be successful.

Spraying should be such that the chemical gets into contact with the upper surface of as many leaves as possible. If you can also get the chemical on the lower side, the results will be much better. Do not aim to drip. Instead, get the leaves wet. In this way, the chemical cannot get to native plants. Where spraying means getting the chemical on native species, use spot treatments on the plants.

Points to note

You should note that it will be a while before you take note of the results of the application. The period can last up to months. The good thing with this approach is that it does not call for much time and labor. You can cover an acre in under four hours. Chemicals will generally set you back about fifty dollars for a gallon. Labor costs range from twenty-five to a hundred dollars in an hour. The entire process should cost you five hundred dollars or less. Compared to manual removal, this is a steal.

However, as was the case with manual removal, other factors will affect how successful the application is. Where the slope is steep, or you have a high infestation, or you bring in professionals, the costs will go up.


When dealing with weeds, it helps to integrate various methods for enhanced success. With the English Ivy, you can use a combination of herbicide applications with manual and cultural means. Here are some examples of this:

You could start by using manual removal to deal with a considerable infestation. From here, you could use spot treatments to deal with any re-sprouts. In this way, you would not need a lot of chemicals and would safeguard native species.

Another way of dealing with infestation would be to have goats and sheep graze in the area. After this, new leaves would sprout, which would reduce the waxy layer on the upper surface. In this way, the leaves would take up a lot of chemicals during the application.

Integrated Practices

There is no such thing as the best method, and you should thus decide what would work for your ecological goals. However, where the land is devoid of native species and features dense ivy populations, it is best to integrate manual and chemical means. In this way, you could save money, and you would not have adverse effects on native species. You can then follow up with planting native species to avoid further weed invasions.

For areas with high ivy infestations and some native species, you could integrate chemical treatments and manual removal. Where the native species are many, you can use both spot treatments and manual removal. However, in this latter case, the focus would be on manual removal as there is a need to protect the native plants.

The final situation would be where the ivy infestation is low. Here, you can do without the chemical approach and embrace manual removal. In this scenario, you would not incur high costs, and you would not interfere with native vegetation.

In all these cases, there would be a need to follow up with planting native species.


Dealing with English Ivy calls for patience and exercising a lot of caution. Consider the extent of the infestation before applying any method, as well as the land use considerations. Where you are in doubt, it helps to consult a local authority on the matter.