Your gardening questions answered: How can I control the ivy growth on my apple tree?

Heavy ivy growth can eventually cause death by overburdening the tree’s leafy canopy

Q: Ivy has taken over an old apple tree in my garden. What can I do? SF, Dublin

A: As much as wild ivy provides a very important habitat for birds and insects, and the arboreal form (the older, shrubby growth which produces flowers), and is a really valuable source of nectar, it can also be problematic in established gardens where it can damage built structures as well as some established, older trees such as your apple tree. With the latter, very heavy ivy growth can eventually cause death by overburdening the tree’s leafy canopy, which in turn can result in (a) broken branches, leading to an increased risk of disease and (b) destabilising of the tree’s root system, increasing the risk of it falling in a storm. Very heavy ivy growth in the canopy of a fruit tree can also reduce the amount of light needed for healthy growth, interfere with blossom set and slow down ripening of the fruit.

The simplest way of controlling it is to trace the ivy growth right back to where it emerges from the ground and then cut right through the stems using a sharp secateurs or small pruning saw. Just be very careful not to accidentally damage the trunk of the tree while you’re doing so as the resulting wound could lead to disease. Over the following months you should see the ivy in the branches of the tree start to yellow and then die off. The dead ivy can then be removed when you’re pruning the tree.

To prevent regrowth, dig out as much of the ivy roots around the tree as you can without accidentally causing damage to the tree’s own root system and then keep a close eye out for any new ivy growth that appears. An organic mulch in autumn and then again in mid-spring as well as an annual generous sprinkle of chicken pellets in early spring around the base of the tree will help to keep your tree healthy.

Unfortunately, it’s also important to note that heavy ivy growth in a tree can be a sign that the latter is already struggling as a result of disease or mechanical injuries. So if your apple tree continues to look less than happy after removing the ivy, it might be worth getting it checked over by a qualified arboriculturist who will be able to advise.

Fionnuala Fallon

Fionnuala Fallon

Fionnuala Fallon is an Irish Times contributor specialising in gardening