There should be a support group for people trying to remove massive amounts of ivy from their yards. It’s a miserable job. Sometimes it leaves you feeling hopeless. But I’m here to tell you that you’ve got this.
You Can Remove Out-of-Control Ivy
Here’s what I was dealing with back in 2014. My ivy spanned the entire width of the backyard, reaching up to one end of the patio and all the way down the slope to the back fence. What had probably started as erosion control was turning into lawn cover-upper, staircase rotter and yard destroyer.
It was even starting to smother other plants in the yard. My trees and rhododendrons were suffocating from the vines, and I couldn’t get to them to pull the ivy off because they were surrounded by even more ivy.
Nothing was safe. From the looks of it, in another season or two the house would be buried in vines. And not in a charming English cottage way, but in an abandoned foreclosure house kind of way.
I had to stop the ivy. It seemed impossible, but eventually I got rid of every last root and vine of ivy in my yard. It can be done. I’ll walk you through the steps.
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Don’t Try to Start by Cutting It Back
If you’re dealing with massive amounts of ivy, it will take approximately one lifetime to cut it back. I started with this method, and it was like giving a St. Bernard a haircut using nothing but a pair of nail clippers.
Here I am on day one of ivy removal. Happy. Innocent. Completely unaware of the work to come. I started by cutting back the ivy with an electric hedge trimmer, then straining my back to rip the pieces out by the roots.
It took all my strength, and after a hard day’s work I had barely made a dent. I’m pretty sure the next day it all grew back and then some. This method works better for removing smaller patches of ivy.
When ivy has been left to grow wild for a few decades, it stops being a plant and turns into something more like a low-growing evil tree. The vines aren’t green and flimsy. They are thick and woody. It’s not a fair fight.
But there’s a better method: solarization.
Plastic + Time = Bye, Ivy
After spending a summer getting nowhere with brute force (and cutting through two electric cords with the hedge trimmer…it’s the ivy’s fault), I decided it was time for a new strategy.
We researched the solarization method, which involves letting the sun scorch the ivy under plastic. You don’t need a lot of back strength, just a lot of patience.
Here’s how to kill ivy with solarization:
- Completely cover your ivy with thick black plastic sheeting.
- Stake down the plastic or hold it in place with something heavy.
- Wait for 1-2 years while the sun cooks the ivy.
OK, I know having 1,000 square feet of black plastic in your yard doesn’t sound too great, but it’s better than killing your back and getting nowhere. It sounds like a long time, but this is actually faster than trying to do it all yourself. With this method, you have the sun on your side.
Under the plastic, the ivy is deprived of water and cooks in the heat. The sun does most of the work while you turn your attention to other projects until the time is up.
Every few months, peek under the plastic and check if the ivy is cooked. When it’s ready there will be no greenery left. Just dry, brittle, lightweight vines. That’s when you can start doing some real work on this ivy.
Remove the Dead Ivy
Now you can cut and pull the ivy with relative ease. Hack away at the vines and pile up the debris. There will be a lot.
You can also try mowing over the vines to break them apart and make them easier to pull up.
Your biggest problem now is getting rid of all those vines. My suggestions: s’more fuel and wreath materials. The twisty vines are especially fun for spooky Halloween wreaths.
Patch Up the Ground Underneath the Ivy
After being buried under thick ivy for many years, the ground may have some weird holes. Now’s a good time to smooth them out.
My yard had an erosion hole and random spots of unevenness. We filled the erosion hole with gravel and smoothed out the rest of the ground with mud. Make sure your ground is fairly smooth before moving on to the next step.
Lay a Barrier to Prevent Rebound Ivy
It was a big job getting rid of that ivy, and I know the last thing you want is for it to come back. Since it died under the plastic, it should be gone for good, but let’s call this next phase a safety precaution. It’s time to cover that ground.
Here’s what I did to prepare for planting the area, but you might alter this if you have other plans in mind.
- Lay overlapping pieces of cardboard over the former ivy area. This can help block any roots from sprouting up as the cardboard decomposes.
- Cover the area with jute netting. I did this to help provide erosion control on my slope while waiting for the future plants to fill in.
- Cover the area with weed barrier landscape fabric. The dead ivy doesn’t stand a chance.
Use landscape staples to secure these layers as needed. Pound them in with your trusty mallet.
Ivy Removal Kit
To sum up, here’s what I used to kill the ivy and then cover the area to prevent regrowth.
Reclaim Your Yard
At this point, you probably want to fill in your newly reclaimed yard. Will you create a fire pit area, build a shed or studio, or plant a new lawn?
In my case, I added plants right away to help fill in the slope. If you’re looking for ideas, here’s what I planted.
- Blue fescue grass (icy blue-green grass)
- Candytuft (my go-to evergreen with white springtime blooms)
- Sedum ground cover (one of my favorite un-killable plants)
- Blue star juniper (blue-green shrub)
- Strawberry vanilla hydrangea (this sun-loving hydrangea transitions from white to pink blooms each summer)
- Fern (the evergreen staple of the shade garden)
- Hosta (perennial shade lover that comes back each year)
- Hellebore (a hardy evergreen with buttercup flowers in the winter)
- Rhododendron (large evergreen flowering shrub that loves the shade)
- Sedum ground cover (seems to survive in any part of the yard)
Here’s my backyard a few years after removing the ivy. It’s still all clear, with the ivy gone for good!
Find more landscaping ideas:
- How to create a landscape berm
- Modern curb appeal ideas to transform your front yard
- The easy trick to turn yellow grass green