Don’t plant ivy: It’s just not worth it

Ivy is evil.

OK: I’m only a little serious. But in the maritime Northwest, Hedera helix — in Latin it even sounds dastardly — is one of the most destructive plants around.

It is too vigorous for its own good. It climbs trees and eventually strangles them while edging out other native plants as it bulldozes the ground, providing nests for rats.

You can see ivy doing its evil bidding in just about any natural urban environment in Snohomish County, especially in parks with tall trees, and even in my own Edmonds backyard where I beat it back regularly.

It starts out innocent, but with its eventually enormous woody arms that grow as thick as tree trunks, it can tear down fences and ruin wildlife habitat in no time at all.

Four types of English ivy are so bad they are considered noxious weeds by Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board.

They are Class C noxious weeds. That doesn’t mean they’re banned, but that counties can legally control them protect crops and other public interests.

Garden centers can sell ivy, these kudzus of the Northwest.

Of course, it is easy to get sucked into ivy as a stunning ornamental. English gardens have always made beautiful use of the woody, evergreen groundcovers that climb.

On a recent night out in Ballard, I noticed a most enchanting planting of ivy, (pictured here) among smooth river rocks. It really made me want to open my mind to some of the other 400 varieties of ivy.

Could just a little ivy, such as these vines so plaintively climbing iron fencing on an unmarked building in a heavily industrialized area of Seattle, actually be OK?

I pitched my question to the Master Gardeners at the WSU Snohomish County Extension and ended up talking to an expert at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens in Seattle.


No. It’s not really OK.

According to Rebecca Alexander, a plant answer line librarian at the esteemed Elisabeth C. Miller Library, it’s not worth it. She studied my photos and said this in an email:

“If you notice, there are tree limbs close to the fence, and I am certain that, unless this ivy is rigorously maintained, the vines will easily reach the tree and continue climbing.

This is what is happening in my own garden, where a neighbor has a ‘cute’ variegated ivy in a pot against our shared fence. After the first year or so, it was growing through the fence, losing its variegation and climbing a tall viburnum, which overhangs our rhododendrons.

Even if an ivy variety does not produce fruit, it can still be a major nuisance and hazard if it is climbing through the landscape and weighing down branches and limbs of shrubs and trees.

My feeling is that although this is an interesting way of covering a fence, it’s not worth the risk of unleashing a potentially invasive plant. It might look like a low-maintenance landscaping choice but to keep it under control, vigilance will be necessary.”




Don’t plant ivy.

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