The Annual War on English Ivy

Making my yard safe for mankind

english ivy, bill heavey, washington d.c. suburbs
The tools of battle.By the author

Spring has never stuck around long in the D.C. area but now—with heavier-than-normal rain every three days being the new normal and a thermometer that has lost its bearings—it's about as rare as the Eastern whip-poor-will. It's 83 outside and feels like we're already slipping into summer. In the D.C. area, that means stay-inside air-pollution alerts, mosquitoes, and ungodly humidity. The river, swollen from the recent rains, is unfishable. I fear that the perch are already leaving.

But on a day like this, I’m determined to reconnect with the natural world. Some pull in the blood leads me outside, armed with a long-handled screwdriver my dad bought in the ’50s, the yellow folding saw I take into treestands, and the Felco hand pruners I inherited from my mom. I go to do battle with the English ivy covering my rented house. Left unchecked, it might strangle any small child chasing a ball into my backyard.

English ivy is an invasive scourge that attaches to things—it adores brick, for example—using its hairy roots to secrete a composite adhesive like Crazy Glue. To kill it, you jimmy or ram the screwdriver blade under the vine and pry it off far enough to cut using the saw or pruners. And then you verbally insult whatever remains and move on to the next vine. The cut vine that has grown 15 feet above your reach will die in time, although it may take years to fall off. The curly brown dead leaves will look unsightly in the meantime, although not to me. They are proof of my victory.

I return inside to my desk feeling like I’ve accomplished something tangible. I have beaten back the English ivy. At some point—tomorrow or the next day—I’ll field dress it, tying it into bundles no longer than 3 feet that I’ll place by the curb for collection. And, God willing, we’ll meet again next spring.