Free the Tree (a mini Weed Wrangle®)

“Smothered and Covered” works great for hashbrowns at Waffle House, but not for trees in your yard.
When invasive vines smother and cover trunks and branches, the tree—eventually—is toast.

Look around. It’s winter. Are shade trees casting shade from twigs that should be bare?
Are elms and hackberries magically green from soil to sky?

The green is not magic, it is bad.
The green will be English ivy and/or Wintercreeper: the two invasive vines most likely to graduate from ground-cover to tree-cover.
Both are evergreen, nearly indestructible, and spread like mad, which were the very attributes that brought them to this country as landscape darlings.
Now, they are landscape thugs.

Free the Tree!

Here’s why:
English Ivy and Wintercreeper. . . 

  • rob trees of nutrients and water.
  • block the sunlight trees need to make food.
  • add weight to branches and act as a wind-sail.
  • weaken bark against fungi, bacteria, and damage by animals.
  • destroy native habitat. By removing invasives from our yards, we slow their spread, and give a boost to biodiversity. 

Vines are natural, you may say, and you’d be right. But English ivy and Wintercreeper are not here by nature. Both vines evolved in other parts of the world, where they are subject to checks and balances from plants and creatures who evolved alongside.
But in North America, nothing checks or balances these plants except a sharp blade.

To be sure what English ivy and Wintercreeper look like, look at these photos at the Tennessee Invasive Plant Council:
Hedera helix (English ivy); Euonymus fortunei (Wintercreeper).
Note that both plants are still for sale at conventional nurseries (Bates, Home Depot, etc.), despite the fact they are on the Invasive list, and despite the fact that our Natural Areas spend millions of dollars and thousands of labor hours every year to try and kill them.

But, other vines climb, too.
How can you know what’s what?

If it’s evergreen and not the two thugs pictured above, it could be Periwinkle / Vinca, another common nursery plant on the Invasive list. But Periwinkle tends to smother and cover the ground, not the sky.

Don’t mistake our evergreen Crossvine for a thug. Crossvine is a native with huge red blooms that hummingbirds love. It does climb via tendrils, but is comparably easy to pull down and redirect.

native Crossvine in winter

Other common, native vines in Nashville drop their leaves in fall: Virginia Creeper, Grapevines, Trumpet vine, and Poison ivy. I keep some of these, but I move them to a trellis or wall or brushpile. (Even I don’t keep Poison ivy, although it is a beneficial plant in natural areas, where it feeds insects and birds.)

Thin vines: Clip stems a foot or so above the ground, and then (gently) pull the lower end from the tree and from soil. Try to create a 2-foot circle of vine-free zone around the tree.

Thick vines: With a pruning saw, sever stem without cutting the tree. Make a second cut about 2 inches below the first. Pry the 2” section free. This gap severs the vine’s lifeline. The vine above the gap will die and eventually fall off.
The vine below the gap, meanwhile, will try to climb again.
Be vigilant about clipping fresh growth until vine roots surrender. 
(But do resist the temptation to rip thick vines off bark: you don’t want to kill your tree while freeing it.)

mind the gap

To hasten the process, brush the vine’s freshly cut “wound” with herbicide (without getting poison on anything else!).
Or, you can cut and dig as much of the vine’s root as possible. This is admittedly difficult when vines are multi-stemmed and long-established. 

Here’s a good DIY for a root-removal method.

And here’s a video showing how to tackle a massive ivy infestation. 

“Smothered & Covered” hashbrowns = YES.

“Smothered & Covered” trees = NO.


• Not everyone grew up eating in sticky booths at Waffle House, so here’s an article for the uninitiated: Everything You Need to Know About Waffle House: a Brief History of the Beloved 24-hour Southern Diner Icon, at

• The official Weed Wrangle® started right here in Nashville. The next state-wide, one-day, volunteer effort to rid public lands of invasive plants is March 6th.
But, any day is a good day for an At-Home Weed Wrangle®, when we remove exotic plants from our own yards.

Native alternatives for exotic landscape plants (for Tennessee)

• (how your yard can help restore biodiversity)

3 thoughts on “Free the Tree (a mini Weed Wrangle®)

  1. I found poison ivy growing up my willow last year. Thankfully, I was able to wrangle it off without damaging my epidermis! It’s thankfully the only vine on my trees….but thanks for the info!

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