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You're probably talking about English ivy, an alien, invasive evergreen that climbs trees as well as creeps over the ground, rooting everywhere. Birds spread the seeds into woodlands, where it overwhelms everything in its path, destroying wildflowers and other natural vegetation over many acres. Boston Ivy is a non-evergreen, alien vine, and poison ivy is native to North America. All of these climb trees and may overwhelm them with weight, leading to the falling of limbs or even entire trees on rare occasions. But they are not parasitic, that is, they do not suck the life out of trees as some people are convinced.

Whatever kind of vine you have, there is a relatively non-toxic, earth-friendly herbicide (weed killer) called triclopyr. This is the technical name for the ingredient in many products. One product that is available to the homeowner is called "Vine-X", and it works for me. It contains vegetable oil, which makes the triclopyr penetrate bark, so all you have to do is paint it on (with the applicator bottle) to the bottom foot or so of the vines, and it kills the whole vine, roots and all. It's amazing. You don't have to go about spraying, with all the dangers of drift onto desireable vegetation and people. Triclopyr breaks down in the soil quickly, leaving no residue, and according to the online report on pesticide safety, it is virtually non-toxic to people and mammals. The U.S. Park Service uses it in combating alien plants, so you know it's environmentally benign. I work at a nature education facility, where we use it in wetlands. It is the herbicide of choice for use near water. I have been using a professional formulation called Pathfinder (basically the same formulation as Vine-X in bulk), and it has successfully killed the many invasive alien plants that I trunk-painted with it. It will kill even trees with trunks up to 6" in diameter, as well as most other vegetation except for most grasses, so you do need to be careful what it touches. Be careful not to get it onto any roots or leaves of anything you want to keep. It will eventually kill Bermuda grass with repeated applications, and some other warm-season grasses such as St. Augustine grass, but it won't kill bluegrass or fescues, or any grass that is dormant. Most formulations of herbicide containing Triclypyr (brush killers) also contain more hazardous chemicals such as 2,4-D, a known mutagenic agent, so read the label if you search for alternatives.

Glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) will also kill woody plants like Ivy, if you cut and paint the stump with the full-strength regular formula (or 40% Glyphosate). This is also a very safe and earth-friendly herbicide. Whichever herbicide you choose, it is best applied in summer or fall, even winter. You may have success applying in the spring, but since fluids are flowing up from the roots now, little if any of the chemical will move into the roots, which is what will kill the whole plant. Aways read the directions for the safety of yourself, others and the environment before using any pesticide.

Don't let anybody convince you that hand pulling English Ivy is going to get rid of it. To succeed, you would have to return to pull the inevitable root sprouts over and over again until it is finally all gone. It is very difficult to kill. Whatever herbicide you use, expect to have to re-apply in some areas.

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Q: What chemical substance will destroy ivy?
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