Save your trees, remove English ivy

Wardour’s trees need your help. Preserving the beautiful old specimen trees that grew along the bluffs was one of Elizabeth Giddings’s top priorities when she chose Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. to design the Wardour neighborhood. Their collaboration gave the neighborhood its character as a park or woodland shaded by ancient canopy trees. These trees are not only beautiful but crucial to air and water quality along the Chesapeake Bay. A mature tree can sequester up to a ton of carbon, intercepts storm water in its leaf canopy, and soaks up and filters water that would carry pollutants to the Bay.

English ivy (Hedera helix) is threatening trees in our yards and common areas, and throughout the region. Along Weems Creek, College Creek, Rowe Boulevard, Rt. 450 and Rt. 50, English ivy is killing canopy trees, and it will be detrimental to water quality when these trees come down. These areas look shabby, but Wardour doesn’t need to. At a time when there is a big city, county, and state effort to plant more trees, and increase natural habitat, it is unwise and expensive to neglect existing trees. 

We invite you to dedicate some time on Earth Day to removing English ivy from your trees. We also share information here on how to remove ivy from the ground and what to plant instead.

Why remove ivy?

  1. Ivy kills trees.

The weight of mature ivy vines weakens trees and makes it more likely for them to fall in a storm. Dense mats of ivy on tree trunks kill trees by blocking their access to light, air, and nutrients. Ivy can also harbor diseases like bacterial leaf scorch, potentially fatal to oaks, maples, sycamores, and elms.

  1. Ivy encourages mosquitoes.

Both the stiff ivy leaves themselves and the moisture that collects under mats of ivy are ideal mosquito habitats. Removing ivy from your property will reduce the mosquito population.

  1. Birds spread English ivy.

When the ivy gets up into trees, it flowers and sets seed. The birds spread the seed to other properties and woodlands.

  1. Ivy crowds out other plants that are useful to pollinators and wildlife.

Where to start? Remove from trees

Create a “ring of life” by clipping ivy vines around the base of the trunk of the tree. Don’t pull the severed vines off of the trees, which can damage the bark. The vines will fall off on their own. Then hand pull ivy from the ground, clearing a 3-foot radius around the tree. For small vines, just snip with yard clippers. Large ropes of ivy on a tree trunk will need careful cutting with a saw. Ivy is easiest to pull from the ground after a rainfall or if you have wet down the area.

Wear gloves! Some people get contact dermatitis from English ivy, and Poison ivy is starting to come up at this time of year and may be hiding in ivy beds.

Disposal of ivy. Pulled ivy will re-sprout if left in contact with the soil. You can let it brown in your driveway, compost it, or bag it.

This video by a watershed steward for Anne Arundel County covers the techniques for removal and disposal:

What next? Remove and replace with native ground covers

There are many native ferns and flowering plants that will thrive in the shady areas that ivy also likes. But these plants will bring pollinators, butterflies, and songbirds to your garden rather than mosquitoes.

Removing ivy from the ground may take a while if you have a lot of it, but isn’t particularly difficult because ivy vines grow along the surface of the ground and their roots are shallow (which is why ivy isn’t a good solution for preventing erosion on a slope). You can simply pull the vines by hand. Or use a shovel to cut through the vines, outlining a 3-foot strip. You’ll probably find you can just roll up the strip like a rug.

Local nurseries like Bay Ridge and Homestead Gardens have dedicated sections for native perennials, shrubs, and trees. The Maryland Native Plant Society keeps a list of native plant sales :


Flowering perennials


Further reading

Trees and clean water, Chesapeake Bay Foundation