Sunday, November 15, 2009

How to get vines off trees

It’s tree banding season in Charlotte, part of an annual effort to combat cankerworms, which exploded in 2008, leaving weakened and dying trees in their path.

The city spent more than $1 million that year to fight the infestation.

Trees in the spring of 2009 showed little damage from the pests; still, people are banding trees now to prevent a repeat of spring 2008.

But in many Charlotte neighborhoods, there’s a first step: clearing invasive vines from the trees.

Yes, the vines, especially wisteria, can be pretty and offer refuge for birds. But particular invasive species crowd out native species, can swallow trees whole and can also provide a path for nasty creatures like the pervasive cankerworms to climb the trees. The vines can even sneak under tree bands, creating highways for cankerworms.

Here’s how to get invasive vines off trees. It works for vines such as English ivy, wisteria, poison ivy and honeysuckle.

Boots or solid shoes
Proper clothing: long sleeves and pants legs
Clippers and loppers

Step 1
Dress properly. If you will be walking in patches of ivy, boots or other protective shoes are important because of unknown creatures underfoot. You don’t just have to worry about snakes, but also smaller foes like fire ants, spiders and poison ivy. Gloves are essential even if you’re nowhere near poison ivy, because ants and spiders can hang out in the vines that climb trees.

Step 2
Cut vines at the base of the tree down low, and clear the vines as far away from the tree as you can to slow return growth. Sharp clippers work for small English ivy vines; larger loppers and sometimes even small saws are needed for thicker, stubborn older vines and wisteria.

Step 3
Cut the same vines up higher on the tree, about three feet off the ground, to prevent the vines from growing back together at the cut you made down low. If you’re strapped for time, cutting even a small inch or two out of a vine might stop or slow growth.

Special notes
You don’t have to pull all the vines out of the trees. In the case of established vines, they might wind through tree branches high up the tree, and it could take months of wind, rain and snow for the vines to fall off the tree. But as long as the base of the vines has been cut, they should die and eventually fall off.

Beware of vines with fuzzy hairs. Poison ivy often mingles with English ivy as it climbs trees, but the best time to combat is in the winter months. Dress accordingly when combating established poison ivy vines on trees and shower as soon as you can. One neighbor recommended dishwashing liquid to cut through the “grease” of poison ivy after a battle.

References, for inspiration and further research:
Nature Conservancy: Invasives
The No Ivy League, from Portland, Oregon
Mecklenburg County Invasive Species Task Force

The two biggest enemies in my Merry Oaks neighborhood are wisteria, which can sneak through cracks and eventually destroy fences as well as trees, and the ubiquitous English ivy (botttom):

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