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I have a smallish area of land which has been completely taken over by ivy (the regular English kind). I'm starting to reclaim it but there is a solid mat of vines/roots up to 6" thick... You can actually cut a hole in it to find the soil underneath!

I am trying to figure out how to deal with it and wondered if a rotovator might work? I am treating this as a long term project so my first goal is just to get rid of this mat which makes planting or even preparing the soil impossible... I thought perhaps getting it all chopped up and stuff into the soil would mean it would start to break down over a couple of years?

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In short, no, a rotovator is not going to get rid of the ivy. If the ivy has been there some years and has thick stems above ground, it will have an extensive, fairly woody root system, and given that ivy will regrow from a single, thin stem and root left in the ground, clearing it altogether is a time consuming job.

Tripclopyr is not available for amateur use in the UK; there is a weedkiller called Paradise (you should find it online) which might make some headway on the roots after you've cut down all the top growth and some roots (if you can pull them out) and got rid of it - chopping and burying it isn't a good idea. Paradise, though, will mean nothing will grow in the area for at least six months, and nothing can be planted in the area for that time either. You may also need to reapply within or after the six month period.

I've had the unenviable task of clearing ivy on more than one occasion - I can tell you that spraying the topgrowth with weedkillers such as glyphosate will hardly touch it and certainly won't kill the roots. In the end, I took to doing it the hard way - cutting it all down to the ground, then digging each patch as deep as necessary, removing most roots, and treating any left in the ground with SBK, a brushwood killer, used neat on either cuts or drilled holes directly into each root. That worked really well, but may not be an option if the area is very large.

If you're not in a particular hurry, then you can cut it all to the ground and cover the area with heavy duty, thick, black plastic sheeting, anchored down very tightly in order to exclude air, light and rain. This will need to be left in place for at least one, but preferably two years.

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  • Sheeting seems a good idea to me at the right time. – Mr. Boy Feb 29 at 23:50
  • And I'm quite happy poisoning the earth, in this instance. I did wonder if I could even burn the dead growth after to clear it – Mr. Boy Feb 29 at 23:52
  • Been checking to see if its safe to burn Hedera; all parts are listed as moderately toxic if ingested. It can cause contact dermatitis (wear gloves and protective clothing in case you;re sensitive to it); I can no longer cut it with a hedgetrimmer - it affects my throat and chest and triggers asthma, although that's only become a problem as I've aged. Can;t find anything that says its not safe to burn it - its just that some toxic plants give off toxic smoke when burned (such as Oleander). – Bamboo Mar 1 at 13:59
  • A shame that Triclopyr isn't available in your area, but it might be worth it, then, to call in a professional who does have access to it. It's a pretty quick "kill" when applied correctly, and won't prevent you from planting anything else in the soil for a year or two. – Jurp Mar 1 at 14:33
  • @Jurp - so far as I'm aware, triclopyr is on the banned list of herbicides as a single formulation even for professionals in the UK, though you an sometimes find it listed in combination with other herbicides in the mix – Bamboo Mar 1 at 14:40
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I don’t know if you could break up the roots of ivy with a rotary hoe. It depends on the size of machine that you hire. If it has enough horsepower and strong enough blades, it might do the job. Talk to a hire company. But what then?

Every cut root and stem then has the potential to become a new plant. This is because stems of English Ivy that grow at ground level are referred to as “rhizomes”. This means that everywhere that a leaf would normally grow on the stem (the leaf node) has the capacity to produce a leaf or roots or both. So having chopped the roots and underground stems (rhizomes) into little pieces, instead of having a mesh of roots, you now have a mass of new plants that are growing roots and shoots. If commitments stop you from getting back into the garden for a few weeks after using the rotary hoe, these thousands of cuttings that you kindly planted back into light and fluffy cultivated soil could then be thousands of plants.

You could use the cultivator and then sift every last bit of soil to remove all the roots and stems. With 1 or 2 old fly screens you can lean them at 45 degrees against a wall and throw shovel loads soil against them to sift out the Ivy. Another option is to get a couple of friends to hold each end of the fly screen and shake the soil through and put the Ivy in a bin bag. You certainly can’t bury it under the soil. It won’t die but will come back like The Day of The Triffids.

I could make chemical treatment recommendations but it requires that the Ivy is actively growing. While chemical treatment isn’t my preference, it has its place in large scale weed infestations.

If you have garden waste bins in your municipality, no one will thank you for putting thousands of English Ivy cuttings in it. Usually this material is composted and sold back to gardeners. English Ivy is more likely to grow in the compost than be killed by it and it will then get transported to other people’s gardens. Landfill or drying and burning is preferable.

Finally, if you choose a labour intensive, chemical free method, I would strongly advise you to also invest in your friendships and buy a slab of beer and a few kilograms/pounds of BBQ sausages. Get a group of friends around and knock the job over in a day. Make sure that not one beer nor sausage is available until the end of the day or when you are satisfied that you can finish the job easily the next day. Where there is free booze and food involved, you need to motivate the troops to get the job done and done well.

We can often find it difficult to ask for help but I firmly believe that they are very happy to and more likely to ask for help as a result. Then there is a chance to become a group of friends who help each other out with the practical stuff. Isn’t that how life should be? Cheerio.

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As another answer said, you can't get rid of ivy by removing 99.9% of it. The remaining 0.1% will just grow again. It doesn't even need soil. Ivy roots will break up rocks and concrete, if you give them time to do it.

I would hire a digger and a skip. If you have 6 inches of matted roots, skim off the top 12 inches into the skip and say goodbye to it.

Depending on what was underneath the ivy, you may want to dig or rotavate the subsoil and remove any remaining large clumps of roots before you cover up any problems with a new layer of topsoil.

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  • I should've added that getting access with anything you can't carry is not feasible. I don't mind it trying to regrow since I can apply weedkiller... But I need to get to the soil first! – Mr. Boy Feb 29 at 23:47
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If you would like a chemical solution, triclopyr can be used as a dormant control (which, in your case, I think is the only way you can successfully kill the ivy chemically). Using a backpack sprayer, spray the entire clump, working from the center outwards. You only need to hit the bottom 18" or so of stem, but that will be hard to determine given the mat that you've got. It should kill the bulk of the ivy before spring even begins. After that, use a brushhog to remove the woody bits and scout for missed stems and sprouts. Use spot spraying on those.

Triclopyr is the same chemical that power companies use to remove woody vegetation and vines from beneath power lines. If used in too-high (i.e. not the recommended) concentration, it will also kill grasses and broadleaves (I know this from experience, when the local company hired a bunch of untrained yahoos to spray under the lines on my property. They left a flipping desert behind). It's a non-restricted chemical in most states, but of course follow normal safety protocols and use only the recommended concentration of product.

As noted in other answers - Do not cut up the stems and roots into little pieces. That way madness lies.

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I have faced a similar situation with couch grass/quack grass which forms a similar thick mat. The issue is that likely the soil the mat is growing in is probably really nice humus rich soil that you should keep if at all possible. Rotovator will just make things worse, unless you can do it at at time of year when repeated turnings to expose the roots to intense summer sun will dry the ivy to a frazzle. The problem is that the "plow three times in August" approach will probably result in the wettest August in the last 50 years.

One solution that is hard work but involves no chemicals is to first find out where the source of the ivy is (one corner of the garden, neighbours yard, etc) and if you can find them cut it off. If it is coming from multiple sources that makes things more difficult.

Second, divide up the area into small manageable chunks and delineate them by digging a spade width trench all around, then covering the area with a few layers of tarp or thick landscape fabric. After a year, and certainly two, in the dark even ivy will give up. When the tarps come off you will find fibrous matting in dark rich soil that yields easily to a round pointed spade.

It's a long term project but a clean environmentally friendly one and certainly works for quack grass.

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