Thursday, June 27, 2013


One of the first things we tackled in the back yard was removing the ivy. Anyone that has dealt with ivy knows that it can be naaaasty! It climbs up trees and fences, grows like a weed which chokes out other plants and can harbors rats and snakes. And we had it everywhere.

First, I'll have to apologize for the shoddy photography in this post. It was long before I was taking photos with the intention of putting them on the internet. But that being said, I thought this photo captured the menacing quality of the ivy perfectly. Doesn't it look like it's tendrils are creeping out from the dark depths, just waiting for Ryan to get close enough, then pounce?

Little did it know, this ivy was about to meet it's match.

We have heard over and over that people fight ivy for multiple years trying to remove it. We may have been lucky, but we were able to get rid of many year's of overgrown ivy in a period of a few months. Here's how we did it.

Some tips on removing ivy for good.

Start the process at the end of the growing season. 
We started yanking our ivy in October, purely because that was when we got around to it. In hindsight though we were happy that we chose to pull the plant as the days got shorter and the weather got cooler because there was less opportunity for regrowth in the dreary months of winter.

Get. Those. Roots.
It's difficult to emphasize enough how important it is to pull the roots from the ground, and we are confident this was the key to our success. Ivy roots itself as it grows, but there are definitely root clumps  that should be major targets for removal. My favorite technique was to grab a vine and pull steadily, wrapping the vine around my hand as I followed it to it's source. It was tricky to pull hard enough that the ivy would separate from the snarling mass, but not so hard that the vine broke off in my hands. On the lucky occasion that I could trace a vine all the way to it's source, I would concentrate on that area, trying to remove as many roots as possible from the ground as I could. 

Ivy removal in progress.

Tackle it one area at a time
Pulling ivy is hard work. We found ourselves in all sorts of yoga positions as we tackled the project, and so we found it most rewarding to tackle one small area at a time, getting it as clean as we could before moving on. We started with the larger, easier vines, focusing more on the roots than the leaves. Once that was complete we grabbed a rake (the metal ones are better for this task than the one shown here) and repeatedly ran it over the ground with lots of force, which exposed many of the roots we hadn't yet uncovered. We pulled those, then repeated the process until we felt the area was mostly clear of exposed roots. Then we took a break.

Check out that full green bin!

For climbing vines, use clippers to sever them at the ground and wait a while
Ivy is a big time climber. In places it had made it up to five feet up fence boards and tree trunks, adhering as it grew. We tried pulling the live ivy from these surfaces, but found it much easier to instead cut the vines with a pair of garden pruners and come back a week or so later to remove it. The vines were much more brittle at that point and came off the trees nicely.

Create a system for removing slash
You can tell from the photo above that ivy was not the ONLY thing we were cutting out last fall, we also thinned a number of trees and shrubs along the fence line (basically, we chopped out anything along the perimeter that was in the way, which was a lot). We filled our green bins and a number of black debris bags, but the sheer mass of green was too much to remove at once, so we created a slash pile, then left it to compost over the winter. In the Spring, when we finally got around to removing pile we noticed that the ivy continued to grow through the slash. The moral of the story is get the ivy out of your yard if you don't want it to take root again.

Never turn down a helping hand
While help is always good, I really just wanted to sneak in a picture of McKinney. Her favorite thing to do was grab whatever root we had in hand and tug away! She was not always the most helpful, but at times provided welcome comic relief.

Keep a watchful eye for returners
There's McKinney again, and Ryan's tiller, which is a post for another day. This was the best picture I could find of the remaining ivy roots as they sprouted new leaves in the spring. We thought we were through with the ivy, but like a bad ex-boyfriend, it just kept coming back. As we worked in the yard this spring, every time we saw new growth of leaves pop up, we immediately yanked as much of the root as possible. We found it much easier to get remaining roots in the spring than it had been in October because the earth was soft and damp. 

Thoughts on mulch & herbicides
My research on the internet suggests that covering the ground with mulch after pulling ivy will prevent it from returning. In retrospect, we probably should have put down some redwood mulch in the fall, because it would have made the barren earth look less like an eyesore through the winter. I don't know, however, whether it would have kept the roots from growing new leaves in the spring, and it may have made those little buggers harder to find and remove while they were still small.

The internet also suggests using an herbicide, like RoundUp, to kill the roots, which we chose not to do in the fall. We plan to replant the area and didn't want to contaminate the ground with such a potent killer. Today, as we kill off the last remaining stragglers, I have to admit we will treat the occasional root before we pull it out, but we probably shouldn't be.

Now, for some after photos

I wish the after pics looked prettier, and I actually prefer the overgrown before in this photo above.

What these after pics do represent however is a whole lot of progress. Renovation is not easy and a lot of times things look way worse before they look better, but I'm learning to keep the faith. Next spring, this area will house a colorful garden, and it will all have been worth it.

Linking to: I Heart Organizing

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