Don’t let ivy strangle your trees

Dead branches on Lawson Cypress
Dead branches on Lawson Cypress

The Lawson Cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) in my yard towers over my house near our property line. Unfortunately, before we bought the house, English ivy had grown two-thirds of the way up this cypress. It had spread on to the lower branches and strangled them to the point that the foliage died and the wood weakened. One large branch that had died cracked in a windstorm and hung threateningly over the lawn for months until we finally had it removed. The good news is most of the ivy is gone from the area. The bad news is  this isn’t the only tree I have with cracked hanging branches.  I have at least three Douglas firs with the same problems. These firs always drop extra branches during windstorms because of their past ivy damage. And a couple had large cracked branches, like the cypress, hanging by a wood thread.

Old thick ivy stems
Old thick ivy stems

Ivy damage is a common but not that widely known problem throughout the Northwest. Hedera helix and hedera hibernica are non-native vines that have strangled millions of trees (not to mention covered general habitat). While Oregon has an aggressive ivy removal campaign, Washington state does not. Green Seattle Partnership works toward educating the public about the effects of ivy, but Seattle hasn’t implemented a No Ivy Day like Portland. This is a day for outreach, education and volunteerism. People get together on October 5th and devote that day to ripping out ivy, either on their property or in greenbelts and other natural areas.

Ripping out the ivy on my property is an enormous task. I live on 1.3 acres and I estimate a third of it, in the natural area around the creek, is covered with ivy (and blackberries and morning glory). Most of it is off my larger trees like the Douglas firs but it’s starting to grow up other younger trees. As soon as I cut the vine at one tree’s base (admittedly a short-term solution), I turn and see another vine making its way up a different tree. It’s like the whack-a-mole game, where you try to hit one mole and another pops up.  Still, I try. Someday it will be all mahonia and salal and old firs and cedars back there. It can happen, I do know that. My neighbor’s property is still blessed with a natural habitat.

Anyone else have a story to share about ivy removal? Successful or otherwise?

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