While multiple stories on the web tout using white vinegar to get rid of ivy — "just spray it on, and it will be gone!" — this is an exaggeration at best. Vinegar has proved to be an effective herbicide in some cases, but household vinegar, such as white vinegar, usually has an acetic acid concentration of just 5 percent, which is not high enough to have a lasting impact on most plants, especially hardy plants like ivy.
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You can have good luck using vinegar to get rid of ivy, but there are several caveats. The most common ivy in home gardens in the United States is English ivy (Hedera helix), a climbing vine that clings and easily attaches to just about any support.
Vinegar as an Herbicide
Vinegar is an effective herbicide in many cases, but the concentration of its key ingredient, acetic acid, matters. To have any luck controlling persistent, unwanted plants like ivy, use a horticultural concentration, which is 20 percent. White vinegar or any other vinegar in your pantry will have only a 5 percent concentration. Further, vinegar is what is called a "contact" herbicide, meaning that vinegar, when applied to a plant, destroys the plant's cell membranes — but only those with which it actually comes into contact. That means spraying ivy leaves may kill the leaves, but the roots will remain unaffected. You may think you're looking at a dead ivy vine when in fact, it's merely preparing to throw out new growth.
But don't think that because you are using "vinegar" — that common household item that you splash into salads and sauces every day — you are working with a safe alternative to chemical herbicides, as horticultural vinegar is highly toxic. In fact, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study on the toxicity values of pesticides and other products reported that its level of toxicity was higher than that of glyphosate, or RoundUp; that is, it took less acetic acid than glyphosate to kill rats in a lab test, reports Ohio State University.
The upshot is that when you are using vinegar with a high concentration of acetic acid, take all the safety precautions you would take when using any other type of chemical herbicide. Protect your skin and eyes from any potential splashes, as concentrations of just 11 percent have been known to cause skin burns and permanent corneal injury. In addition, make sure you avoid spraying it on any plants you wish to keep.
How to Spray Vinegar to Eradicate Ivy
Vinegar will work best for young plants; established ivy vines are unlikely to succumb to a vinegar spray no matter the concentration.
A typical vinegar spray recipe is 1 gallon of vinegar and 1 cup of castile soap mixed together in a garden sprayer. That's it. Don't water it down. Be sure to spray the leaves thoroughly until they are wet, and wait until a calm, dry, warm day when there is no rain in the forecast.
Keep children, pets, or anyone else who's not wearing protective gear away from the treated areas until the vinegar has thoroughly dried.
After 24 hours, the leaves should wilt and turn brown. Repeated treatments will increase the likelihood of slowing its growth or even killing it if the vine is very young. If you have an established ivy vine, however, it's probably time to start thinking about getting out your machete, shovel, and pickaxe because it's likely that the vine will defy your attempts to vinegar spray it.