How to Kill Ivy

Ivy is a common name for several climbing, trailing, or ground-creeping woody plants in the genus Hedera. Ivy can be an attractive plant but also an aggressive grower that can quickly take over gardens, yards, and houses. Removing ivy completely and preventing regrowth takes some persistence and repeated efforts over time. With the right techniques and tools, you can get rid of ivy infestations and keep them under control.

Understanding Ivy Growth Habits

To effectively control and remove ivy, it helps to understand how different types of ivy grow. There are two main growth habits for ivy plants:

Climbing Ivy

Varieties like English ivy (Hedera helix) attach themselves to vertical surfaces like walls, fences, and tree trunks with small rootlike structures on their stems called holdfasts. As the vines grow they can completely cover the surface they are climbing on.

Groundcover Ivy

Other ivy varieties are classified as groundcovers and grow along the ground rather than climbing. They spread horizontally by sending out long stems with new growth. Common groundcover ivy types include Algerian ivy (Hedera algeriensis) and Persian ivy (Hedera colchica).

Both climbing and groundcover ivy can root wherever stems touch the soil, allowing them to spread widely. The vines develop thick mats of stems and leaves that blanket everything they grow on.

Dangers of Letting Ivy Grow Unchecked

Ivy may seem like an innocuous addition to landscapes, but allowing it to grow unchecked can lead to some serious problems:

  • Ivy climbs on and damages buildings, walls, and fences as it expands. The weight of mature ivy plants can even cause walls to collapse.
  • On trees, ivy vines completely engulf trunks and smother branches, blocking sunlight and weakening or even killing the trees.
  • Dense ivy beds on the ground crowd out desirable plants and prevent new plants from establishing.
  • Ivy leaves and berries are toxic to humans and pets if ingested.
  • Thick ivy growth provides shelter for pests like rats, mosquitoes, and ticks.
  • Ivy left to spread widely is extremely difficult to remove, requiring extensive time and effort to cut back and dig up. It’s much easier to control ivy when it first appears rather than after it has had years to establish.

Removing Established Ivy

Eliminating ivy that has already grown large and spread widely takes persistence. Follow these steps for the best results:

Cut Stems at the Base

Cut ivy stems at ground level using loppers, pruners, or a knife. Cutting vines climbing up trees and structures is the first step in starving the ivy roots.

For large infestations, it helps to cut sections systematically by working your way through the ivy bed, rather than just randomly hacking away stems here and there.

Pull Up Roots

Cutting back ivy leaves and stems is only half the battle. For complete removal, you need to dig up and remove the entire root systems.

Use a shovel, trowel, or heavy-duty garden fork to loosen and lift out roots after cutting back the stems. Ivy has a network of dense, tangled fine roots that can spread widely. Removing them thoroughly is critical for preventing regrowth.

Repeat Removal

Removing ivy, especially well-established infestations, takes persistence. Even after cutting back all visible growth and digging up roots, some remnants likely remain in the soil.

Go over the area regularly to snip any new growth as soon as it appears. It can take several cycles of cutting and digging over several growing seasons to fully eradicate ivy.

Use Chemicals as a Last Resort

For large ivy infestations, applying herbicide to freshly cut stems can help kill the plant more effectively than just manual removal alone. However, chemical weed killers also pose risks of harming desirable plants, soil, wildlife, and waterways.

Only use herbicides selectively on resprouts and in accordance with label directions after trying manual removal first. Avoid widespread spraying, and never use “total vegetation killer” products.

Control Ivy Growth in Gardens

Preventing ivy from taking over gardens in the first place is much easier than trying to remove established growth. Here are some key tips:

Plant in Containers

Rather than planting ivy directly into garden beds, confine it to containers. Growing ivy in pots restricts its ability to spread roots and makes it easier to prune back and manage growth.

Use Physical Barriers

Installing physical root barriers can help prevent ivy and other spreading plants from taking over planting beds. Burying sheets of copper mesh, metal flashing, or plastic sheeting around garden perimeters provides an effective barrier.

Prune Regularly

Prune and trim ivy routinely in early spring before it has a chance to grow out of control. Cutting vines back to where they originate keeps growth neat and tidy.

Monitor Vigilantly

Even with the above prevention methods, frequently scrutinize ivy to remove any shoots that manage to stray beyond confines. It’s much simpler to snip a few errant stems than to try removing established vines.

Killing Ivy on Trees

Ivy climbs up tree trunks and spreads through branches, forming a blanket of leaves that steals sunlight from the tree. Severe ivy growth can kill trees by preventing photosynthesis. Here is the process for freeing trees from ivy:

Cut Stems at Ground Level

The first step is always cutting through ivy stems at the base of the trunk to sever the flow of nutrients to the upper portions. Use loppers or a saw to cut through the clustered vines at ground level.

Remove Ivy From Trunk

With the base severed, begin peeling the ivy growth off the tree trunk. Slowly work your way up, prying the vines away and pulling them off. Use a knife or pruners to cut away stubborn stems.

Removing ivy up to the height you can reach from the ground is sufficient rather than risking injury climbing the tree. Ivy left in higher branches will die off.

Monitor and Remove Regrowth

Check the tree often over the next year and promptly snip any regrowth. Cut at the base of any new ivy stems emerging from the roots or trunk.

Within a year or two the ivy infestation should be completely dead if consistently monitored and any new growth removed.

Preventing Ivy From Re-Establishing

Ivy is very tenacious, and removing it once doesn’t guarantee it’s gone for good. You need to take steps to prevent ivy from re-establishing after removal:

Apply Mulch

Put down a deep layer of mulch like wood chips or leaves over areas where ivy has been dug up. Mulching helps prevent new ivy growth from emerging. Replenish mulch as needed.

Plant Competitors

Planting vigorous groundcovers and other plants among areas where ivy was removed helps prevent regrowth. Choose plants that establish dense growth and compete for resources. Examples include vinca, pachysandra, and fast-growing native plants.

Remove and Destroy Stems

When pruning and removing ivy, put all cut stems into garbage bags and send to the landfill. Never add ivy trimmings to compost piles, since cut stems can root again if left onsite.

Be Diligent

Walk your property frequently looking for any stray sprouts of ivy. It’s much easier to control when just a few stems appear rather than waiting until it forms large mats again. Stay vigilant.

Common Questions About Killing Ivy

Many homeowners struggle with trying to get rid of unwelcome ivy. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Does Pulling Ivy Down Kill It?

Simply pulling ivy vines off of trees and structures does not kill the plant. The roots remain alive and will generate new growth. You need to cut stems at ground level and dig up roots for complete ivy removal.

What Kind of Weed Killer Kills Ivy?

Systemic broadleaf herbicides containing triclopyr or glyphosate work well on ivy when applied directly to freshly cut stems. Take care to avoid drift onto desirable plants. Vinegar or salt solutions can also damage ivy foliage but may require repeat applications.

Does Bleach Kill Ivy Roots?

Bleach can be an effective option for killing ivy roots. Mix 1 part bleach with 2 parts water and pour it over the root area. The solution kills vegetation on contact. Take care when using bleach since it can also sterilize soil.

What is the Best Time of Year to Remove Ivy?

Late fall to early spring is ideal ivy removal timing, when the plants are not actively growing. Ivy removal is often less effective during the active growing season when energy reserves support rapid regrowth.

Does Ivy Damage Walls or Brick?

Over time, ivy vines and roots growing on walls can cause damage. The adhesive roots penetrate cracks, and the plant’s weight stresses the structure. Remove ivy promptly before extensive repairs are needed.


With persistence and repeated efforts to cut back growth and dig up roots, even severe ivy infestations can eventually be removed completely. Taking several seasons to attack ivy from multiple angles is often needed for the best results. Once ivy is gone, vigilant maintenance prevents it from taking over again. Stopping ivy now prevents major problems down the road. Armed with the right techniques, you can reclaim your property from ivy’s hold.