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We have ivy growing in the front yard, and I like it. It requires no attention other than trimming to keep it off the house, tree, sidewalk. My wife doesn't like that it keeps getting higher. Instead of just laying on the ground it's over a foot and a half high most places, and two feet deep in some. I think if I just cut it down I'll take off leaves and leave nothing but vines, then the sun will get through and I'll have a million weeds. I want a nice, low covering of ivy, 6-12 inches, like it was years ago.

Is there any way to accomplish this?

Do I cut it back as much as possible and then pull the weeds until it recovers the ground? Seems like that would look awful.

Thanks in advance.

  • Welcome to the site! As you'll see if you check out our help center, details are the best way to get good answers around here, so we appreciate everything you've included. Would you please post a picture so we can see the ivy and the area around it? Also, what's your growing zone, or your average temperature range? Just press on edit and add those things right into the question. Thanks! – Sue Oct 3 '16 at 18:30
  • Follow up notes: – Andrew Walters Oct 5 '16 at 1:04
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As you speak of 'English' ivy, I assume you're in the States somewhere - here in England, it's just called ivy (often with very derogatory adjectives preceding the word 'ivy' because of its invasive nature). There's only one way with ivy, and that's the ruthless approach - in spring, as growth begins, go out with a hedgetrimmer (if you have one powerful enough) or some sharp shears and cut the whole lot down to six inches, four if you're brave enough, then fertilize it with a balanced fertilizer, something with an NPK of 7-7-7 or thereabouts (probably easiest with a liquid version that can be applied with a can). Then just keep a check on it - if you see weeds germinating, whip them out, but ivy, being the rampant life form it is, should show signs of recovery within 2-4 weeks, and then start growing apace, such that you'll probably need to carry out this treatment certainly biennally, if not annually. There is another advantage to doing this - over time, ivy develops, thick, woody limbs or branches, sometimes as thick as a tree trunk, and then it's very difficult to keep properly in check, and looks much less attractive as ground cover - cutting back hard relatively regularly should prevent that from happening.

Because I don't know what USDA zone you're in, you may need to time your cutting back carefully to avoid freezing temperatures after cutting back, but in most places, Ivy is very hardy anyway. Bear in mind that ivy can be chopped right down to ground level, with all vines at ground level cut off or removed so there's bare soil, and it will still regrow, it's certainly no prima donna plant.

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What do you have in the way of tools? How big is this patch? If it isn't too large you could use hand shears and cut back to 6". Power hedging shears would be best for your body. There are even brush cutting mowers you could rent if the area is large. Leave the clippings. They will cover the bare spots and stop any weed seed from germinating.

As Bamboo warned, right now timing is critical. If you chop the ivy back too 'late' the ivy will have just enough time to put on new tender growth and when winter hits the cold will fry the new leaves. I doubt it will kill the ivy but it will look awful. Depending on your zone and winter conditions, I would wait until early spring to cut down. If where you live has another 2 or 3 months before the soil freezes go ahead and get 'er done now. Leave the clippings or at least 'blow' them off the top of your ivy plants and down into the vines/soil. They will inhibit germination of 'other weed' seeds and decompose to improve the soil. Do NOT fertilize until spring. Fertilizing will produce even more tender vegetative growth for the winter to kill.

There are two types of foliage on Hedera helix. The young plant growth you are probably used to and then once a plant matures you'll see the mature plant leaves which are very different. You'll start seeing the reproductive growth as well. Because this plant is highly invasive, if you want to continue to use this as a ground cover, it is only right to continue a maintenance program to cut your ivy back and reduce flowering and seed. Ivy is even better at reproducing from every little chunk of stem and or root (vegetative reproduction). Cutting or 'mowing' your ivy is completely necessary. Necessary as well is limiting where your ivy is ALLOWED to grow.

All of your trees, shrubs should have a 'circle' of bare ground (mulched) so the ivy is not able to grow up your trees. You will have to maintain these transition areas by pulling up any ivy you see. Keep it off the home as well. All other plants and/or your lawn should have a zone between the ivy and the plants. You could use that thin plastic barrier stuff sold in most hardware and nurseries, bury it 6" deep all along the borders where you do not want the ivy to cross. That will help somewhat. Twice per year, I'd chop your 'crop' to 6". Early spring and Early fall/late summer.

The proper formulation of fertilizer will be a major factor in keeping your ivy from seeding. A high nitrogen formulation such as 10-4-6 or 20-7-8 where the first number, percentage of Nitrogen in the bag, is quite a bit higher than the second and third number (phosphorus and potassium). This will help to inhibit any reproductive growth (flowers and seeds). Once per year a light, high Nitrogen, fertilization is plenty!

If you've got too much vegetative growth after a mowing to leave, go ahead and dispose of in those large black plastic bags. Make sure you keep those bags of vine material labeled. To dispose in the normal garbage dump is irresponsible. Each little chunk can easily start a new smothering crop somewhere else. If you could find CLEAR plastic bags, fill with your ivy debris, and leave in the sun to 'cook'. After 'cooking' for a few months, take to a dump that handles 'clean green' grass clippings (here in the states a dump has to have a special license to handle 'clean green') and they should know how to properly compost garden debris. Make sure they know you've got bags of vine clippings that you have tried to 'cook'. They will be impressed!

One other thing about this ivy, especially as it gets higher are RATS. This is a wonderful place for rats to hunker down in and travel unnoticed. When you keep this ivy crop of yours cut down twice per year you will not have to worry so much about creating a great rat population. Rats are limited in population by the King Daddy rat who kicks his progeny out as soon as they can be on their own. On your property will be his harem and maybe a successor or two living along with the King but your neighbors will get the young that will make their own kingdoms. All those sewers and caves with zillions of rats are just the 'nightclubs'...

Sure you don't want to have a lawn or a nice graveled forest floor??

  • I would not doubt the expertise of you or Bamboo, I'm just curious if there's a way to do this gradually. Some of the things I've read say trimming can be done in a few sessions throughout the year, but nothing beats the experience of you master gardeners. I'm just looking for a way for Andrew Walters to keep at least some of his plant while he gets it back to the shape he'd like. – Sue Oct 3 '16 at 20:10
  • Completely depends where he lives, his zone, how much time before freezing weather sets in...be nice if he's got enough time for a first mowing to allow the new growth to harden before winter. He could always cut down some of the biggest growth or just wack it all down as it is pretty tough to kill. – stormy Oct 3 '16 at 20:25
  • @Sue - ivy regrows quickly, especially early in the growing season - its response to being cut back very hard is almost startling... in the UK, we spend more time trying to get rid of or control ivy than almost any other plant. But when its done and how hard is to some extent climate dependent... – Bamboo Oct 3 '16 at 20:44
  • Sue, you are so humble and sweet. Your suggestions tell me you are a natural critical thinker...like Bamboo, Steph...and have a very accurate foundation of knowledge about plants! Normally it is always better to do things slowly but this ivy is normally a hated, invasive, extremely prolific and a total survivor. No heavy hand could hurt this plant! It can look wonderful however that is part of its tactic! Seriously...Purple Loosestrife took advantage of us humans to get going here in the states. The plants know what we humans like. Kind of scary if you think about it! – stormy Oct 4 '16 at 21:27

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