Ivy's lush ground cover and evergreen, high-climbing vines have enticed many a gardener to add the ornamental to their landscaping. But ivy will quickly show its aggressive, invasive plant, noxious weed side when it chokes out other ground dwelling plants, weighs down trees, and damages the structures it climbs upon.
If any type of creeping, climbing, or stinging ivy is menacing your yard, you'll have to be just as aggressive in your eradication efforts. Killing ivy with vinegar is possible, but you'll need to be persistent. Using a vinegar formula or, preferably, a horticultural vinegar concentration will most likely require repeat treatments.
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Vinegar works as an herbicide for the following ivy types:
- English ivy (Hedera helix), also called common ivy and European ivy
- Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata), also called Japanese ivy
- Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
Can You Kill Poison Ivy With Vinegar?
Yes, you can kill poison ivy plants with vinegar. That said, note that it works best to control the growth of the plant, not kill it entirely.
Expert gardener and horticulturalist, Teo Spengler, tells Hunker that "when horticultural vinegar is sprayed on perennial weeds like ground ivy, it's not likely to kill the plant. Repeated applications will kill the leaves as they appear."
Killing Ivy With Vinegar, Soap, and Salt
- Combine 1 gallon of white or apple cider vinegar, 1 oz. of liquid soap, and 1 tbsp. of salt in an empty bucket.
- Pour the formula into a garden sprayer or spray bottle.
- If treating ground ivy, go over the plant with a mower first so the formula can enter the cuts and be more effective. Collect all mowing clippings so the ivy doesn't spread new growth.
- If treating climbing vines, use gardening shears to cut into the vine so the formula can enter the wound.
- On a day with calm winds and no rain in the forecast, thoroughly spray the ivy leaves until they are wet. After 24 hours, the leaves should wilt and turn brown.
- Repeat treatments as needed until the ivy vine has died.
- If repeated treatments only kill foliage, but don't kill the entire vine, you may need to use more physical removal methods, such as a garden shovel, pickaxe, and machete, to clear the ivy.
- Throw away removed ivy immediately. New growth can still sprout from cut or damaged vines, so don't place any cleared ivy in your compost pile.
- Cover the area where you've removed the ivy with 6 to 8 inches of mulch.
Keep children, pets, or anyone else who's not wearing protective clothing and gear away from the treated areas until the vinegar has thoroughly dried.
Why This Formula Works
Vinegar is an acetic acid, a commonly used weed killer. Salt dehydrates plants. The combination of the acetic acid in the vinegar and the salt will dry up moisture and kill the English ivy plant. Adding liquid soap enhances the effectiveness of the vinegar. Vinegar, soap, and salt make a powerful remedy for unwanted weeds and plant life.
The most common vinegar, household and cooking vinegar, has a relatively low level of acetic acid. This home remedy of salt and vinegar may need to be reapplied to manage older, stubborn plants. Be sure to apply the solution to both the plant and the roots and surrounding soil.
Does Vinegar Permanently Kill Ivy?
Vinegar can permanently kill ivy, but you have to get your timing right. You’ll have the highest chance of success at eliminating ivy if you treat new growth, rather than well-established ivy. New growth leaves are less waxy, making them more susceptible to herbicide treatment. Cutting the leaves first will also enhance the effectiveness of any herbicide or vinegar treatment.
Still, since ivy is so hardy, expect to check back on the growth and apply more treatments if any new sprouts appear.
Spengler says vinegar will only kill the leaves that have emerged. "It will not preclude foliage emerging after application," she says.
Horticultural Vinegar as an Herbicide
Vinegar is an effective herbicide in many cases, but the concentration of its key ingredient, acetic acid, matters. You'll have more luck killing ivy with vinegar when using 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 with gardening gloves, long pants, and a shirt with long sleeves. And protect your eyes with goggles from any potential splashes, as concentrations of 11 percent or greater have been known to cause skin burns and serious eye injuries, even blindness. In addition, make sure you avoid spraying it on any plants you wish to keep.
Physically Removing Ivy
Sometimes, using a vinegar spray or other chemical herbicide just doesn't permanently eradicate the ivy plants. Despite your dedication, you may notice hydra-like sprouts reappearing every time you think you've successfully killed a vine.
More established ivy leaves will have developed a thick, waxy coating, protecting them from vinegar treatment and can even make them tolerant to chemical treatments like RoundUp. At this point, physical removal is your best chance at getting rid of ivy.
Here are the best tips for manual removal of ivy:
- Ivy vines are more easily pulled out all the way to the ivy roots when the soil is moist. Choose the day after a rain to start your ivy removal endeavor.
- Remove and bag seed heads and flowers as you see them to cull spreading.
- Regularly mow ivy ground cover and collect clippings.
- Cut and remove as much of the root as possible, then add an 8-inch layer of mulch to smother any remaining ivy.