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How I Deal with Poison Ivy on Our Property

Let’s face it. Poison Ivy is just plain nasty. We don’t want it on our property, and when it shows up we want to get rid of it. If you are highly allergic to it, poison ivy might be one of the few cases where you could justify the use of a product like Roundup. I prefer to avoid the use of Roundup on my property. This post will not be about how to treat it if you get a rash. Don’t ask me. I’ve never had a rash because I’m not allergic. There is a ton of information out there about treatment on sites like WebMD. This post is about how I address it on our property. So how do I deal with it? Very carefully. Even though I’m not allergic, the other members of my family are. If you are highly allergic you probably want to call a professional landscaper. IF you decide to tackle it yourself, here are some tips I’ve learned over the years from dealing with it.

Learn to identify it
Poison ivy has 3 leaves. The middle leaf is jagged down both sides. The 2 outer leaves are typically only jagged on the outer edges. The vines are usually hairy, especially when climbing the bark of trees. Check the internet for information about the types of poison ivy common in your area. This photo is what the poison ivy in our area looks like:

Poison Ivy - Photo Credit: Ed Reschke

Poison Ivy – Photo Credit: Ed Reschke

Tools
• Keep some rubbing alcohol handy. It can be alcohol pads or cotton balls and a bottle of alcohol. Poison ivy is spread by the oil in the leaves and vines. Alcohol will dilute the oil. If you think you got some on your skin, wipe it off with the alcohol first then wash with cold soapy water.
• Don’t use hand pruners. You have to get too close. I like to use a long-handled single-pivot lopper to cut poison ivy. It keeps my hands far away from the vines and leaves. For this purpose, the single-pivot style works better than a bypass lopper for grabbing the vines off the bark of trees.
• If you want to wear gloves, try some heavy duty nitrile gloves or some rubberized work gloves. If you choose to wear something like work gloves, wash them after using for poison ivy. I don’t like heavy duty work gloves because I don’t want to lose the sense of feel when dealing with poison ivy.
• Wear safety glasses and clean them afterwards with alcohol followed by soapy water.
• Make a safe herbicide spray with vinegar and a few drops of liquid soap.
• Don’t use a string trimmer. That’s like setting off a poison ivy bomb!

Spray it with a safe mixture of vinegar and dish soap
This works ok for small amounts of the plants but not great for extensive growth. The spray made from vinegar and soap will kill the leaves but not the entire plant. It is not a systemic product like Roundup. If you are willing to spray it repeatedly, you can slow it down with the vinegar spray.

When it grows up trees
I use the long handled loppers and cut all the vines around the tree, making sure not to miss any. I cut about a foot above the ground and again about 3 feet above the ground. I remove the vines from the tree using the lopper jaws so I don’t get anywhere near the vines. By cutting a two foot section out, it is very easy to be sure I’ve gotten all the vines around the tree. At that point, the vines above the cut will begin to die. They will wither up and are safer left on the tree than trying to get them off. Leave them there for 2 years to dry up. Seriously – come back 2 years later and remove them. For the part coming out of the ground, I pull them off the tree with the loppers and mow anything at ground level. You can also try spraying it with the vinegar/soap mixture.

In open areas
When it shows up in an open area, I mow it. With extreme prejudice. I don’t worry about the inside of my mower or collection bag. I think the amount of material flying around inside there is sufficient to dilute or absorb any oil from poison ivy.

Disposal
Don’t burn it. Breathing the fumes from burning poison ivy can cause a reaction. I put the removed vines in my woods and cover with leaves. Nature will take care of the rest. I give the chopped up clippings from the lawn mower bag to my chickens. If you don’t want it on your property while it breaks down, you can always bag it and put in the trash.

Cleanup
When you’re done for the day, clean the blades of the loppers with alcohol. If you get any of it on you, wipe it off with alcohol. Then wash with cold soapy water. Wash the clothes you wore on the heavy wash cycle.

If you absolutely have to use Roundup, this might be one of the few times when it is justified. Roundup itself is not evil – it is the overuse of it that is the problem. Spraying it judiciously on poison ivy might be ok, but I don’t want to eat food that is soaked in it. It is Monsanto that is evil with its poison for profit mentality, but that’s a topic for another post. If you choose to use Roundup, don’t spray it all over the place. Take when it climbs up trees for example. Follow the process above to remove it around the trunk. Then just spray the little bit that is left around the base of the tree. That should be enough to systemically kill the plant.

Poison ivy isn’t that bad. Just be careful around it. Learn to identify it. Don’t ignore it. If you stay vigilant, you can keep it under control without the use of chemicals like Roundup.

Resources for this post:
Here’s a good web site with more information about treating the rash and removal of the plants: http://www.poison-ivy.org/
The type of lopper I use: Long-handled single pivot lopper

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