You may enjoy the appearance of a vine wrapping itself around a tree, but you should also consider the impact that this type of organism can have on a tree itself. If you are looking for some tactics to try if you notice vines growing on your oak tree, this is the place to be!
The truth is that vines do not necessarily have a detrimental effect on oak trees, but they need to be managed so that their growth does not overtake the tree. Most often, ivy is the vine that grows on oak trees. Ivy should be removed if it is suffocating the oak tree and taking away nutrients.
Before we continue talking about the types of vines that grow on oak trees, their severity, and solutions, we should talk about the overall impact that vines can have on oak trees. So, let’s dive in!
What Impact Do Vines Have On Oak Trees?
Here is why it is so important to know what steps you should be taking if you have vines on your oak tree.
Vines look pretty on trees and that is something that most people would say when asked about their feelings toward this part of the plant family.
Dark green vines do add a pop of color and a nice visual touch when placed upon the brown bark of a tree that might otherwise have a trunk that is pretty plain.
However, the impact that vines themselves have on trees goes far beyond their aesthetic appearance.
Vines Use Oak Trees For Their Personal Benefit
Here are some of the common impacts that you will become aware of if you find that your oak tree in fact has some vines on it.
Vines can be a parasitic organism in the way that they exploit other plants for their personal benefit, and do not benefit their host in any way.
Though this is not true of all vines, it is a common issue that people face when looking at their trees and the vines that end up growing on them.
When it comes down to it, vines do not need to put any of their energy into growing to maturity and staying alive in the way that other plants do. They are able to use most parts of the tree, or their host, to benefit their growth. Nothing from the root system to the canopy, or the trunk and lower branches in between, is safe from the impact of a vine.
Vines Can Suffocate Oak Trees
Additionally, vines can also actively suffocate or strangle the tree that they are living on.
This can keep the tree from performing some of the routine functions that help it survive, because of different access points from the roots to the canopy being restricted from the grip of the vines.
While some vines are not nearly as aggressive, or malicious, like others it is important to understand that trees themselves also have varying levels of susceptibility to the impact of these vines. Some trees may be able to withstand a level of this suffocation, but many will quickly succumb.
I mean, imagine this: you’re a tree that is growing and not quite to maturity. You’d be getting larger but not quite fully developed by this stage. It’s hard enough going through the process of growing and learning to thrive. Then, boom! A vine starts to work its way around your trunk, through the branches, and as far down as your roots and high up as the tip-top of your canopy.
There’s a good chance that it will be too difficult for a tree to continue on at this stage, understandably enough.
There are also some repercussions of the selfish nature of vines and the way that they grow by wrapping themselves around a host. Not only does this create some difficulty for the tree on the outside, but it also affects the resources the tree is able to procure internally. Resources that are vital to maintaining the tree’s life force.
Vines Take Resources From Oak Trees
On top of the non-symbiotic nature of many vines and the fact that they tend to suffocate their host, vines tend to take valuable, even crucial, resources from the trees that host them.
For example, when a tree is being suffocated by vines, its access to valuable nutrients and resources like water and nitrogen can be severely restricted.
The tree will end up dying slowly, caused by starvation, and water loss, as a direct result of the vine.
Ultimately, since this can lead to a significantly shorter oak tree lifespan in the long run.
Vines Lead To Increased Susceptibility For Future Damage In Oak Trees
When you have vines on your tree, even if the above issues do not directly come up, you might face indirect consequences that can spiral into much deeper problems.
Having vines wrapped around the base of your tree can lead to prolonged moisture on the tree itself. Prolonged moisture on the bark of the tree can lead to things like disease, decay, rodent damage, and insect damage.
When a tree is weakened in this way, the susceptibility to further damages can turn out to be worse than the strangulation of a vine with moderate growth. In fact, even vines that are aggressive might not be the cause of death in a tree. It could very well be a combination of stripped resources, suffocation, and another issue like bark decay, or insect infestation.
This only affects your tree, right? There wouldn’t necessarily be a huge impact on anything else in the area as long as the vine isn’t directly touching it, would there?
The University of Florida IFAS Extension notes that invasive vines actually have an impact on forests and other environments as a whole. This is because when trees become more susceptible to disease, pathogens, rodents, and other damage that could permanently scar the tree – animals may lose their home, food source, and other resources.
It is important to remember that your oak tree itself is not the only organism at stake. The critters on and around the tree, as well as neighboring plants, can be hugely affected as well. All life in an ecosystem works together in one way or another, and your tree is no exception.
So, while you might not be immediately seeing the drastic, hugely detrimental effects vines can have like strangulation and other issues, there are potentially worse side effects that might come out of leaving the vines on your tree.
We will leave it at that, but it is safe to say that prevention is the way to go when dealing with these plants.
If you want to learn more about oak trees, check out our article Red Oak vs. White Oak Tree Growth Rate & Key Differences!
What Types Of Vines Are Likely To Grow On Oak Trees?
Okay, here it is. The first thing that we are going to get into will give a good foundation for your understanding of why vines have such an impact on oak trees.
Of course, as we mentioned before, not all vines will cause issues to your tree.
There are many types of vines, but there are a few that you can count on more than the rest to live on oak trees.
Here are the vines that you are most likely to be dealing with when it comes to your oak.
A quick note, it’s while it’s not a vine, Spanish moss and ball moss are typically found on oak trees and can cause very similar issues to ivy in large numbers. If you’re not sure if you have ivy or moss, you can learn about Identifying moss on your oak tree here.
Ivy, in all of its many forms, is the most common vine to grow on oak trees.
Luckily, ivy does not harm the vascular system of a tree. Rather, it attaches to bark by using a combination of small rootlike tendrils along with a sticky plant substance to keep Itself connected to the tree.
The Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation explains how English ivy is actually an exotic, invasive species that is commonly used in gardens and landscaping projects, but which also needs maintenance and monitoring.
While ivy isn’t the most aggressive vine by any means, there is a good chance that it is contributing to your tree experiencing a lack of nutrition thanks to the fact that the two will typically rely on the same source of nutrients and water.
Ivy also can grow all the way up into your tree’s canopy, which means that it can also block the light from reaching the tree itself.
Identifying Different Kinds Of Ivy
It should be noted that different kinds of ivy can vary drastically. For example, poison ivy on your tree is going to be quite a different situation than English ivy or Japanese ivy.
So, how do you differentiate between the types of ivy? What should you be looking out for when determining if the vine on your oak is ivy at all?
The leaf is going to be a good indication of what type of vine you are dealing with. Ivy leaves vary in roundness and color, but English ivy tends to have about 3-5 lobes when young, with the middle lobe sticking out above the ones on the sides of the leaf.
At maturity, the leaves tend to be dark green and round out a bit more, while maintaining a roughly similar shape with a peak in the middle of the leaf where that top lobe was during the maturing process.
Poison ivy, on the other hand, has three lobes per leaf and leaves are clustered in threes. It also has pointy leaves and generally, a hairy rope-like vine that spans the tree. On top of that, the poison ivy will look much waxier than English ivy and other varieties due to the oil on its leaves.
Different ivy leaves will also have a slightly different appearance, but we want to focus on English and poison ivy for now as they are the most common types of ivy that you will see on your oak tree.
When you look up honeysuckle on an oak tree, you’ll mostly see results for the variety of oak named ‘honeysuckle oak’ but don’t let that confuse you. Honeysuckle is also an invasive species that can grow on your oak tree and is more than just a name of a type of oak tree.
This might not be a plant that you would have considered negative in any way. After all, who doesn’t appreciate the smell of honeysuckle in the summer? However, this vine will take over your yard and your trees if not carefully controlled.
With the requirement of constant pruning and its nature as a tenacious and rapid climber, honeysuckle is another one that should be avoided near your oak, when possible.
What Steps Should You Be Taking If You Have Vines On Your Oak Tree?
1. Assess What Kind Of Vine Is On Your Oak
One of the first steps to take, other than noticing that you have vines on your oak tree, is to determine what kind of vines they are. This way you will be better prepared to deal with them in the appropriate manner.
Whether you have English ivy, poison ivy, honeysuckle, or a different vine that is less commonly found on oaks, you will want to take some sort of action.
You can refer to the section above to help you differentiate between the types of vines that you may have, and this will allow you to decide which of the next steps you want to take.
2. Maintain The Situation If You Don’t Plan To Eradicate Vines
If you don’t intend to completely remove vines, we get that, it is a complicated yet delicate process that can be intimidating.
However, maintaining the situation is going to become key in keeping your tree safe and making sure it holds its own against any of the hardy vines that may be growing on it.
Regular pruning is a great way to make sure that vines don’t get out of control. This will allow you to have a heavier hand in keeping vines out of your tree’s canopy and even potentially protecting the tree’s root system more successfully.
3. Eradicate The Vines On Your Oak Tree
This is going to be a process, we won’t lie to you. It is crucial that you do not remove vines in a haphazard way, as that could directly impact the tree and its wellbeing.
You should be prepared to take time to intermittently remove the vines from your tree, its root system, its canopy, or any of those areas that do happen to be affected. Hopefully, by the time you notice vines growing on your tree, the process has not gone very far and the vine remains low.
However, if you’ve bought a house with an oak that has vines, or you have a large property and don’t catch the situation early on, the removal process will certainly be a more extensive one.
If you want to start fresh with a new oak tree, read more in our article: Oak Tree Sapling: How To Grow Plus Where To Buy.
How Do You Get Vines Off Of Oak Trees?
So, the process can be quite long, but should you try to do this quickly to get it over with? In a word, no.
One of the biggest things to keep in mind about removing vines is that speed is not the goal here. Though you may be concerned about the wellbeing of your tree, vine removal is something that takes time and technique.
If you are uncertain, we highly recommend reaching out to a trained professional who has experience with vine maintenance or removal to ensure that you don’t run into any serious issues. In fact, hastily digging, clipping, or spraying vines could very well lead to more damage than the vine itself had caused.
We know what you’re thinking- is there any winning here?
When it comes to vines, we’ll be honest, it is quite a tricky situation, but one that can be managed with the proper approaches and methods.
You could always get lucky with hasty removal, but odds are that a calculated approach will pay off exponentially when it comes to the lifespan and wellbeing of your oak tree.
Here are some practical ways you can approach vine removal, as long as you follow proper techniques and use the right tools.
A quick note, don’t remove posion ivy with your hands or burn it. While fully covered and gloved, you can cut posion ivy off at the base where it is connected to the ground and then spray the posion ivy folliage up the tree using a glyphosate spray and let the posion ivy die out afterwards. Be careful not to to spray exposed areas of the tree or foliage as that can damage the tree.
If you’re looking for a glyphosate spray, that’s the main active ingredient in Roundup Extended Control Grass Killer Plus Weed Preventer II. Make sure to follow specific product usage directions for your case.
Ultimately if you have posion ivy, our recommendation is to contact a local landscaping professional who can remove the poison ivy for you
Use Your Hands To Remove Vines From Your Oak Tree
Shears may seem like a good idea, but we are here to advise you to leave that technique to those trained to remove vines.
Additionally, if you have posion ivy, make sure not to actually touch any of it as it can cause a multitude of issues.
There is so much that could go wrong when removing vines with shears, especially when it comes to the root system. If too much of the tree’s roots are damaged when getting the roots of the vine removed the tree could end up perishing despite all your best efforts to save it.
So, you’ll need soft soil to start, as vines are more easily removed from looser soil. Next, you can take hand pruners to cut the stems of the vine from the roots themselves. You don’t want to use larger shears as the main method of removal.
A product like these Fiskers Bypass Pruning Shears with their sharp precision-ground steel blade is going to be the sort of thing you want to make clean, precise cuts that do not accidentally damage your tree.
Next, you’ll pull the roots of your oak out as completely as you can. This may not get them all, but you’ll be able to do this a few more times as you see any growth begin to resurface. Eventually, the roots will be nearly eradicated and the vine will be quite unlikely to grow back.
Pro tip: Do not remove the vines from your tree itself after severing their connection to the roots. This can severely damage the bark of your tree, and it is better to let the vines die out on their own.
Use Vinegar To Get Rid Of Vines From Your Oak Tree
If any part of using blades and leaving the vine to then die of its own accord makes you nervous, then perhaps using vinegar is the way to go for you!
The process here is going to be backward, you’ll begin not by pulling out the roots but by spraying the vine itself with white vinegar.
After a few days to a week, you’ll see that the vine is turning brown. All leaves should be brown before you try to remove the vine, or you’ll risk harming your oak tree by pulling a damaged but not yet dead vine from the bark.
Eventually, when you know that the vine is certainly dead, you can pull it from the tree. You’ll begin at the roots and then work your way up to the trunk and then any branches the vine might have entangled.
Pro Tip: Be careful to avoid spraying grass and other plants with vinegar, as this will damage them too.
How To Care For Your Oak Tree If It Has Been Impacted By Vines
Maintain Your Oak Tree After Vines Are Removed
During the vine removal process, or if you are allowing a vine to remain, or after you have removed the vine, there is one major step in common. Maintaining the health of your tree.
This might look like that intermittent but consistent trimming of vines that we mentioned above, or perhaps you’ll just be proactive and not allow the vine to grow out of control. If the vine is gone, maybe this looks like checking any weakened bark or helping to keep other branches pruned as a proactive measure.
Regardless of your approach, maintenance is going to be the key to making sure that your tree is secure, strong, and can thrive for many years to come.
Monitor Your Oak Tree For Damage
Okay, so there is another common step that is safe to expect across the board. Monitoring your oak tree is a must, even if you haven’t seen the negative impacts of having vines.
This does not have to look like an intense, daily chore. You don’t even need to do this weekly, to be honest.
So long as you check your tree each month or so for anything that stands out, like discoloration of bark or leaves, any insect or rodent damage, and other signs of weakening, you should be able to catch any issues that come up.
Especially when you do have a tree that is healing from some sort of damage, be it vine strangulation or a storm, or anything else, monitoring can help you to feel secure in the knowledge that your tree is progressing instead of further declining.
Fertilize Your Oak Tree
If you decide to keep some ivy on your tree for whatever reason it may be, keep in mind that the source of nutrition for the vine is going to be the same source that your tree is feeding off of.
Giving your tree some ways to get supplemental access to nutrients can be a game-changer, even if you’ve already removed all the vines.
Oak trees tend to prefer a fertilizer with an NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium concentration) of 12-6-6 or 12-4-8, and you can use a fertilizer like this Miracle-Gro Plant Food Concentrate to save money while being sure to give your tree extra access to nutrients it needs!
If you don’t want to go with Miracle-Gro, take a look at our guide for the best oak tree fertilizers here.
Hydrate Your Oak Tree
On that note, even if you decide to keep some English ivy for aesthetics, remember that vines and trees use the same water source. You’ll need to make sure you water your tree even more than usual if this is the case.
If you’ve removed the vines from your tree, you should still be sure to keep the tree watered on a regular basis to promote general growth and well-being.
That’s A Wrap!
That’s what we’ve got for you this time. For what it’s worth, you could be facing worse problems than vines but we hope that this piece has helped you understand how to approach this situation if or when it arises.
Thank you for reading this article and, as usual, we wish you the best of luck as you continue along your tree journey!
Dillenburg, L. R., Whigham, D. F., Teramura, A. H., & Forseth, I. N. (1993). Effects of vine competition on availability of light, water, and nitrogen to a tree host (Liquidambar styraciflua). American Journal of Botany, 80(3), 244-252.
Garfì, G., & Ficarrotta, S. (2003). Influence of ivy (Hedera helix L.) on the growth of downy oak (Quercus pubescens sl) in the Monte Carcaci nature reserve (central-western Sicily). Ecologia mediterranea, 29(1), 5-14.