Three years ago, I received a packet of morning glory seeds. In my usual fashion, I went ahead and planted them without taking any time to research them and get to know their behavior. In case you didn’t know, morning glories are basically pretty ivy. Once established, they are very challenging to remove.
My morning glories sprouted and grew like mad. I put in some trellises for them to climb, and within one month, those trellises were sagging under the weight of these plants. When the flowers showed up, we were pleased with how they looked, but as I assessed where the morning glories might spread to, namely my strawberry patch, I had to decide which one I wanted to keep.
The strawberries, being edible, won.
I set to removing the morning glories. This time I researched by asking some local master gardeners how to eradicate this tenacious ivy. They all tsked at me and told me I was in for a challenge, pointing out that if I left anything behind at all, the plant would come back.
I followed the advice I will list below and was completely successful in removing these unwanted ivy plants. It should work for you too. The materials you will need include work gloves, a spade, a gardening claw, a pickaxe (if your soil is rocky), pruning sheers, and either a big square of cardboard or a tarpaulin.
As an initial caveat, it is worth mentioning that there are plenty of chemicals out there that say they will kill ivy. Using one of these will be your decision. But if you use a chemical, it is worth noting that you will still have to remove the ivy after it is dead, unless you want the unsightly ivy corpses marring your lovely property. Moreover, you often have to apply these chemicals multiple times for them to work fully.
The first timing issue involves how long the ivy has been around. If you are removing unwanted ivy plantings that you put in the ground, you should try to remove it as soon as possible, before they become more established.
Not everyone will be trying to remove new plantings, however. If this is the case, timing is still an issue. Probably the best time of year to remove your unwanted ivy is in fairly early spring, a day or two after either a good rain or you water well. This moisture will loosen the soil and make it easier to work with.
You want to wait until the ground is fully thawed out from winter and you can see some new growth on the ivy. You can follow that growth down to the base of the plants and find the roots with little problem.
Your first step is to remove most of the above-ground growth of the ivy. This often involves carefully removing it from the side of a house, barn or a tree. If you are removing it from a tree, where the ivy disappears among branches and leaves, don’t forge ahead pell-mell. Take time to determine if you will be endangering bird nests or bee hives.
If you need to remove this ivy from around nests and/or hives, you will want to make careful cuts and be sure to pull ivy directly away from the critters’ homes.
As you gather chopped ivy, you will need to have decided how you will dispose of the stuff. You don’t want to compost it; this will just lead to ivy in your gardens. Better would be to let it dry out for a while and burn it, city ordinances permitting, or to have it carted off to your local landfill.
When you’ve pruned sufficiently that there is just a little bit of above-ground growth showing, you are ready to dig.
Your best bet is to remove the entire set of roots at one time. Thus, if you have a large patch of unwanted ivy, go ahead and divide it into sections. This makes the task more manageable.
Now, follow the growth to the ground, set your spade a few inches away from where the growth sprouts, and start digging. Your goal is to reveal the roots, not cut them. Don’t fret if you cut a root! Just keep going until you reveal more root! This takes time and effort. If you feel like your shovel is too ungainly, try your gardening claw. Use this to loosen soil around the roots. You can then remove the dirt.
This is where your cardboard or tarp comes in. Put the dirt on whichever one you have, this will help you reduce clean up time and effort, and will also help you keep all of your soil!
If your ivy is growing in rocky soil, you can use the pickaxe to get down into the soil and get at the roots.
When you’ve loosened the soil and exposed the roots, you are ready to pull those roots out. This requires firm pressure without yanking in sudden bursts. Keep the pressure steady. If a root will not come out, then your best bet is to do some more work with the soil. It is sometimes frustrating and you will be tempted to just start yanking willy-nilly, but resist that urge.
The better you persevere at this job the first time around, the more you will reduce your work down the road.
If you have done your work with the soil well, you will find that the roots will essentially peel out of the dirt in long ropes. Toss these ropes on the pile of ivy you pruned earlier.
Be sure to take a break at strategic times! If you try to tackle a large patch of ivy in one go, you might get frustrated and angry, causing you to just start hacking at the stuff. This is inadvisable. You want the ivy gone for good, not just for a few months. So take your time, plan to spend several hours on the project, and good luck!