Can Ivy Kill My Tree?

I’ve always loved the look of a huge old tree covered in ivy. For some reason it always makes me think of King Arthur or Robin Hood or other such stories. But there is always the question of whether or not the ivy damages the tree.

What is ivy, exactly? The most common type of ivy that you will see in Fairfax County is called English ivy. It is an evergreen vine that is sometimes used as groundcover, and also climbs trees, walls, fences, and anything else that it can find. At its full maturity the vine will grow seed balls and flowers at the top. The way it climbs is actually quite interesting:

“English ivy climbs up trees and walls by attaching with suction-cup-like roots called “hold fasts”… . These little attachments are so strong that they often need to be removed from walls with sandblasting.” (Read full article.)

Ivy does not directly kill trees. It is not a parasite so it does not directly take nutrients from the tree. It does, however, require all the same nutrients that the tree does, so they become competitors:

“Dense ivy cover deprives the tree’s bark of normal contact with air and microorganisms and competes with the tree for nutrients and water.” (Read full article.)

Person removing ivy from a large treeThe ivy also holds moisture against the tree’s bark, causing it to rot. The rot creates a pathway for bugs and diseases to enter the tree. If a tree is strong and healthy, this may not be a problem for it. But if the tree is already not doing well, this added struggle may be too much.

Talk to a Fairfax arborist to help you determine whether or not your ivy is a threat to your tree. It’s quite possible that all you need to do is trim is back a bit rather than remove it completely. If it’s at all possible to keep the ivy on my trees without injuring the tree, I would choose that solution in a heartbeat. Stay tuned for an article later this week on how to trim or remove ivy without damaging the tree.

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