Some of these, like English ivy and wisteria, have ornamental value. Others, like Virginia creeper, are important sources of food for wildlife, as well as being highly ornamental. In a perfect world, all of them would be maintained or removed when they’re small plants.
Unfortunately, many people buy property that has vines rambling through flower beds and climbing up anything they can take hold of. Sometimes the previous property owner planted them as ornamentals and, unsupervised, the vines take over. Whatever the reason, if you have a vine you’re trying to get rid of, a few tactics could help in your efforts. First, consider trying to maintain the vine you’re about to remove. English ivy, Virginia creeper and cross vine can be brought in bounds with a little pruning. Many of these plants can take years to reach the stature they’ve achieved. These plants don’t become a problem overnight. Even the mighty kudzu can take years to cover a tree canopy.
You might want to consider this: What will replace the green mass when it’s gone? Is the vine really ‘that big of a problem?’ Can it be brought down to a manageable size if pruned? If you’re adamant about removing the plant, there are two ways to do it: physically, or with herbicides. The effort of pulling up the vine will vary with the plant. A well-established wisteria can be hard to remove, requiring the use of heavy equipment. On the other side of the spectrum, a young cross vine can be easily removed just by pulling it out.
If you’re not opposed to using herbicides, a combination of the two control measures can be the best plan of attack. Many vines, such as wisteria, kudzu and English ivy, can be partially controlled by simply cutting the vines a few inches above the ground and painting the freshly cut stem with a herbicide containing glyphosate (as in Roundup) or triclopyr (as in Brush-B-Gone). When you use any pesticide, always take time to read and follow the label instructions.
Since these are non-selective herbicides, they will kill anything that they touch. I always recommend cutting the vines about chest height. Then pull the lower pieces off of whatever they were climbing on, usually a tree, and lay them down on cardboard or a plastic bag. Then you can apply your herbicide without fear of damaging anything else. Of course, the vine that is left in the tree after you cut it will die and turn brown quickly. Although it can be unsightly, the stems eventually dry out and fall out of the tree in their own time.
The Cooperative Extension office gets lots of calls about controlling ivy on trees. People are concerned that ivy will kill their tree. Ivy will not damage a healthy tree. If a tree is in decline for another reason, then a heavy growth of ivy may contribute to the breakage of large branches. When ivy climbs high into the canopy of a tree, it becomes very heavy. When it rains, it gets even heavier and if we get one of Georgia’s ice storms, then that ivy can become dangerous. For that reason, I periodically remove the mature ivy on my trees.
What about the ivy on the ground? That ivy retains ground moisture and prevents weed growth. It also provides a perfect cover for snakes. Ivy on the ground can be controlled. Mow it down with a lawn mower or a weed eater, then fertilize it and water if (when it stops raining). What you are trying to do is to force new growth. When it puts out that new growth, uses a non-selective herbicide on it, let it work for two weeks, then repeat the whole procedure until the ivy is so weakened it just gives up. It’s a tough little vine but you can beat it.
Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cherokee or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.