English Ivy (Hedera helix) has for a long time been planted as a ground cover. However, it is not native to the United States, and many people now consider it to be an invasive species and a pest and a weed.
It is good as a ground cover because it forms a thick mat and prevents other things from growing. However, controlling it is a problem. Getting English Ivy to stay where you want it to stay can be a full time job. If it is near your lawn, it will be happy to put out shoots and start invading the lawn.
Bushes and Trees in Danger
Trees and bushes can be an even bigger problem, although they are easier to deal with than the lawn. If ivy gets into the lawn, it is almost impossible to get out without digging it all out and restarting with a new lawn. You can’t use a weed killer like you can with some broad leaf plants in the lawn because what you need to kill the ivy will also kill the grass.
For trees and bushes, you need to cut the stems at the base of the tree and the part above that will die. You should also dig out the roots if possible or it will immediately start growing back.
Smothered Trees and Bushes
If you don’t control the ivy it can completely smother a bush or tree. It will grow up the trunk and out the branches. With the sunlight it gets there, the growth habit changes. The leaves get larger and it flowers and puts out many berries. The berries about about a quarter inch in diameter and dark blue or black in color. Besides blowing and starting ivy plants in different places, birds also eat them and the seeds end up wherever the birds droppings go. Frequently below branches in trees and bushes.
We bought a house and the grounds hadn’t been taken care of. There was a tree that was completely enveloped in ivy. The individual stalks were up to 2 inches in diameter and they had merged together so the tree was wrapped all the way around in ivy 1-2 inches thick and going up at least 10 feet in this solid mass before splitting into visible individual vines and going up another 30-40 feet in addition to out branches and creating branches of its own. What a mess.
Danger to Houses
Some people think that it can be very sophisticated to have ivy growing on a building. But it is very damaging to houses. It grips to the house with small roots that come out from the vine. They will find any small crack and potentially make them bigger over time. They are particularly harsh on the mortar between the brick. And when they get up to where the eaves and gutters are, they can do a lot of damage. Both physical damage and damage due to moisture retention.
A Safer Ivy
Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) is not actually an ivy but is part of the grape family. It is actually the ivy that you frequently see growing on the walls of Ivy League colleges and at Wrigley Field in Chicago. It is deciduous unlike the evergreen English Ivy. Boston Ivy is spectacular in the fall, turning bright reds and other colors.
It attaches to buildings with little sticky pads instead of roots and for that reason doesn’t do much if any damage. If you do want to remove it, don’t pull it off while living. Cut the vine at the base and let the vine die before trying to take it off.