The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 1, 2006


The Country Gardener

Poison Ivy

Dear Ms. Saylor,
I have appreciated your columns of late, primarily because I am very new to gardening. I find that I am at a loss in regard to the poison ivy menace. I have gone to Google and read many articles on identifying the culprit, but none explain in detail how to get rid of the poisonous weed, especially if you have children or dogs that roam the grounds. I need to know how to deal with this as I progress in this area of the garden. I am covered with long sleeves, gloves, long pants, socks and boots as I work; however, to date, I have not touched the weed.

"Leaves of three, leave them be." You have a very good question, Barbara, because poison ivy is nasty stuff and there are many ways to get it out of the garden. I am highly allergic to poison ivy and want it eliminated from my yard. It still lurks in pockets along the edges of the wild places in my yard despite 20+ years of trying to get rid of it. The good news is that it is not anywhere near the house; the bad news is that a patch sometimes appears just where the baseball is hit into the bushes.

I am very careful when dealing with poison ivy and poison oak, as it is sometimes called. The berries are apparently considered an important resource to wildlife. In my opinion this is a tragedy because the birds and creatures that eat the berries then poop the seeds into my gardens. I sometimes find poison ivy seedlings in my flower beds! This never fails to give me an adrenalin rush of horror that gives me the energy to run into the house and nab some plastic grocery bags. I place my arm in the bag, snatch up the interloper up by gripping the stem base and pulling up the roots. By turning the bag inside out to capture the leaves, stems and roots (all of which contain the Urushiol oil that causes skin reactions), I am left with a bag of horrible contents to dispose of; as I have not touched a piece of it, I am safe from its curse. Nevertheless I always wash my hands and arms with Tecnu, the poison ivy skin cleanser available at most pharmacies. If the Tecnu bottle is empty, I wash my hands and arms with dish washing detergent. The aim is to dissolve the Urushiol oil and wash it down the sink before it has time to penetrate into the skin. I read recently that warm water opens the pores which allows the oil to be absorbed. Now I am careful to use cold water for washing after possible poison ivy contamination.

What if poison ivy fills vast areas of real estate? What if it has been hunkered down for so long it is climbing trees and has roots 50 feet long? Never burn poison ivy. Breathing in the smoke can give people such bad cases of poison ivy they may need to be hospitalized. Mowing it, killing it with herbicides, or digging/pulling the vines, are the only options and each has its drawbacks. Mowing poison ivy repeatedly will eventually kill it, and is the most benign way if it works. The trouble is that poison ivy flourishes on the sunny margins of woods and along stone walls. The mower often cannot penetrate enough to reach all the areas of its creeping roots. There is also the problem of the decapitated parts. Dead poison ivy still contains Urushiol which can last up to five years according to the web site

This means that dogs and humans that play in that area can still come in contact with the irritating oil. Nevertheless, mowing can help contain the inevitable spread of the vigorous vine. Obviously you would not want to bag up the grass containing chopped up poison ivy parts and then use your bare hands to empty the contents. Having the mower blow the offending stems and leaves back into the woods is best.

Herbicides are tricky too. If you spray, anything the herbicide (brushkiller) touches will die. My sister sprayed two years in a row, but the grass never returned and vigorous lush poison ivy came back the subsequent year happy to have the competition eliminated. As I hate spraying, I used Q-tips this year to apply Ortho Brush B-Gone to some vines I found growing around a tree near my lawn. Ugh!

For a really bad infestation of poison ivy, the dig and pull method is probably the most practical, although there are great risks. If I were inspired to attack such a project, I would cover myself from head to toe with Ivy Block, a lotion that claims to prevent absorption of Urushiol for several hours. I would limit myself to two hours hard labor before stripping off all my clothes and either washing them in hot water or throwing them away. I would then have a very bubbly cool shower with Dawn first and a more moisturizing cleanser second. I would then don disposable rubber gloves and thoroughly wash every tool used during the removal project with Dawn.

Carlisle is full of poison ivy. Learn to recognize and avoid it, and good luck in all your attempts to get rid of it.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito