Let’s Remove Vines and Save our Tree Canopy!

By Raymond Heil

With evidence mounting everywhere, we finally seem to be taking climate change seriously.  In Maryland, we are blessed with an extensive tree canopy, which helps to mitigate the damaging effects of climate change. Through photosynthesis, trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, use the carbon for their growth, and release oxygen back into a cooler atmosphere.  We are experiencing a growing interest in planting trees that seems to be a worldwide movement. Some local examples: The State of Maryland, through the 2021 Tree Solutions Now Act, plans to plant 5 million trees by 2031. In Baltimore County, County Executive Olszewski has established one program to plant 1000 street trees per year, and another that has planted over 2500 trees in underserved communities.  He has also reiterated, in his FY 2023 Budget Message, the county’s goal to achieve a 50% tree canopy countywide.       

This movement is driven in part by the desire to take action against global warming, but most people also value the many ecological, social, psychological and aesthetic value of trees, to numerous to list here. To address climate change, we should all reduce our own carbon footprints, but we should also participate in this movement by looking for opportunities to plant more trees.  Fall is the best time to plant trees in this part of the country.  In Fall 2023, Green Towson Alliance volunteers worked with local community associations and Blue Water Baltimore to plant over 290 native trees in Towson neighborhoods.  Thanks to everyone who worked on this effort!

But the benefits of newly planted trees are dwarfed by the ecological benefits of mature trees. Now is the best time to see the damage being done to our mature trees throughout the Baltimore area by smothering invasive vines. Take a drive on the beltway, up I-83, or on any urban or suburban street bordered by wooded areas. You will see trees. large and small, overwhelmed by invasive vines.  The main culprits are English Ivy, Porcelain Berry, and Oriental Bittersweet.  You may have trees in your own yard that are under stress from these vines.  This growing problem must be reversed if we want to grow our tree canopy and its benefits. 

All of us can help with the important work of invasive vine removal. Here are some actions you can take:

  1. Baltimore City, Carroll County and Montgomery County have well-organized “Weed Warrior” Programs to deploy trained volunteers to remove invasive vines on government-owned properties.  Baltimore County, with extensive county-owned natural areas, does not have such a program.  To achieve the County’s goal of a 50% tree canopy, such a program must be established.  If you are a Baltimore County resident, we ask you to contact your councilperson and request that the county establish a “Weed Warrior” Program and get to work saving the county’s mature trees.
  2. Remove invasive vines from your own trees.  All you need to do is cut the vines near to the ground.  With English Ivy, cut the vines all around the circumference of the tree and do a second cut 10 inches higher.  Remove the severed section creating a “window.”  It is not necessary to remove all the severed vines from the tree as they will die over time.  You can find many helpful how-to videos on vine removal on Youtube.
  3. Organize and support volunteer efforts in your neighborhood to inform neighbors of the invasive vine problem and remove invasive vines from trees on private properties.
  4. Support the 2024 Biodiversity and Agriculture Protection Act, which would restrict the sale of many destructive and non-native plants in Maryland.

Planting young trees and protecting our existing mature trees are two of the most effective steps every person can take to counteract the harmful impacts of climate change.  When we take action against climate change, we begin to see that it is possible to create a livable future for our children and our planet.

A volunteer removes honeysuckle vines from a wooded area.
A volunteer removing invasive honeysuckle vines from a wooded area.

Raymond Heil is on the Executive Committees of Green Towson Alliance and the Baltimore County Green Alliance.