Crabapples with vole damage. Note the English ivy being used as a ground cover. Photo: Tim Abbey, Penn State
English ivy (Hedera helix) is a non-native woody, perennial vine that has been used extensively in landscapes, primarily as a ground cover. English ivy reproduces from seed that is dispersed by birds when they eat the fruit. It can also spread vegetatively and can root from cut vines or stems.
The plant grows vertically as it attaches to various structures, but it also becomes a ground cover when it can’t grow upwards. When left to grow unchecked, it will climb up into trees and eventually cover the foliage, which kills the branches. It also adds considerable weight to the tree making it more susceptible to limb breakage or complete failure. When English ivy is utilized as a ground cover, it can grow up against landscape shrubs and trees. This can make them susceptible to rodent damage by providing hiding places where the voles and mice can feed undisturbed. English ivy growing vertically on buildings uses root-like structures to anchor itself. This makes it extremely difficult to just pull off of the structure, and can eventually damage the structure itself. Finally, it is a reservoir host for the bacterial leaf scorch that is a serious disease that affects oaks, maples and other native trees.
Vole damage associated with using English ivy as a ground cover. Photo: Tim Abbey, Penn State
This is a tough plant to manage once it has established itself as a ground cover and vine. Hand-pulling or mowing as much as possible is a good mechanical start. Young regrowth foliage is more susceptible to an herbicide application because the leaves are less waxy. Glyphosate (Roundup and others) or triclopyr (Garlon) can be applied to young foliage or to the stem/vine by cutting and applying directly into the wound. The “glove of death” can also be used for precise foliar application. If you are not familiar with this method, put on a chemical resistant glove (nitrile and some rubber ones can be used) then put on a fabric or cotton glove. Apply concentrated glyphosate or triclopyr on the outer glove then touch the plant.
Always read pesticide labels carefully to determine if its use is appropriate for the desired pest management and always apply it according to the label.