Q: I have a question about the best way to manage ivy. In particular, I am looking for some advice on how to trim ivy down from the base of trees so that the ivy doesn’t grow too high. How do you cut it down? How do you peel the ivy from the tree? Is there a quick and easy way to do this?
A: I think it is a bad idea to let English ivy climb trees. The evergreen leaves add weight to the tree limbs; they also catch the wind in windstorms. In winter, the vines hold ice and rain the tree might not be expecting to support. In extreme cases ivy can climb so far into the tree that it shades out lower limbs.
My wife is a fanatic when it comes to removing English ivy from trees. Before we were married, I helped her clear several tree trunks encircled with thick hairy vines and shrouded in green. I remember discovering that a flat pry bar was very effective at prizing the vine from the trunk far enough so I could cut it with my loppers. Sometimes I used a hammer to whack the bar between the vine and the trunk. One vine was so thick I had to use a folding pruning saw to slice it.
Cutting the vines was only half our chore; we also had to pull them from the trunk above the cut. This was a two-person job: one to jerk the vine and the other to loosen it with the pry bar. We tried to pull as high as we could but usually the vine broke at ten feet above the ground. Since English ivy is not a parasite, we knew it would eventually die higher in the tree but the wait in the following weeks seemed interminable.
As far as controlling the vine on the ground, I used a mower set to its highest setting to chop the greenery (and simultaneously to scare away any snakes who might be lurking beneath). That exposed the thick web of vine on the ground. Pulling the vine up also became a dual duty. I heaved and strained while she clipped and untangled. I remember discovering that only the newest and sharpest hand pruner would cut cleanly through the vine. We rolled up several massive bales of vine and leaves before we quit.