English ivy is often planted for its pretty leaves and vines, and for the way it twines and creeps, giving an old-fashioned look to walls, archways and buildings. However, it is an aggressively fast-growing plant that needs regular control to keep it from destroying brickwork, climbing out of control, or invading unwanted areas. English ivy also has been known to kill other nearby plants by covering them and cutting off their sunlight and nutrients. Herbicides are a traditional method for controlling ivy, but you also may want to try other ways, including cutting and removal by hand, especially for small areas or just a few plants. Combining several methods may work best to control this invasive vine.
Read the label on the herbicide. Some are meant to be sprayed on the foliage, while others should be applied to the base of the vine with a paintbrush. Apply as directed. Some herbicides should be mixed with water before spraying or painting.
Combine herbicide with selective cutting. If you are trying to get rid of a whole section of ivy, sever the vines in a wide stripe between the roots and the upper vines. Use pruning shears for large stems, and a large-bladed, flathead screwdriver to pry up small suckers and vines. Spray the roots with the herbicide, and let the upper section die where it is from lack of nourishment.
Repeat the herbicide application as often as needed. It may take more than one spraying or painting to get rid of the English ivy, which is very tough. Apply it repeatedly in the winter when the ivy is still growing, but other nearby plants are dormant. The cold slows the ivy’s absorption of the herbicide, too, so multiple applications are necessary.
Remove the ivy by hand. If you just want to cut back certain sections of spreading ivy, or you want to avoid herbicides, you may want to do it by hand. Wear garden gloves and a long-sleeved shirt and long pants to prevent scratches and contact with the irritating sap. As above, use shears on large stems and a flathead screwdriver on small ones. If you’re removing ivy from a host tree, try not to damage the bark in the process.
Mow and mulch ivy to control it when it’s used as ground cover. Trim the whole bed by mowing it down with a lawnmower, leaving a short bed of ivy. This will make it easier to perform the next task: Pull it up, where it’s unwanted, by hand. Then lay down a thick layer of mulch, 5 or 6 inches deep, to keep it from creeping back into that area. A layer of cardboard under the mulch will help this, as will using wood or bark chips as mulch rather than hay or grass clippings.