English Ivy: Most Hated Plants

English Ivy destroys buildings and ecosystemsThink those ivy-covered towers are pretty? Unfortunately, English Ivy (Hedera helix) is one of the most pernicious, nasty, and destructive of the invasive plants because it not only destroys native habitat, it can also destroy your house.

That is why I’ve added English Ivy to the Most Hated Plants list.

We can thank some very early European colonists for bringing this plant to this country in their quest to create welcoming landscapes that reminded them of their home far away.

It continues to be sold in Home Depots and nurseries across the country for exactly the reasons that make it so invasive: it grows quickly and requires absolutely no maintenance. This makes it very convenient for Home Depot to continue to sell this plant even though it is destroying native ecosystems across the country. (I continue to dream that Home Depot and every store like them will wake up to the consequences of their actions, silly me).

English Ivy smothers and kills trees and shrubs

Hedera helix grows by spreading runners which climb over and smother anything and everything in their path including buildings, shrubs, and trees.

If you’re a homeowner, you REALLY do not want this plant climbing up your walls. The rootlets will burrow into masonry, eventually weakening them to the point of collapse. On wooden siding the dense cover retains moisture, which causes fungus and decay, while the rootlets pry apart siding and eventually rip your outer walls apart.

As a ground cover, the quick growth and dense cover shade out native plants and suppress their growth. In tree canopies, the enormous weight of the Ivy will eventually topple each tree. The rootlets burrow under the bark, causing fungus and decay while creating opportunities for disease to enter.

The weight of English Ivy topples trees

English Ivy is dangerous because it can spread very quickly through native woodlands, both by it’s creeping runners, and seed dispersal by birds who eat the berries. As it spreads, native species are lost and biodiversity is reduced until we are left with a very simplified ecosystem or monoculture that is unable to perform all ecosystem services which are essential to wildlife and human survival.

Every spring I fight what feels like a losing battle chasing down ivy runners that have sprung up in my garden because this plant is in every yard that surrounds my yard. It really makes me kind of cranky because while my neighbors are doing no maintenance of their properties, I am doing constant battle to keep this plant out of my yard.

So that’s my rant. What’s your most hated plant?

© 2010, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of EcosystemGardening.com If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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  1. Loret says

    I have two: in my garden Caesarweed (Urena lobata)..although pretty, it is a class I invasive on the FLEPPC.org list and constantly reseeds requiring constant weeding. I do think that maybe the recent freeze did it in tho….I need to mulch the area HEAVILY now to prevent those little seedlings from getting started up. Rapid invader that takes over and crowds out native plants.

    Outside my garden I’d choose Brazilian Pepper (Schinus terebinthifolia) because it is severely affecting the natural ecosystems by crowding out natives and I’ve seen firsthand what it is capable of in our local parks. It is actually a very pretty plant with berries enjoyed by birds…which readily carry and seed areas proliferating damage. It is a prohibited plant in Florida.

    On the subject of English Ivy, I recently got a book called “Wildlife-Friendly Plants” written by Rosemary Creeser which lists English Ivy as a choice and worse–uses it as a sample on how to plant a vine. I was appalled and plan to write a review of this book noting NOT to purchase or use it as a reference.

    Thanks for bringing up the subject!

    • Carole Brown says

      Loret: I wrote about Brazilian Pepper after a recent visit to Florida. That is one nasty plant!
      Authors who try to sell “wildlfe habitat gardening” books by recommending invasive plants are on my “most hated people” list! Just kidding, but it really makes me mad when folks try to jump on the wildlife habitat bandwagon and they are clueless. They are doing so much damage because people plant what they recommend. Can’t wait to read your review!

        • Carole Brown says

          Loret: You go girl! How can we convince folks that some plants are really harmful to wildlife and natural areas if people continue to spread misinformation in their books. We have to educate authors as well. Thanks.

      • Barb Miller says

        Carole I just wanted to point out that as an Englishwoman I know what I’m talking about when I say that English ivy, (with careful pruning around windows) has been growing on homes in England for centuries without them falling down! It also saves on painting the exterior but as our homes are built of brick and stone most homes in the US are built of very little except 2×4’s with a thin scree of cement over the top especially in the South in which case I would agree the house may fall down under the weight of the ivy.

  2. says

    I’m a bit hesitant to confess this, especially with my wisteria issue. I can absolutely do without…lemon balm. Yes, it’s nice in tea. Yes, it makes a lovely lemon bread. Yes, it re-seeds everywhere and puts down roots that take years of weeding to remove. UGH. No plant runs rampant in my yard like lemon balm. (Well except , you know…)

    • Carole Brown says

      Lisa, it’s very funny to compare Lemon Balm with Chinese Wisteria! I’ve never had a problem with Lemon Balm, but Chinese Wisteria is very, very bad in my neighborhood. I’m really glad I don’t have that problem too.

  3. says

    I’m glad to say that there is no English Ivy in my garden. I’m learning so much from what you share Carole; I have to agree that there are lots of books about wildlife and nature gardening which suggest plants I’d no longer choose. I can now pick them out pretty quickly from the ‘good’ ones and I choose not to write reviews of them because I can’t recommend them.
    .-= Alison Kerr´s last blog ..3/50 Supporting Local Business =-.

    • Carole Brown says

      Alison, I agree. You’ll notice there are many books on creating wildlife habitat gardens, bird gardens, butterfly gardens, etc that do not appear anywhere on these pages. Most folks don’t take the time to research a plant before they put it in their gardens, and any book that recommends invasives is causing way more harm than good in my opinion. Glad you’re learning about “good” plants for your garden!

  4. Elisa says

    Thank you! When I bought my house, 3 years ago, the property was infested with English Ivy. All the trees were covered in it, and it had already killed some of them. We’ve gotten it out of the trees (some of the vines were so thick they had to be sawed through) and are now battling it on the ground. It does indeed smother everything in its path. I don’t even want to think about how many hours I’ve spent pulling it up, and there is still so much of it out there. Unfortunately, my neighbor on one side has it in his yard, all along the property line, so I will never really be free of it.

    • Carole Brown says

      Elisa, blowtorch? Just kidding. Some of my neighbors are totally clueless about the endless aggravation they cause me. Keep up the good fight!

      • Linda Dean says

        Actually the blowtorch is an option. When my back and hands get tired from pulling, I DO turn the propane torch on it! Seems just as effective as pulling (at least on the short rootlets that break easily) and it is very satisfying to watch them fry!

        • Carole Brown says

          Linda, You’re cracking me up. I, too, sometimes find great pleasure in getting the torch out. Frying invasive plants feels really good!

  5. says

    I have empathy for you Carole! It is sad that we enter our gardens and sometimes see them as a battle ground! I knew English Ivy was bad but had no idea it was so destructive. You ask what is my most hated plant? Thank you for the opportunity to rant! I inherited Bishop’s Weed… also known as goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria L.) Horrid tenacious invasive plant. I could shout for hours about this pernicious creature, but will only say that I was nearly defeated by it… back in my more perennial gardening days. Now I have more shrubberies and small trees in the gardens. I simply cannot grow many delicate plants … most of my plants have to be thugs. Luckily there are many natives and other beloved flora that grow taller than bishop weed’s one foot height… with wider leaves too, and though they do not kill it (nothing can!), they do weaken the vigor of BW. I am working hard trying to keep it from spreading more. At least it cannot climb … and for that I am deeply thankful! Whenever I share some of my beloved garden plants, I have to present them as bare root… I am very fastidious so as never to give these criminals away. Here is a useful site to learn more so as to avoid this plant. http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact/aepo1.htm ;>))
    .-= Carolflowerhill´s last blog ..RAINBOW COLORS and a GARDEN PALETTE =-.

    • Carole Brown says

      Carol, Bishop Weed is my nemesis in the front yard. We pull and pull, and a week later it’s all over again. I totally sympathize with your plight! Yes, a place to have a good rant is always a good thing. You’re welcome to rant here any time you want!

  6. says

    I have neither English Ivy nor Wisteria in my yard, or near my yard, but I have seen it consume other people’s homes, so I do understand your contempt. As for me, I have a love/hate relationship with Gambel Oak, otherwise known as scrub oak. It has very specific growing requirements as far as elevation and soil, and I am “lucky” that it likes where my land lies. Everyone who sees it would like it, but if you have it, you can never really get rid of it. It’s roots are somewhat like Aspen trees, in that they form a kind of living colony underneath the soil. But, I do like them for their wildlife protection and erosion control. And, they don’t ever climb up peoples’ houses :)

    .-= Kathy Green´s last blog ..Frosting the Garden =-.

  7. Cheryl says

    Interesting — I bought an English Ivy at Home Depot last Spring (sorry, now that I know I won’t do it again). Anyway, I managed to kill it like many of the other plants that I love to death. I killed the Virginia Creeper too and they said that one was easy to grow.

  8. says

    Boy do we have a big ivy problem in our year round creek here in Northern Coastal California. The ivy must have come in from someone’s garden years ago. We are in the redwoods and the native plants are absolutely chocked with the invasive, non-native ivy. My young adult daughter arranged friends to hold a restoration day and they were able to pull a lot of it, but it’s a drop in the bucket. It grows intermingled with poison oak and needless to say some of them ended up with the rash in spite of our best efforts. The invasive ivy is a tragedy that confounds us. Thanks for getting the message out.
    Warm Regards, Cynthia Bailey MD
    .-= cynthia bailey md´s last blog ..Cynthia Bailey M.D.’s Recommendations for The Alkaline Mediterranean Diet =-.

    • Carole Brown says

      Cynthia, OUCH! Poison oak does not sound like fun at all. But kudos to your daughter for her interest in restoration! The whole reason for this feature (Most Hated Plants) is to try to educate folks that some (most?) of the plants sold at the big box stores and sadly many nurseries do not provide anything for wildlife, and in some cases are very dangerous for the environment.

  9. says

    The first plant that came to mind was Vinca minor. To me this plant is over-used in the home landscape and is becoming a greater threat to the native environment. I’ve seen excaped plants running rampant through the understory of woodland edges and blocking out native woodlanders like Canada Mayflower. Physical barriers, like stream beds, do moderate its spread.

    I’ve ripped out the vinca at my home and am replacing it with natives like 3-toothed cinquefoil (Sibbaldiopsis tridentata), Heuchera villosa, and Moss phlox.

    In regards to English Ivy, I think there was an artle in American Gardener last year on controlling and replacing the ivy. I’ll check and get back to you.


    • Carole Brown says

      Curtis, it’s amusing to me (NOT) that when my neighbors want something different than ivy, their first choice to replace it with is Vinca. I think these two plants must be the most-sold plants at most nurseries. Your blog is great. Welcome to the blogiverse! For those of you who haven’t seen his blog, click on his name and go check it out.

  10. Janet Allen says

    My most-hated plant is the kousa dogwood – not because it’s invasive, but because it has largely replaced native dogwoods in so many landscapes over much of the U.S. What a loss for our birds! Our native dogwoods – flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), pagoda dogwood (C. alternifolia), and shrub dogwoods such as gray dogwood (C. racemosa) have nutritious berries and provide prime nesting spots for many of our native birds. To me the kousa represents the triumph of landscaping just for ease and pretty flowers rather than with any sense of place or concern for native wildlife.
    Janet Allen
    Syracuse, NY

    • Carole Brown says

      It’s such a shame to me that the default choices offered by nurseries and big box stores are not native, because like you said, these exotics are reducing biodiversity and providing much less use for our native wildlife.

  11. Mary says

    just to illustrate some things

    It should rarely be considered necessary or appropriate to remove ivy from trees within a woodland setting, where it is an integral part of the native ecosystem. An experiment was carried out, from 1890-1942, where ivy was cut on half the trees in a wood, and left to its own devices on the rest. When the wood was felled in 1942 there appeared to be no difference in the height, average girth or cubic content of the trees. On the other hand, in parks and gardens where conditions have allowed it to grow unchecked, it can become quite a problem; choking the crowns of ornamental trees, swamping less vigorous shrubs and smothering walls and rockeries.

    Although rarely a problem to the tree, a dense covering of ivy over the trunk and throughout the crown of a mature specimen can inhibit essential safety checks, by limiting a visual inspection of the trunk and main branches. Where mature trees are growing in residential gardens often close to dwellings or public open space, it is important to be able to complete regular hazard assessments and monitor the decay of old wounds. In such circumstances it becomes essential to remove the ivy….)
    I wonder why people “hate” some animals or plants, maybe some personal problems that discharge on things that cannot hit back?? I wonder.

    • Carole Brown says

      Mary, while English Ivy may be part of the native ecosystem in Europe and the UK where you are located, it is definitely not native here in the US. It is a significant danger to native wildlife habitats, homes, and other buildings.

      It is not a “personal problem” to hate that native habitats are being destroyed by invasive plants, nor to care passionately about the wildlife who depend on those habitats.

      It is not a “personal problem” to be less than thrilled with those who continue to sell these destructive plants, or with those who continue to plant them.

      We must all begin to take responsibility for our own actions. Actions that are harmful to the environment or to beleaguered wildlife populations are selfish and detrimental.

      I’m working to help people make healthier choices.

      • mike says

        Hi Carole,
        I would like to add to Mary’s comment that you talk about “native” as though the whole world takes it for granted that you mean native to the USA! It’s taken me a few minutes to establish in what country exactly this website is based. (Maybe I missed something?) Please add to your “About” page that you are talking native to the USA! The Internet is global. In the UK, ivy is a very valuable wildlife habitat, as I’m sure you know.
        Otherwise, thanks for a great site.

  12. Suzanne says

    No one has posted here for nearly a year, so not sure if this will be read. I still have a very strong desire to rant about my most hated plant ever–Chameleon Plant–Houttuynia cordata!! I bought it at a local Fayetteville, Arkansas nursery when my perennial gardens were about three years old. I planted three four inch pots in two of my island beds. They spread beautifully for the first two to three years and were delightful. I even gave some to my friend to use as a groud cover under her shrubs in front of her new home. Then I realized what a mistake planting this had been. It started to take over every bit of both of my gardens, no matter how much I pulled or dug it up. The tiniest, most minute little piece of root left behind in the dirt will start another invasion of this plant. Round Up doesn’t do much to contain it. It continues to spread and overtake all the other plants in my gardens. The hours I have spent trying to get rid of this plant–to no avail! Last fall I actually had to Round Up one of my WHOLE perennial beds to see if I can eradicate this pest. It has grown into the grass around the island bed, too, so not sure how we are going to deal with that. May have to kill the grass four feet around the whole bed. My plan now is to till up all the dead plants and Round Up all the Chameleon plants that are sprouting all over the garden (of course they survived!), keep the garden covered with Preen all year and continue to spray Chameleon plants as they sprout. Maybe if I do this for two years I might be able to replant my garden. By then the soil will be depleated and filled with chemicals!! OH!!!!! NEVER, EVER plant this invasive weed in your garden! My friend never forgave me for giving her the Chameleon plant!! Back breaking work and spraying to try to keep it under control. It grew under her sidewalk and into the grass and into little crevices in the foundation and brick on her home. Sad thing is….this plant is still sold in local nurseries. It should be outlawed!!!

  13. says

    Bill Hilton writes in his blog, Hilton Pond, about the “virtues” of English ivy (href=”http://www.hiltonpond.org/ThisWeek110701.html” Pollinators aplenty: English Ivy mixed blessings). He says that the English ivy in his property is attracting numerous pollinators at a time when there aren’t any native flowers and suggests that we “should step back and view non-natives with less disdain until we understand better what roles they now play in their adopted habitats.”

    I find this attitude severely shortsighted. It is missing the fact that those pollinators are resorting to the alien plant because of the absence of their natural allies, the plants that they have co-evolved with. In other words, English ivy is behaving as a prosthesis, compensating to some extent for the damage that we, humans, have inflicted into the ecosystem. A more enlightened attitude would be to try to restore the flora that was there before (not an easy task, I realize, but a vital one). Here are my thoughts on this matter: http://pollinatingbee.blogspot.com/2011/07/wildlife-food-and-non-native-plants.html.

  14. Becky says

    OK, alll you bloggers. I read all about your hates and dislikes about ivy – but no sure cure. The roots of the ivy on one side of my driveway are solid with roots as big around as my wrist or larger. There is no dirt between the roots, it is that solid. Please offer me some suggestions. It is an awful thing, and when the leaves come – they go everywhere, also.

    Thanks, Becky

  15. Jane says

    Perhaps you could put the government to rights, which states in its pages for encouraging wildlife that
    “native ivy is one of the best wildlife plants of all, benefiting birds, mammals, butterflies, bees, hoverflies and other useful insects”

    • Carole Sevilla Brown says

      Jane, the trouble is English Ivy is NOT native here in the states, which is where I’m located. Here it is quite destructive and smothers the plants that are native to this area.

  16. Debbie Bowman says

    Maybe my Irish heritage but I so love english ivy! An early spring roosting site for many small birds and a late season pollinator for the bees!!! As I am living in a historic home with 2′ stone masonry here…. On the north side of this home I am setting it off! It will also have climbing hydrangea too. The forefathers who built this home had NO windows on the North side. I plan on utilizing this as a natural insulator. It is in fact documented for its effect on this. The Europeans knew this and readily recognize this fact. However, grown on aluminum siding or clapboard it can be a problem. Not all plants are a problem… just the placement and where they grow. And the only bad thing that I can see with this, is should someone try and rip it down!!! It actually holds the mortar together on an old home. I love ivy.
    And yes… there are worse, Mile a minute vine and the invasive bindweed. I’ll take my poison ivy any day too!!! The birds fancy the mature plant seeds and I’ll take my invasive Japanese honeysuckle too as the hummers fancy that too!

  17. Pierre says

    I spent ten days disentangling an ivy invasion of a fence shared with my neighbor’s house that was just sold, allowing me to go for the kill after years of neglect. The chain-link fence had wire and stems that had been eaten up by the ivy stalks. Next time, I’ll just rip up the fence with the ivy on it and replace the fence. That ivy is a real pest. Fortunately, it is easily ripped up in its early stages, but better now than later!

  18. JPS says

    Hi Carole,

    I agree that Hedera helix can be a bit of a thug but I have a few points that are worth mentioning: the rootlets you mentioned are adventitious roots. These shouldn’t cause damage to buildings if they are well built and have good, well-pointed mortar. It can be damaging to older brickwork where the mortar is already crumbly. Ivy also doesn’t generally kill trees. Ivy only has enough weight to fell a tree unless that tree is already weak and dying. It is a bully and does take work to keep in control but it isn’t always as damaging as you’d expect.


  1. […] English Ivy grows fast and is easy to maintain, exactly why is continues to be sold. But it can ruin your house and destroy native habitat by shading out all native plants. […]

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  3. […] by the current occupant. It sits neglected and sad and becomes a jungle of invasive Morning Glory, English Ivy, and Sweet Autumn Clematis vines as the season progresses. These invasive vines strangle everything […]

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