The ivy plant is one of the most common plants found in gardens because it thrives in a variety of climates, but some types can be difficult to remove.
Ivy roots are tough and cling tightly to the ground, making them difficult to pull up with your bare hands. If you are looking for an easy guide on how to remove ivy roots you have come to the right place. This blog post will help you find a solution that is right for you!
What is Ivy?
The common name “ivy” can refer to any plant in the genus Hedera (including English ivy, common ivy, and Japanese ivy).
There are three major varieties of ivies that are commonplace in the western world. The most popular in America is English Ivy which is not native to this country and typically considered an invasive pest because it grows much quicker than native plants do.
Japanese Ivy’s leaves are wavy or crinkled up at the edges and its berries come out in clusters. It is native to Japan but was introduced into Europe as well since it has a strong resistance to pollution and passes no toxins on when eaten by animals.
Common Ivy is recognizable by its leaves that are nearly round with a serrated edge and berries which come out singly.
Where Does Ivy Grow?
Ivy plants are vines often found in temperate regions of the world. The genus contains 12-15 species distributed across Africa, Asia, Australia, Oceania, and the Americas.
One variety, known as English ivy, is considered an invasive species in the United States and can be destructive to homes and gardens.
Some types may grow on trees and shrubs but most grow on man-made structures such as walls, roofs, fences, conduits, posts (agricultural), footpaths, etc., forming dense colonies that dominate patterns of vegetation.
They are particularly adept at rooting on cliffs – a strategy employed by many native species in the forests of Madagascar (despite none being indigenous).
Why is Ivy a Problem?
In my opinion, Ivy is one of those plants that you either love or hate. Although many people like Ivy and are happy to let it climb their house or their fence, there is an equal number of people that dislike it for various reasons.
Ivy can certainly be a nuisance and below, we will look at the reasons many people want to get rid of it from their garden.
Ivy vines are known for their rapid growth rate which makes it easy for them to climb over trees and houses alike while stealing their nutrients!
Established Ivy can grow rampantly and can grow up to 15 feet per year which can make it very difficult to control and maintain.
If left unchecked for long periods of time ivy vines can easily grow through building foundations which could eventually lead to structural issues such as buckling walls and sagging roofs.
Aside from possible damage to foundations, there is much debate over whether Ivy causes damage to standing structures or actually strengthens them. Personally, I think there are cases to be made for both depending on the structure itself.
Ivy will climb almost anything, and it is said that due to the added weight, if left to grow, Ivy will damage wooden structures such as fences that are not strong enough to hold the additional weight.
On the other hand, structures such things as old decaying walls are believed to be strengthened as the aerial roots find their way into cracks and crevices and help hold them together.
English ivy: though it is not fatal, if large quantities of these are ingested, it may cause a stomach upset along with vomiting or diarrhoea.
The toxin in ivy is called hederivin (a ketone) and the symptoms produced maybe like ingesting LSD (though typically less potent), but there have been no cases of death from consuming a small amount of IVY.
Ivy toxins usually only affect those who eat them as opposed to touch and contact alone although people can experience side effects such as contact dermatitis that will reappear for about three days after exposure.
This is not an issue for most people but for those that are sensitive to allergies, it can be a problem.
How Deep do Ivy Roots Grow?
English Ivy roots usually grow 2-5 inches below the surface of the soil and can spread up to 10 ft from their original planting area. They can even grow through asphalt, brick, and concrete!
English Ivy also has an extensive network of surface runners about 1/2 – 1 inch in diameter and 2 feet long, with roots at each junction, so that you need to dig down over 3 feet if you want to remove them for good.
And once those suckers are established in cracks or crevices in pavements they may stay there forever – That is unless you follow the steps below!
How to Remove Ivy Roots
Removing Ivy roots may seem like a long and arduous task but to be honest, if you put in a little hard work, it can pay off in the long run.
I do not usually like the use of herbicides that can ultimately damage other plants and linger in the soil and it is entirely your choice if you do so.
Personally, I prefer to put in a little more work to stay on top of any new growth that may appear.
Things you Need
We recommend wearing gloves when working with any plants in the garden but especially with Ivy as the berries and the leaves are known to cause skin irritation.
Not everyone may be affected by this, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
A nice, clean, and sharp pair of secateurs are a must for any garden enthusiast so that you can make nice clean cuts without causing lasting damage to your plants.
For this simple project, any old pair will do as we are not doing a gentle pruning, we are looking to get rid of this pest.
This one goes without saying unless you intend to dig up the roots with your fingers which is something we do not advise.
Glyphosate Weed Killer (Optional)
Glyphosate weed killer (amazon link – opens in a new tab) will be used to treat any roots that may be leftover that we have been unable to remove.
Personally, I skip the use of this, but you may choose to use it although we recommend that you do not use it if you are removing roots from near the base of a tree or other plant.
Step 1 – Timing
When you decide to remove your ivy is not particularly important as you can do this at any point during the year, but we prefer to remove our ivy in the autumn.
At the end of autumn, the growing season is mostly over, and the growth of the ivy has slowed right down. Also, during the autumn, it is likely we would have had some rains which will have softened the ground ready for digging.
Step 2 – Cut the Ivy
Next, we will cut the main trunk of the ivy around 3-4 inches above ground level. This will kill any ivy that is above ground and make it easier to begin removing the roots.
After cutting the stem, it is best to leave any ivy that has grown up and over a structure/ tree for a period of around 2 weeks for it to die back (this makes it far easier to remove).
Step 3 – Lift the Main Root Ball
This is where the actual work begins but luckily, it is not too difficult.
Using your fork or spade (I prefer a fork), dig into the ground as far down as you can approximately 8-10 inches away from where the ivy stump is leftover.
Lever your fork towards you breaking the soil and lifting the main part of the root structure.
Once the primary root structure is exposed, you can pull it up. If it is still anchored down well by other offshoot roots, you can either sever those with a trowel or spade, or you can follow their path and try and lift with your fork in much the same way.
Step 4 – Find the Stragglers and Pull them up Too
Depending on the size of your ivy, it is highly likely that you have had to sever some of the roots that have been growing laterally.
If this is the case, you will need to see which direction they are going and lift those as best you can.
Some of them may be extremely long and in all likelihood, you will not be able to lift them all.
Step 5 – Apply Glyphosate Weed Killer (Optional or go to Step 6)
Applying glyphosate weed killer will lead to a higher success rate in removing ivy roots for good but it is your own personal choice whether you use it.
Once you are happy that you have got as much of the root system out as possible – you may still have a few lateral roots that you just cannot get to.
If this is the case, dab some glyphosate weed killer on the ends of the exposed roots to reduce the chance of the plant growing back.
Step 6 – Pull up all New Growth
Finally, you will need to monitor the area, especially any areas where you could not get to the last few roots.
If you see any ivy rear its head again, all you need to do, is pull up any new growth that appears just like you would if you were weeding.
You may have to do this more than once but, in the end, it will be well worth it.
How to Remove Dead Ivy
Once you severed the ivy in step 2, the ivy will have died back. If you wait approximately 2 weeks after this, you will be able to simply pull any ivy from wherever it is growing, and it will be much easier than when the plant is living.
Any leftover marks from the aerial roots can be brushed off quite easily, you can use a wire brush on brickwork or some sandpaper on wood.
If you have an established plant in your yard and it is behaving well then it may be best just to leave the thing alone. But if not, there are ways to control this invasive species with regular pruning while also retaining its benefits.
If, however, ivy is an issue in your garden, it can be removed by pulling out the entire root with a shovel or garden trowel but make sure when doing so that you do not damage any other roots of nearby plants!
If you want to know if ivy can be composted and answers to other ivy questions, check our other article on ivy here.
Garden Doctor Tips
“Remember to wear gloves, it is better to have them and not need them than to end up with contact dermatitis!”
“When removing the ivy from brickwork after it has died back – be careful not to pull any mortar at the same time!”
“If you are using herbicide such as glyphosate, be careful and follow strict directions so you don’t damage other plant life!”
“Instead of removing ivy completely, you can keep it under control and beautiful with a regular pruning schedule!”
Frequently Asked Questions
Is all Ivy poisonous?
All Ivy’s seem to have a bad reputation due to the plant Rhus radicans (poison ivy) which is not actually a true ivy at all.
True English Ivy (Hedera Helix) is considered mildly poisonous if the leaves and berries are ingested. It can cause nausea, vomiting, stomach upsets, and a burning sensation in the mouth and throat.
Does Ivy grow in shade?
Yes. In fact, ivy is well known for adapting to a wide variety of light levels.
It can photosynthesize enough energy in the partial shade provided by taller plants (e.g., young trees or shrubs) to bloom freely and successfully.
Will Ivy grow in a pot?
Yes, ivy will grow in a pot. However, there are many factors to consider when planting it in a pot, water retention, sunlight exposure, humidity, and nutrients for starters.
The bottom line is this – If your intent is to have the ivy remain indoors year-round then you will need to be more disciplined with how you care for it because the indoor environment is often much drier and provide less natural light than outdoors environments do.