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I'll be moving to the Seattle area in a few weeks and am starting my garden planning. The house we're buying has a small, shaded front yard with a large tree in it surrounded by about a ground cover of a few hundred square feet of English ivy.

Living in the Northeast, I've always hated the invasive pest that is English ivy. I'd like to replace it, probably with another shade-tolerant ground cover--I'm thinking of trying lingonberries, but I'd even prefer pachysandra to the ivy--at least the pachysandra won't climb my walls and poke through my basement windows.

The first step, though, is removing the ivy.

Short of (1) digging through the whole patch pulling up every piece of root and throwing it in the trash, or (2) soaking the whole yard in glyphosate every day for a month, is there any way to get rid of the stuff?

It sounds like ivy doesn't like alkaline soil--would digging it out and liming the soil stop it from coming back? And if so, how quickly could I then dig in some sulfur to get back to a low, lingonberry-friendly pH?

If possible, I'd prefer solutions that would let me dig up one patch at a time, so I'm not left with completely bare soil (and an invitation to weeds) until I get the whole front planted with something else. But with how fast ivy spreads, I know that might not be realistic.

So who's done it? Who's killed off their ivy, and how did you do it?

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Oh, dear, I'm sorry to say its a difficult, tedious and time consuming job, but I have done it many times. First you need to cut it right down, then dig each patch, with a bottle of liquid brushwood/stump killer to hand (SBK in the UK, not sure what's available where you are). When you dig, you're digging to expose major and minor roots, and you may need to dig down easily a spade's depth to find bigger roots - those that cannot easily be removed (and most can't) need to be poisoned, so that means either drilling into them to make small wells, or making cuts into them, and carefully applying the (neat or undiluted) brushwood killer into the wells or cuts, preferably without spilling it on the ground. I usually then cover each one with an old flowerpot, and replace the soil over the top on the area when finished. Then you just have to wait for the poison to do its work, leaving at least 4-6 weeks till you attempt to plant anything, longer if you managed to spill the brushwood killer on the soil quite a bit and it doesn't rain much. If you've been careful with it, you can risk planting 3-4 weeks later - I've certainly done that where necessary, but it is better to wait a bit longer.

You may have some difficulty eradicating all of it - the presence of a large tree means a wide root spread in the top foot or two of soil, much of which will be from the tree itself rather than the ivy. Digging those roots extensively may well disrupt the tree, so care should be taken if you want to conserve the tree.

I can tell you that regular applications of glyphosate onto the foliage and stems does not work - it knocks out the foliage for a while, but then it just grows back again. Even spray applications of SBK don't work, the only successful method I found over the years was the one I described above. And I live in the UK, where the problem of overgrown ivy is very common, so I've dealt with it often.

  • What concentration glyphosate did you use? These large rooted plants can require more than the usual 2% spray: clemson.edu/extension/hgic/pests/weeds/hgic2327.html and msue.anr.msu.edu/news/… – Wayfaring Stranger Nov 16 '15 at 18:31
  • I used glyphosate which you mix up yourself rather than ready mixed - made it up double the concentrate to water as a spray. Didn't kill the roots, just the foliage. Wouldn't recommend a higher concentration where there are tree roots anyway, not as a spray or can application. – Bamboo Nov 16 '15 at 19:21
  • Yes, those trees do make things a little worrisome. Just wanted to hear you gave the stuff a fair trial. Sounds like you did. – Wayfaring Stranger Nov 16 '15 at 23:56
  • I believe I did - was trying to avoid the utter tedium of doing it the way I describe in the answer! – Bamboo Nov 17 '15 at 12:15

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