Taylor Wilson, Urban Conservation Technician
English ivy, or Hedera helix is an evergreen vine found in landscaping, yards, and invasively creeping across forest floors. This plant originates in Europe and was brought over to North America in the 1700s by colonial settlers. English ivy is an aggressive invader of or native forests, so it is imperative that we manage it. Uncontrolled, English ivy outcompetes and covers the native understory and climbs trees, eventually killing them.
English Ivy is a hardy vine and usually has a long lifespan. It can grow in a variety of soil types, sun-shade, and withstand periods of drought. Although the vine can cover vast areas of ground, its shallow root system makes it a bad ground cover to prevent erosion and can even increase erosion issues on slopes where it is the only plant growing.
Now is a great time to identify English ivy as it stays green while everything else has gone dormant for the winter. The leaves alternate on the stem, are waxy, and are usually green with white veins. The leaves have variable forms, usually being more lobed when they are younger and maturing into a broader, unlobed leaf. This vine produces small round clusters of yellow-green flowers on the end of mature vines, and occasionally in the middle of the vine. These fruits are eaten by birds, spreading the seeds into wild areas. Although the fruit is consumed by birds, it doesn’t hold much value to their diet, and can even make them temporarily sick due to the toxic glycoside hederin, which causes GI upset.
Depending on the severity of the situation, different control methods may be ideal. Manual removal is a great option, especially for smaller patches in a landscaping bed, yard, or elsewhere. Manual removal is made much easier due to the shallow root system of this plant. Like with any plant, it is key to remove as much of the root as possible when manually removing. This can quickly become labor intensive in larger areas. Additionally, removing large areas of English ivy can leave large patches of disturbed bare soil. This is bad for soil health and erosion and is a welcome invitation for more invasives to come back and grow. If removing a large area of English ivy have a replanting plan or erosion control plan before you pull.
Chemical control is often a better option for larger English ivy infestations. If the English Ivy you're looking to treat is growing on a building or other non-soil medium, chemical treatment may be the best option. Treatment of this plant is most effective between October and March. Using a broadleaf specific foliar spray after the first frost, but when the temperature is above 50 degrees is highly effective. For larger areas where you’re not as worried about overspray, a general foliar spray may be appropriate. For more detailed information about what foliar spray to use in what amounts, check this handout under “English ivy.”
While this plant is valued as a low maintenance ground cover, there are several other alternatives that can be planted in its place. Wild Ginger, Lady fern, Jacobs’s Ladder, and Maiden Hair fern are all wonderful options that recreate the look of a native Indiana forest.
Want to get started in the fight against invasive species? Hamilton County has a group Hamilton County Invasive Partnership (HIP) dedicated to battling invasive species across our county. We are doing this through education and action, and we welcome you to join us. Additionally, the SWCD is offering free on-site invasive species technical assistance for property owners and a tool loan program where you can check out supplies to address invasive species.
More information can be found here.