Monday, August 29, 2016

Vine Attack

Lately, I've been preoccupied with liberating my property from the grip of the various vines that are overrunning it. Mostly grape vines, but also Virginia creeper, wild morning glory, bindweed, Japanese honeysuckle, pokeberry, trumpet vine (the WORST) and the occasional wild rose bramble or poison ivy for fun and variety.

What prompted this burst of gardening energy? Someone finally bought the vacant lot next door. This lot has been a source of anxiety to us for years. Because of the odd configuration of our property (our driveway was originally the street, that the city never put through to the busy road that borders our neighborhood) we worried that whoever built on the lot would want to use our driveway, rather than access the property from the busy street. Indeed, one woman who was interested in the lot repeatedly insisted on accessing the property from our driveway, even after I told her that it was private property and that we would not allow her to use it. After our final confrontation, she left in a huff and didn't buy the lot and I emailed the real estate agent and asked him to please tell his clients that they could not use our driveway. (We went to the city about it, but they have not been able to definitively confirm or deny that the driveway truly belongs to us, although our survey certainly includes it within our property boundaries.)

We seriously considered buying the lot ourselves. Jon felt it would be a good investment. However, it has a tendency to flood and the steep grade plus the fact that it fronts a busy street all made it seem like an unattractive property. Plus the fact that we can barely keep up with the one lot we do own.

A local builder finally bought it and he is building a modern-style house on it. It's not a huge house, so that's good. We're mainly relieved that it's not a tacky Ryan Homes faux farmhouse. And also that he hasn't tried to use our driveway. He placed the house so it's not blocking our light or views. Now our only worry is who will buy it. We just don't want neighbors who will harp at us about our overgrown yard or our dogs.

The new house in various stages of construction.
New house as it appears today
From the front. The gossip is that the asking price will be $450K.
That yellow house behind is mine.

Anyway, it was this anxiety about fussy neighbors that led me to to believe that the builder was judging us for our vine situation. Which was, admittedly, out of control. The last three weekends in a row, I've been steadily hacking my way around the perimeter of our property. The vines had completely obliterated some of our other plants. I discovered that our figs, which were killed in the harsh winter of 2013-2014, have made a comeback and we had a fairly large and healthy fig tree (with fruit!) completely buried under vines. I also liberated the ancient boxwoods along the back border.

The fig tree. It had been completely hidden under trumpet vine and grapes.
Two years ago, it was mostly dead, with a few feeble shoots.


I didn't think to take photos at first, and it's not like the "after" shots are anything great anyway, since the yard is still a mess. However, I did get pictures of the side yard, shown below.

Side yard before
Same space after weeding.


By the third weekend (yesterday) I had progressed to the back corner, where grape vines almost completely hid a huge cedar tree. I had this idea that I could use our pole tree trimmer to hook the vines and yank them out of the tree. Like most of my ideas, it worked better in theory than in practice. When watching someone's inept handling of a tree trimmer, it's incredibly difficult to resist the urge to snatch it out of their hands and do it yourself. So Jon showed remarkable fortitude in not trying to take over.

Then this happened. The extension handle broke off while I was tugging with all my strength.

And I almost fell face-first into this.


I tried climbing on a rickety kitchen stool, so as to get a better purchase on the vines, but to no avail. Then I used the full force of my body weight to pull and ended up literally swinging like Tarzan, (and shredding my hands) and still the vines didn't budge. So I gave up. For now. I've severed them all near the root and I'm hoping that after a week of wilt, I'll be able to yank them out of the tree.

It's hard to see, but the crown of the cedar is still covered with vines.
Before I started this job, you couldn't even see the trunk. Nor could you see the house behind us.


There's still a lot of work to do

 What major job have you attacked lately?

13 comments:

  1. This nightmare sounds very familiar. Every year I vow I will get started on cutting the ivy in March before it starts taking over the yard. And every year I wait until July or August and I'm an irritable hippo wallowing in the humidity. The grape vine has been particularly brutal this year. I mowed the ivy in the front (we don't have grass) and before it could even come back the grape vine took the opportunity to take over.

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    1. We have English ivy too, but the other vines dominate it so much, it's not our biggest problem. It ranks about 10th on our list of problem weeds.

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  2. Every year is a battle of the weeds here. Grape vines are the absolute worst. I've been ripping them out and digging them up for a good 15 years.

    Getting new neighbors is rather nerve-racking. When the house behind us went on the market last year, we were quite nervous about who would buy it. We were relieved to discover it was purchased by someone who had rented in our 'hood previously and is a fantastic neighbor.

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    1. I'm glad your neighbors turned out to be nice! At least we have the natural barrier of a small cliff between our house and this one. Shitty neighbors can really wreck your quality of life.

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  3. Vines are so tenacious. We had an old English ivy hedge that was taking over our yard and the alley, about 12 feet wide, 12 feet tall and 100 feet long. We hired professionals to dig it out with machines. I blogged about it about a year ago. A lot of trees revived after the ivy was removed.

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    1. Vines were starting to take over a large walnut tree on our property. We hired a professional to prune the tree and he told us that the vines could actually act like a sail in a storm and enable the wind to blow it onto our house. We killed them immediately. The cedar is less accessible than the walnut, so those vines were allowed to get out of control.

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  4. My lot is slowly being taken over by giant ivy, Oregon Grape, and Virginia Creeper. I used to have a handle on the creeper by hacking it to the ground each fall but the one year I let it go, it got into my cedar tree, and the twining Oregon grape strangled several young trees. I hate crawling plants with the heat of a thousand suns! I can't keep up with all the pruning!

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    1. I'm not sure if the grapes we have are Oregon grape or not. They sure do spread though. The Virginia creeper spreads everywhere too, but its roots seem less tenacious, so I'm able to pull it up more easily than the grapes.

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  5. I imagine in your climate the weeds can really get going. My one garden is beyond control right now and I had to give up entirely on a strawberry bed. I tarped the berry bed and will move it next year with fresh plants. The back area is competing with pumpkins, so no point until after the frost. The vines are the worst, though, they can't seem to ever let go!

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    1. Exactly! We were new to Virginia when we bought this house, and coming from Buffalo, where the short growing season and harsh winters keep the weeds in check, we didn't realize how quickly weeds can spread here. In Buffalo, people actually cultivate trumpet vine. Here, it's an awful pest.

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  6. That house being built looks purty big.

    You have done an excellent job, and i hope you haven't injured your hands (or anything else). The swinging like Tarzan sounds painful.

    I haven't tackled anything major at all. Dealing with some difficult parenting stuff. But mostly avoiding it by eating chocolate.

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    1. Thanks! I seem to have done something to my neck and upper back. They are so sore, I am having trouble sleeping. Hopefully it will just heal on its own.

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  7. Wow, that new house will sell for $450?!!!! God, I think I'll have to stay in the Midwest even after retirement --no way do we get paid enough to ever afford to move to one of the coasts! That size new house here might sell for $100, or maybe $150 if it was amazing inside. Location, location, location!!

    We have so much trouble with pokeweed, grapevine (the concord type), and poison ivy. But the grapevine is the absolute worst --it's so darn strong! I'm not surprised you could do a Tarzan swing with it. And we have much harsher winters --I can only imagine what a battle that would be in your milder climate.

    I'm glad to hear that the builder chose to situate the house in a way that didn't detract too much from your view. And I hope you get lucky in neighbors --maybe it will turn out to be someone you can enjoy chatting with.

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