Ivy (Hedera) is a wonderful addition to the garden. It can be planted in many different areas for a variety of reasons, from a groundcover that stops soil erosion to a topiary sculpture that offers garden interest. Ivy can also quickly provide a rich evergreen groundcover. However, ivy stems spread quickly and put out small roots that adhere to soil or any rough surface. Once it’s established itself, ivy can become invasive to other plants if proper pruning isn’t followed on a regular basis.

Ivy attacking shrub

This ivy has grown through the center of this shrub and is competing with the plant for nutrients and space.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

Ivy removed from shrub

The ivy has been properly removed from the shrub after making a circular cut around the plant’s base.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

Ivy crawling up tree

Ivy on the trunk of a tree creates an environment of moisture that invites insects and decay.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

Ivy removed from tree base

Pull back and remove the ivy from the base of the tree to keep decay from developing.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Manning

Although climbing, spreading ivy may look romantic to some, if you want to keep your surrounding plants healthy and free from disease and insects, it’s extremely important to stop ivy from growing up trees and twining into shrubs. Here are a few quick and easy ways to keep your trees and shrubs ivy-free.

Trees

How many times have you walked through a garden and seen ivy gracefully winding its way up a tree trunk? Many people love this look and encourage this growth. But you should always remove ivy from a tree. Ivy itself is not really the problem, but the environment that it creates is: It helps moisture stay against the bark of the trunk, creating a state of constant wetness, which also attracts insects. It also covers up any developing problems with the tree. Many tree diseases and decay become major problems because they were hidden by ivy growth.

If you have a tree with a lot of ivy coverage, there are a few simple steps you can take to remove the ivy. The first is to eliminate the ivy that’s climbing up the tree. Go around the trunk and cut out a vertical section of ivy about 1-2 feet wide around the entire tree – that’ll cut all the roots going to the upper section of the ivy. Remove the cut section, but leave the upper ivy alone until it starts to die. It takes awhile before you’ll notice that the ivy is dying, but be patient – it’ll happen gradually. (Ivy is much easier to remove once it’s dead.)

After you’ve finished this first step, you’re ready for the most important part – removing the still-living ivy from the base of the tree. Pull the plant off the tree’s base and off any of the tree’s roots that may be exposed aboveground. This area is the most important because this section retains the most moisture, and the development of decay can spread quickly.

Note: Ivy can still be a lovely groundcover around the base of the tree, just not on the trunk or any exposed roots. The ivy will continue to grow, so keep a watchful eye on the base of the tree to keep it in check.

Shrubs

Ivy also makes a great groundcover to fill in the gaps between shrubs, and it helps a garden look lush all yearlong. If you allow your shrubs and ivy to each have their own space and place in the garden, the two can live in harmony. But it’s very important that ivy be kept from running through the center of plants, because eventually the ivy chokes out the plant as the two begin to compete for nutrients in the soil and root space.

If ivy has invaded your plant and it’s hard to see the base of your shrub, it’s time to prune the ivy back. Create a circle around the shrub’s base using your pruning shears, then immediately remove all the ivy growing inside the borders of your circle. (There’s no need to wait until the ivy has died before you remove it.) This task is simple and quick, and if you check the center of your shrub a few times each year, you’ll find your shrub and ivy can live together quite nicely.

Note, too, that you won’t hurt the remaining ivy cutting it like this. You’re only removing a small section and not cutting it off from the root system as we did on the tree. This allows the ivy groundcover to remain in the places that you want it to provide coverage, while allowing your shrubs to thrive. There are many roots along the ivy’s branches that will survive the cuts and continue to thrive. (Ivy is quite hardy.)

Ivy is a terrific plant that can provide lush and evergreen coverage in the garden. There’s room for all your plants in the landscape when you take a little time to keep ivy in its place. Most importantly, these simple steps can allow your trees and shrubs to remain healthy and free of disease.