Season: Spring

Are your trees chocked with Ivy?

As tree surgeons we frequently come across trees that have a considerable amount of ivy in them. This page addresses the dilemma of allowing ivy to create bio diverse habitats with the hazards to the health and vitality of a tree.

Ivy on a tree

Ivy in our gardens is usually the fast growing English Ivy (Hedera helix), this is a fast climber that can grow on the ground , on trunks and branches and then creating a dense mass with yellowish flowers and black coloured berries in the upper canopy. The ivy gains a foothold with root like growths on the stems to provide firm attachments to the tree bark, all nutrients and water are transported into the mass from the roots and as such it cannot therefore be called a parasitic plant.

The rate of growth of ivy often exceeds that of the tree itself. It is therefore inevitable that the tree can become completely subsumed by this voracious climber and may require some pruning back. The sheer weight of the ivy mass can cause the host limbs to fail and snap. As well as this hazard, where the ivy mass covers the canopy the tree leaves can be so deprived of light that reduced photosynthesis can occur and the tree will start to die back.

For dead trees the ivy can be left in situ to create a bio diverse habitat including nesting birds, a wide range of insects and fungi. In winter the evergreen mass provides a unique refuge from predators for much of your garden wildlife. As previous articles have suggested it is often a nice idea to have such a "wild" corner to your garden if you have the space.

Managing tips for ivy control

The removal of ivy requires care as pulling sections from the tree can cause branches to snap or even bark separation creating points of entry for tree pests and diseases.

We recommend the use of "ringing" around the base of the tree, this will cause a rapid dieback of the ivy mass without causing problems from pulling the climbers from the branches. This work is best done outside the nesting season for birds to avoid unnecessary disturbance. The best method is to use loppers to cut away the stems between ground and shoulder level right around the tree.

Where the aesthetic form of the tree requires removal of the ivy mass then a careful climbing operation is required, this is most frequently undergone on trees that have weakened limbs form the excessive weight of the ivy mass.

Chemical treatments such as Glyphosate are available to use on the ivy rootplate stems but this requires caution to avoid affecting the tree rootplate itself.

Any ivy removed should be composted as bundles or mixed with other organic waste to decompose thoroughly.

In conclusion, I feel that the whole debate on whether ivy is an attractive addition to a healthy tree is a matter of personal opinion; as a tree surgeon and a tree "lover" I side with trees having ivy under strict control so we can appreciate the tree trunk, branches and canopy as a complete form uncluttered by invasive climbers.