Poison Ivy

Here's how to recognize it, get rid of it, and recover from it, fast.

By Suellen May

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Dispatch the Enemy
Poison ivy and poison oak spread by seed and by their vigorous root systems. They arrive in your yard by birds eating the berries and depositing the seeds, and, less frequently, in loads of mulch. If you have wooded or neglected areas surrounding your property, you probably have poison ivy as a neighbor, and given time, it will creep into your yard. Five ways to beat this foe into submission:

1. Keep it out. Prevent poison ivy or poison oak from taking hold in the first place. If you are landscaping or tilling soil for a new bed or garden, don't leave the ground bare for long.

2. Target seedlings. Small infestations are more easily controlled than larger ones, because they have less-developed root systems, fewer stored food reserves in roots and rhizomes, and a smaller seed bank in the soil. Poison ivy can be readily pulled in early spring if only a few plants are involved. Look for those leaves of three, and, wearing long sleeves, long pants, and thick gloves, pull out the entire root system.

3. Cut it off. As with all perennials, you must completely remove the root or the plant will resprout. Unfortunately, poison ivy roots can run underground for many feet before the plant reappears above ground. If endless digging is not appealing or an option, repeatedly cutting the plant to the ground eventually starves the root system and causes the plant to die. Plants climbing trees should be severed at the base. Don't bother removing the vines from the tree; they don't do any harm, says Ray Samulis, county agricultural agent at Rutgers Cooperative Research and Extension. The weed is just using the tree for anchorage. It's not a parasitic relation- ship, says Samulis.

4. Smother it. Cover the infested area with thick black plastic sheeting, and plan to leave it there for at least a year, possibly longer. Make sure the plastic isn't the type that degrades in the sun, and cover the edges with dirt to exclude all light.

5. Chew it up. Grazing animals, especially goats, are not bothered by urushiol and can clean up an infested area. They won't take out the root system but will get rid of the topgrowth, weakening the plant overall.

Ditch the Evidence
Do plasticize it. Dispose of poison ivy and poison oak in plastic bags and put them out with the trash. The easiest way to do this is to put the plastic bags over your gloved hands, pull the plants into the bags, and then pull the bags inside out off your gloved hands, encasing the poison ivy inside the bag. Be nice to your garbage man and put the poison-ivy-filled bags into a larger, uncontaminated bag.

Don't compost it. Urushiol remains potent for years—even, in dry climates, decades.

Never burn it. Breathing in smoke or soot from the plants may cause serious inflammation of respiratory mucous membranes.

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