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Poison Ivy Problems? Pulling is the way to go
Poison Ivy Problems? Pulling is the way to go - dangerous chemical herbicides are NOT!

Q. Dear Mike: I heard somewhererecently that Roundup kills frogs and toads. Is this true? I havepoison ivy (or maybe it's poison oak) on our property. If it's just onelittle sprig I pull it out, but for a larger area I had been usingRoundup, which I will stop using if it really does harm frogs andtoads. But then what do I do?
                        ---Gwenin Newtown, PA

What is the easiest and safest way to clear poison ivy plants from myyard?  Should I try it myself or find a lawn care company to do itfor me?
                                                ---Joanna in Sterling, VA
We are building a house on a ten-acre tract. There is a LOT of poisonivy around. My wife is sensitive to the stuff and I'm *extremely*sensitive -- a significant exposure can lead to a hospital trip. Wealso have two small children that love to explore in the woods. We'reteaching them how to identify poison ivy, but we'd like to keep easilyaccessible areas clear of it. Can anything besides herbicides beat thisstuff back?
           ---Kim at the Universityof Oklahoma Institute for Meteorological Studies ("All weather isdivided into three parts: Yes, No, and Maybe. The greatest of these isMaybe".)
A.   Yes, Gwen—you heard right (and probably on this show!): Roundupis deadly to frogs and toads. (Here's a link to that research:;and to the website of the researcher himself, Dr. Rick Relyea: you search a bit, you'll find lots of other scientific concernsabout the safety of Roundup. And the other most common weed killer inAmerica (2,4-D) has been linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

And herbicides in general are essentially useless in this situation tobegin with, because the dead curled up remains of these dermatologicalydangerous plants will still give you a nasty rash. All parts of theplant—roots, leaves, stalk and stems, dead or alive—contain the oilthat triggers the reaction, even in winter! People often assume thatherbicide-sprayed poison ivy remains are safe and get nailed when theyclean up the ugly—and now doubly-toxic—debris left behind.

Instead, follow my surprisingly effective—and super safe—pulling plan.This isn't 'theory'; my property was covered with poison ivy when webought it, and I developed the specialized technique I'm about todetail while clearing it. Follow these instructions and you'll get ridof it all—without leaving any dead but still dangerous foliage behind,with no risk to yourself, in a surprisingly short period of time.

First, protect your hands, face, and other exposed areas with "IvyBlock". This clay-based lotion forms a protective barrier against theplant's allergenic oil; it's available at most drug stores, and there'sa list of retailers and places to buy it online at

Then get yourself a helper, a big rolling trashcan, and get ready to doThe Plastic Bag Dance. Wait till the ground is soaking wet (or drenchit yourself), and gather up lots of heavy plastic mall shopping bags;not the thinner supermarket variety. Slip a bag over each hand, locatewhere each vine enters the soil and pull s-l-o-o-o-o-w-l-y with one ofyour bagged hands; the vine should come right up for you, root and all.If it resists, have your helper soak the soil around the base of thevine with a garden hose. Don't YOU (the puller) be touchin' ANYTHINGbut the inside of them bags. Then fold the bag that's been coveringyour other hand over the pulled ivy, and drop the vine and both bagsinto the trashcan. NEVER re-use any of your 'hand bags'; start withfresh ones every time.

If the vine snaps with the root still in the soil, have your helper puta little stake into that spot to mark it, then come back the next dayand drench the area with the strongest vinegar you can find to kill theroot, or mulch with several inches of something thick and impenetrable(like shredded radio show host) to smother it. Or wait till new growthappears and attack it immediately with a vinegar or soap-basednon-toxic herbicide;its easier to kill the root with such an attack when the above groundgrowth is stressed and small. (Then bag up any above-ground remains, ofcourse.)

When you're finished, have your helper open all doors for you. Gostraight to the washer, put all your clothes in and have your helperrun them thru a cold water cycle. Then you get in the shower, have yourhelper turn it on and wash yourself well with cool water. No soap; nowashcloth. Water alone will remove the allergenic oil; soap and clothcan spread it to other, perhaps more sensitive, areas. Yes, exactly theareas you're thinking about right now!

Don't do this without a helper! You'll be certain to get some of thatnasty oil on a doorknob, faucet or other surface, where it will keepgiving you—and lots of other people—a nasty rash for many months. Anddon't even think about trying this with gloves instead of bags. Iguarantee your mind will wander at some point and you'll scratch yournose or rub your eye, and then….well, you know. There's a lot lesschance you'll do that with a plastic bag—and by using new bags everytime, you take the chance of you doing it with any of that nasty activeingredient oil attached pretty much down to zero.
But some people simply refuse to believe that water alone can rinse allof the dangerous oil off their skin, so they use Fell's Naptha soap orjewelweed or some other home remedy, often with very painful results.One of the world's leading experts on these rash-inducing plants, Dr.William Epstein, professor emeritus of dermatology at the University ofCalifornia at San Francisco, assures me that plain old water is all youneed. The real issue is timing. You have about 20 minutes to wash theoil off your skin after you touch poison ivy and not suffer anyreaction.

Out in the wild, far away from reliable running water, hikers oftendepend on commercial products like Tecnu—a combination of soap andmineral spirits—to get the oil off their skin before a rash can appear.Dr. Epstein says that ordinary rubbing alcohol does the same job at afraction of the price. (And those of you who just can't get yourselvesto believe in the power of water alone can wash the area well withrubbing alcohol and then rinse with cool water after a pulling party.)

If you're not sure what poison ivy, oak and sumac look like, go to forgreat photos of the nasty stuff in all of its guises.

And finally, if your specific problem is poison ivy vines climbing up atree, click {HERE}for last year's poison ivy advice, which included tips on handling thissituation.

You Bet Your Garden   Question of the Week  ©2005Mike McGrath

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