After my last post I did more research on controlling English ivy. Beyond the commonly-quoted advice to spray with herbicides, or to attempt the mechanical removal that is occupying me these days, I saw an interesting idea for a new but as-yet-untested biological control Nothing immediately useful, unfortunately. And then I started to see techniques that could only be dreamed up by people like me who’ve been spending too much time fighting off Hedera helix.
From the folks at the University of California, in a discussion of ivy, comes:
Prescribed burning: An extreme method that has been used with some success is to burn ivy plants and resprouts with a blow torch at regular intervals; the energy used by the plant to regrow will eventually be depleted. Obviously, this approach requires considerable caution.
And from Organic Land Care.com comes:
Another more drastic method has been to use a blow-torch to repeatedly blast the plant with a hot flame. By repeatedly exposing the plant to high heat, this method is intended to exhaust the H. helix of its energy so that it is unable to multiply or produce berries for reproduction (Reichard, 2000).
So…fatigued of doing things the old-fashioned way, I went to the garage and got the blowtorch. After aiming the flame at some ivy leaves they began to writhe and smoke in a most satisfying way. Soon the leaves started to burn, which surprised me since ivy is one of the plants that shows up occasionally as a recommended plant for firescaping. As the leaves burned, some of the dead grasses around them started to catch fire. Just a little more heat and I’d have had a little brushfire started. Hmmmm. Maybe it’s not such a good idea, I started to think, looking up at a wood fence not more than two feet away. Damn, it felt good, but I ended the experiment right then and there–it probably wasn’t a good idea to burn down the neighborhood!
In my more active anti-nuke activist days one of the more compelling arguments against nuclear power was that some of its byproducts were so long-lived that they would remain lethal for longer than human civilization has existed. Plutonium-239, for example, has a half-life of something like 24,000 years, and even a tiny particle of it could prove dangerous to a person.
I was thinking about that during my weeding exercise this weekend, dealing with a neglected corner of the garden where the neighbor’s English ivy had crossed over and under the fence and set up a stand that had spread 20 feet or more into my yard. In the course of its invasion, it had contributed to a low brick retaining wall being pushed over.
The wall the ivy helped push over
I hate to use stuff like Roundup in the yard, but I tried it on the ivy a couple weeks ago. Some of the weeds around it shriveled to brown ghosts of themselves, but at best the ivy showed a little burning around the edges of the leaves. I’d tried Roundupping the ivy before, with similar minimal results. Ivy really seems like the thing that wouldn’t die. Some online sites have guidelines on how to get rid of the stuff, but none of them seem to guarantee easy control. (A couple of the sites I looked at: Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council Invasive Plant Manual and the Plant Conservation Alliance’s “Least wanted” pages.)
I wasn’t looking forward to the alternative of digging it out by hand, but digging it out by hand was the chore that ate my weekend. And it’s a chore that’ll be occupying at least a couple more. The job is extra-awful in that even a little piece of ivy runner left in the ground could grow roots and set up a whole new colony. You have to be sure to dig down the foot or so that the runners can travel at, and you need to be sure that you’ve rid the patch of all the alien ivy life forms before you move on to the next spadefull. It’s like vegetable plutonium in that any little bit left in the ground could prove dangerous for future generations. Nasty, evil stuff.
Here you can see the proportion of dirt to ivy roots…
If my mantra of my teen years was “No nukes!” the mantra of my current gardening life has to be “No Ivy!” Frank Lloyd Wright was famous for his quote that went something like, “Doctor’s can always bury their mistakes. Architects can only plant ivy.” Well, friends, doing that would be the greatest mistake of all.