If gardeners or would be gardeners take just one piece of advice away from my blog let it be this: never, ever, EVER be tempted to plant a climbing ivy at the base of or near to the walls of your house. I agree, pictures of ivy clad homes look charming and olde world and often conjure up thoughts of an idyllic way of life, reminiscent of quintessential villages, serving cream teas at the weekly cricket match. However, behind the beauty lies a sinister, dark secret which makes those of us that know think not of the creeping beauty but of an attack of the Triffids …… you see ivy isn’t as innocuous as you might think. Far from it. Ivy is in fact, intent on world domination and can reduce the creations of mankind to rubble, quite literally and what is more, Ivy is nigh on impossible to destroy, short of using nuclear strength weed killers which would then render an entire section of your garden useless for millennia. Well, okay, maybe not millennia but you know what I mean!
At the end of my last post I briefly mentioned my ongoing battle with the Ivy growing up the side and over the roof of our bathroom. For reasons which will become obvious, I have named this Ivy plant Rasputin.
Rasputin was planted back in around 2008, a smallish, unprepossessing specimen which we thought would provide a lovely blanket of ground cover, adding to the cottage garden look. What we failed to take into account back then, was the natural tendency for ivy to spread in all directions and its’ ability to climb. Even when the first tendrils started to creep up the wall we thought nothing of it, believing in our ability to trim back and train the growth of the plant, to curtail its’ progress.
As the years progressed, Rasputin climbed higher and higher, covering what was an ugly section of the extension and so we weren’t unduly worried and each year I trimmed back the topmost branches and side shoots, thinking to limit the overall spread. However (and to be fair to Ivy plants everywhere), pruning is both beneficial to most plants and encourages thicker growth as the plant sends out new shoots from below the newly pruned area. In our case the Ivy flourished in its’ shaded position and relished each pruning as an opportunity to spread itself thicker …. every where.
By last year, things had reached worrying proportions. In spite of a long, hard winter and the prolonged cold snap which saw spring delayed until summer, where most of the garden plants remained in hibernation, Rasputin continued to wend its’ merry way up, across and over the walls and roof. I nipped and snipped but to no avail and even a liberal coating of a systemic ‘touch’ weed killer failed to make an impression, bar a few brown leaves but as the rains hit just after this application and then stayed for the rest of the summer, I assumed that the poison simply hadn’t had time to work.
Back in February this year began another campaign against this really annoying plant. I had read that a liberal amount of salt and white wine vinegar applied to the leaves of a plant would kill it but care needed to be taken that other plants weren’t dosed by accident, as these would also die off, such was the potency of this mixture. I carefully sprayed the leaves of the Ivy, taking care to protect the Hosta and Vinca which are also growing in that bed. Over a period of six weeks I applied the salt and vinegar mixture three times and at first I thought it was working. Leaves were turning brown and withering but I soon realised that for every withered and brown leaf a whole new tendril had been sent out – Rasputin was not to be felled so easily.
Next I reapplied the systemic ‘touch’ weed killer, in copious quantities and waited and waited and waited and was frustrated and dimayed to see that far from keeling over the darn plant was putting out yet more new growth!!!!! This was when I named it!
A spray weed killer was next in my arsenal. I had bought it to deal with the weeds on the gravel paths and front drive but I decided to spray the new growth on the roof. Two weeks later and the paths and driveway were dotted with the withered brown remnants of once healthy weeds. Over at the extension, Rasputin was thriving!
Another trawl through Google and I came across a suggestion that pouring boiling water onto the root ball, on a regular basis would do the job and so every other day or so for several weeks, I carefully delivered a freshly boiled kettle load of water to the roots. This time the leaves at the base of the plant started to die back en mass! Could it be that I had finally stumbled across something that worked? No! For as much as the leaves around the base were brown and so were some of those climbing the wall, the vast majority of the plant was still a healthy, vibrant green, spreading ever further along the wall and over the roof!
What I hadn’t realised was that the plant had more than one root system! Over the years, as it spread, it had developed roots in other places and there was now more than one thick stem, off which the smaller branches were shooting. Frustrated and thoroughly fed up I abandoned my attack for the time being.
Working outside on the flower bed on Friday was very therapeutic but as I straightened up after the last plant was planted, I found myself facing the Ivy covered wall and roof and realised that in the short period of time since I had last tried to defeat it, it had spread even further and the state of the bathroom roof was a real concern.
“Right!” I said, “Time to sort you out once and for all!”
Armed with my secateurs, I approached the offending plant and proceeded to clear away all the brown leaves from the root ball and snipped and pulled the stems out of the ground. Some of them were very brittle which leads me to think that the boiling water would have worked had I continued down that route and also poured it onto the other rooted stems which were now clearly visible. I was able to remove quite a bit of the growth on the lower part of the wall but had to be careful not to remove the render along with the vines and so as soon as I felt resistance whilst pulling a vine off the wall, I stopped and cut through the branch. Once I had safely removed all I could, I snipped through all of the remaining stems at the base of the wall so that the plant was no longer attached in any way shape or form to the roots.
“Beat that!” I muttered in a maniacal tone of voice as I carted armfuls of Ivy vines away.
By Sunday I noticed a little bit of leaf wilt and so in between helping Mud beat Bonnies wing back into shape, I had another go at the Ivy. To my delight, more of the branches came away easily from the wall and before long I had a lovely, large patch of bare(ish) wall. You can see from the pictures where the vines had attached themselves to the render and I suspect the paintwork will bare the scars of the Ivy for a long time to come.
My fingers are crossed that I will have been able to remove the remainder of the vines on the wall in just a few days or maybe a week or two but I am still concerned that the roof will prove a touch more difficult. You see I’m not entirely sure but I suspect the roof vines are getting water from the guttering and so I will have to get up a ladder and have a look and see the damage for myself. Unfortunately, as the guttering is plastic boiling water is not a viable solution but in respect of the main body of the plant, of all the methods I employed, I would say that boiling a kettle of water to pour over the root ball, every few days for several weeks, would appear to have been the most successful.