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i recently bought a 108 year old house with an ancient garage that has vines growing up the back of the entire structure. the vines have started getting into the gutters and even inside the garage. i want to rip them all down but i'm not sure of the best tools to make the job easier and what steps i can take to slow/stop their regrowth.

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In addition to the normal tools like pruners, hedge shears, etc., my tools for controlling unruly vegetation include:

  • pruning saw (look for one that cuts on both push and pull strokes):

Fiskars pruning saw

  • bypass lopper (much more leverage than a regular pruner):

Fiskars bypass lopper

  • tree pruner (no more climbing on a ladder to get at high branches!):

Fiskars tree pruner

In your situation, I would start by using these tools to cut back all the vines close to the ground. Dig as much of the roots out as possible, then keep an eye on the area for new shoots and dig them out (or spray them with weedkiller) as they pop up. Eventually you'll get rid of them, though it may take persistence on your part.

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+1 for the bypass lopper. The difference in leverage is quite noticeable (and helpful). –  Mike B Nov 20 '10 at 18:43
    
All those are great - might want to add a pole saw to that list. Buy your pruning saw from Silky (Japanese saw - I've used them before and the blades are amazing). –  kkeilman Nov 22 '10 at 21:50
    
+1 for the pruning saw, it's awesome for this task! –  BigHomie Aug 15 '13 at 10:16
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We had a bed of ivy, Virginia creeper, and god knows all what else. It grew and spread a couple of feet per year if left unchecked, and was continuously trying to climb our house walls. This takes serious effort to remove, since the roots go pretty deep.

First, I pulled up as much as I could. Beware if there are nasty things like poison ivy in there too. If that is an issue, then there are lotions you can apply before (and after) you get into it, to prevent problems. And wear gloves, long sleeves, etc.

Be careful if the ivy is climbing your house, as the tendrils can be strong enough to damage your siding when you pull them off, especially if you just tear it away. You may need to kill the ivy first, cutting away as much as you can on the house. Next year you can return to any tendrils still hanging on the house to remove them once they are dried up.

Next, I used a pitchfork to dig as deeply as I could. In my case, I went over a foot deep over the entire bed, turning over every inch of earth. Once I dug up the ground, roots in that area could now be pulled by hand (with a pair of heavy gloves.) Where roots went too deep to be pulled, I used a small hatchet to cut them off. (Use an old hatchet.)

Next spring, my expectation is to need to treat any vines that still come up with concentrated Brushbegone. I will apply this with a paintbrush on any leaves as they start to grow to avoid overspray.

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The tendrils have rootlike attachment pads that penetrate anything organic and the best I've found is to use a beveled putty knife on each one. They're going to remove paint, no matter what you do and the major issue is to keep them from pulling the siding off when you pull them off. Shingle type siding is the worst as they attach to it and penetrate under it. They also induce mold wherever the vines run. –  Fiasco Labs Aug 16 '13 at 4:29
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I recently did this same task. Our flower beds were over-grown with Vinca and English Ivy. The English Ivy was growing into the grout between our bricks and killing our 100 year old Oak trees. The most useful tools I found were a shovel and a pair of small pruning shears, like these. Digging the roots out of the ground will help prevent the ivy from returning. The shears help remove it from your house when it's grown into or twisted itself around stuff so badly that it will damage your house to just pull it down.

It was a very tedious task, and it's almost impossible to get all the roots the first time. I was able to completely eliminate all the ivy by looking for spots where it popped up again over the next few months and digging out the roots at those spots. Good luck!

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I'd agree with all of the tools that Niall C. mentioned, and for those really, really overgrown areas, I made use of a weed eater (string trimmer), chain saw and prybar:

I had a tree that was covered in vines when I moved in ... First, I cleared an area so I could see to work with the string trimmer. Then I took a chainsaw to cut almost all the way through the 2+ inch thick vines, in a ring, all the way around the tree, then again, about 9 inches above it. (one side being more difficult, as it was rather close to the fence). Then I took the pry bar, and pried out the sections of vine.

Within a few weeks, the vines started dying out ... unfortunately, I've never managed to get all of the vines uprooted, with it being so strong in the area, so I have to hit it with the bypass pruners every year ot two to keep it from climbing back up again.

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My first weapon of choice now is the pruning saw. This was my situation, and after some frustration I went and bought some tools that might make the job easier, and a pruning saw was one of them (I took the machete back, turns out the serrated edge was better than a smooth one). I grab handfuls at a time, and hack away at the vines until the ground is clear enough to dig out roots. What do I use to dig out those roots you ask? My trusty 5lb pick mattock of course.

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The wide blade helps to dig below the root bundles (a 5lb swing goes pretty deep), and using leverage I can pop them up. It's hard work no matter which way you slice it (!), and mine is still a work in progress.

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That and a good, strong digging fork to till the soil and remove all traces of root material. It's very necessary that all bits and pieces chopped off with the mattock be removed to prevent regrowth. –  Fiasco Labs Aug 16 '13 at 4:32
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