Choking Hazard – English Ivy Threatens Virginia’s Trees

By Caroline Haynes

ARMN volunteer removes English ivy off a suffocating tree. Photo by R. Olsen.

To the passing eye, English ivy seems like a lovely little green plant. But, it is actually a serious threat to the beautiful trees that give yards and neighborhoods shade and character.

Ivy strangles trees. It can accelerate tree rot by holding moisture close to the tree bark, while also stealing the trees’ nutrients and water. This aggressive little green plant can actually cause mature trees to fall down during storms by adding massive weight to overburdened branches.

“Our trees add financial value to our properties and quality to our lives. That is why we’ve invested so much time and money into landscaping, nurturing and maintaining our trees and gardens,” said Nora Palmatier, President of TreeStewards of Arlington and Alexandria.  “The investment is worth it. Unfortunately, English ivy is a threat to that investment.”

Ivy is a threat to our trees, but it is a beatable one. Caroline Haynes, President of Arlington Regional Master Naturalists, recommends that all home and property owners protect their trees and landscaping investments by cutting ivy away from trees using these simple steps:

  1. Use garden clippers to cut all ivy vines at the bottom around the entire trunk of all infested trees.
  2. Create a cleared “life saver ring” around the tree by pulling all ivy vines from the ground for at least 2 feet in a circle around the tree.
  3. Leave the cut ivy vines  on the tree. Do not pull it off because that could harm the tree. The cut ivy will die back and blow off the tree over the next year.

The TreeStewards and Master Naturalists have joined forces to rid Arlington of this invasive species. Membership in the TreeStewards requires graduation from an initial 40 hours training course, annual continuing education and at least 20 hours of volunteer service. There are currently 55 members in the Arlington and Alexandria area who provided over 3,000 hours of service in 2011. Master Naturalists graduate from a 60-hour training course and complete 40 hours of community service annually and 8 hours of continuing education. There are currently 140 members in the community who contributed over 9,000 hours of volunteer service in 2011.

“TreeStewards and Master Naturalists often hear comments from well-meaning people about ivy’s beauty at information tables or while volunteering,” Haynes said. “Yet, our members know the real dangers of English ivy and other invasive plants. We hope our neighbors will follow this advice and protect their trees from a real choking hazard.”

If you would like to learn more about removing ivy from your trees or have questions about tree care, leave a comment at www.Tree or

Educational Resources:

Download a 2-page brochure to share.

Download a PDF presentation to share.

Download a powerpoint presentation to share.

These materials were developed for TreeStewards and Arlington Regional Master Naturalists under a grant from the Tree Canopy Fund of Arlington, Virginia. These materials, created by Biodiversity Project of Chicago, may be adapted and distributed by anyone who wants to protect their trees.

For plants that are great alternatives to English Ivy, click here.

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