How should I handle my backyard?
June 1, 2010 11:12 AM   Subscribe

New to homeownership. How should I handle my backyard?

I recently purchsed a home with a wooded backyard and a good portion is coverd with English Ivy. The previous owner, who had the home for two years before us, didn’t do anything to control the growth. It has started to envelop a few of the trees and I know I should remove it from the trunks before it kills them. But, should I get rid of all of it from the yard? I kind of like the little ecosystem that’s developed back there and would prefer to keep things natural. Chipmunks and rabbits use the ground ivy to hide from my dogs and several large owls, as they gather seed from beneath the bird feeders. It looks nice and gives us extra privacy on our fence.

If I do try to get rid of all the ivy (I say try because I’m not going to use any herbicides or other chemicals, I’ll just pull up the roots) should I leave the ground bare and let the fallen tree leaves build up over time? Use mulch or pinestraw? I don’t think grass will grow because of the shade of the tree canopy. The yard is sloped. Is ivy a good erosion deterrent? This is in Atlanta, GA, if it matters.
posted by studentbaker to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Don't pull it out. Ivy's great ground cover. If it's not interfering with the use of your yard, I'd leave it. It will, however, pull down fences and trees if you let it.

Besides, in Atlanta? if you pull it up, kudzu will swarm in and take over.

Declare your backyard "ecoscaped" and enjoy.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:20 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would leave it. I would KILL to have a nice groundcover in my backyard. We have a lot of bare patches, as well as a sloped backyard like yours, and the erosion is ridiculous. It might be difficult and/or expensive to get something else established if you yank up the ivy.
posted by feathermeat at 11:26 AM on June 1, 2010

Ivy is a good erosion deterrent, so I would definitely keep it on the sloped areas at least. Getting rid of ivy is incredibly hard. It takes several passes at getting rid of all the roots to keep it away. Just trim it back on the fence, so it doesn't weigh it down, and cut off the creepers that are enveloping the trees. Then sit back and enjoy your yard as-is.
posted by Joh at 11:28 AM on June 1, 2010

You'll probably have to cut and re-cut and re-cut again, every year (or every six months if your ivy is as hardy as ours), the ivy from the trees but it's do-able. Just cut the creepers at the base of the tree and trim it back on the ground about a foot or so. Don't try to pull it off the trees because you'll likely pull off bark as well and that won't be good for the trees.

Seconding BitterOldPunk's suggestion to leave the rest of it because ivy is so much more pleasant than kudzu. I hate that stuff (and if you think ivy is hard to oh man).
posted by cooker girl at 11:47 AM on June 1, 2010

Yeah, leave it. Try to keep it off the house, though. As nice as it looks up a brick wall, I've heard that it's not good for the mortar over time. That was the conventional wisdom, anyway.
posted by jquinby at 11:54 AM on June 1, 2010

If you do decide to manage the vines on your trees a little, you can avoid the herbicides. All you really need to do is trim the vines at the base of each tree, from the ground up, about a foot. The vines that remain behind higher up on the tree will eventually die off. Be sure to remove what you do trim away, as every bit of vine you cut has the potential to re-root and create a new plant. You'll need to go back every so often (monthly? seasonally?) and check to make sure no vines have re-established.
posted by crunchland at 12:01 PM on June 1, 2010

Are you sure it's ivy and not kudzu? Kudzu is the vine that ate Georgia. And if it is kudzu, I've got nothing to help. I lived in the Atlanta area for 8 years and eventually conceded defeat to the kudzu and moved north.
posted by COD at 1:07 PM on June 1, 2010

I'm inclined to follow the No Ivy League: English Ivy is considered invasive in large parts of the US, and I've seen how it makes a mess of exterior paint and mortar.

You can try covering ground patches with large garbage bags, but it's one of those ongoing battles, and you're probably best off trimming near trees over the summer and reassessing over the winter. If the alternative's kudzu, then it might be worth keeping, though wild ginger makes for decent alternative ground cover in the SE.
posted by holgate at 2:26 PM on June 1, 2010

If you do decide to get rid of it (and in some climates - like the northwest, it's a good idea to do so), do NOT "pull" the ivy off the tree, at least not right away; you can cause some pretty serious damage to the bark if you do. Let it die, then pull.
A good and relatively non-toxic use of Roundup is to cut the ivy back to a main branch, then carefully 'paint' the Roundup onto the cut surface. Try to do this on a hot, dry(er) day - the Roundup, used in this manner, will not get into ground water, and will get into and kill the roots of the ivy.
Ivy is also a favored home for Norwegian Brown Rats (common city rats), so the 'eco-system' you've got going may not be a happy as you think.
Talk to you local extension agent and see what they recommend as a ground cover - there's undoubtedly a native that will do as good/better job at this.
posted by dbmcd at 2:52 PM on June 1, 2010

Ivy is very pretty, but it is very invasive in many places. I'm not sure about Atlanta. Where it is successful, it grows dense and excludes all other plants. It will choke out native wildflowers, and if it does get into trees, it can hide defects, add weight, eventually crowd out foliage, and sometimes it can graft enough to work like a strangler fig and choke out limbs. You will not damage trees by pulling ivy off! Trees have exfoliating bark, and if some flakes come off when you pull it, it's no big deal, it doesn't injure them.
One other thing about ivy, it really seems to create mosquito habitat for some reason. I'm not sure why, but whenever I'm in an ivy patch in the summer, there are a bunch of mosquitos around.
If you decide to get rid of it, there are many other plants you can use to prevent erosion, or you can mulch it at first and allow the leaf and twig litter to build up afterward, that's what trees and other plants are meant to grow in. You can get rid of it by pulling it up, though it will take forever to get all of the little runners out. You can try sheet mulching, using layers of cardboard with wood chips (you can usually get these for free from tree companies or utility clearance companies) to smother the ivy out until other plants come in. You don't really need to do the compost layer if it's a built-up ivy bed, there's already plenty of organic matter. You're just starving the ivy of light to get rid of it. If it's shady, you probably won't get too many invasive plants, but keep an eye out for what comes back in. You may need to keep on top of it for a while, but you may be pleasantly surprised.
I'm not averse to using herbicide, myself, if it's appropriate. Large areas are really only feasible to treat with herbicide; you won't disturb the soil as much (and the roots of desirable plants in it). Ivy is difficult to kill with herbicide, it has a waxy cuticle on the leaf surface, and plants growing in shade are more difficult to control with herbicide. If you do, I suggest using a generic glyphosate (active ingredient in roundup). I'm not going to get technical, but I'll just say that ivy is easiest to herbicide when it has the flush of new growth in the spring, but if you want you can treat it during the dormant season when most other plants are down (and safe from spray) during a warm spell in fall or late winter, when it's somewhat humid, using glyphosate at a slightly higher concentration and with a good surfactant.
I really could go on. Ivy is pretty in some ways, but that shit is a menace around here, and I want to get rid of it.
posted by Red Loop at 5:14 PM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm in Atlanta as well, and have an ivy issue. :-)

Here's what I've been told, and am trying on a test patch: Weedwack the ivy. Make up a batch of Roundup and add about a tablespoon of dish soap per half gallon. Ivy has a waxy coat on it's leaves and just herbicide has a hard time working; the soap makes it stick. When the ivy starts replacing the leafs you knocked off, hit it with the Roundup+soap. Might have to do it more than once.

When it's up a tree, I also use something called a "stump and vine killer", which is dripped on the cut end of an Ivy vine and is intended to get sucked down to the root. Seems to work okay.

And, no, getting rid of the ivy does not mean kudzu will magically take over.
posted by kjs3 at 8:43 AM on June 2, 2010

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