Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Removing Poison Ivy without Chemicals

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Hello fellow readers, What’s with all the poison ivy? I asked myself as I employed the “Mary-technique” of removing poison ivy using a plastic grocery bag; a technique most dog owners will find familiar, except perhaps for the protective gear.

With long sleeves, long pants, and garden gloves enhanced with rubber, I put my hand in the bag and pull the itchy invader by the roots being sure not to rip the leaves or vines which can spew oil. Then I invert the bag, tie it up, and dump it in the trash.

Weedkillers aren’t as effective 

Garden by garden I performed the task on Memorial Day, hardly a picnic, but the soil was moist which made for easy pulling, thanks to the plentiful rain which has much to do with the explosion of poison ivy. Yes, there are weed killers, though I’m averse to poisons. Plus, they’re not nearly as effective as pulling poison ivy up by the roots. It’s the urushiol oil contained in all parts of the plant (leaves, stems, roots, flowers, and berries) that causes a rash in about eighty-five percent of us.

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Poison Ivy’s Hairy Vine

Peg from Sparta NJ, whose yard was chock full of Toxicodendron radicans, recently adopted a rescue pup. While dogs typically don’t get the rash because of their protective coat, they can spread the oils onto you. Peg hired a poison ivy removal service whose crew works in hazmat suits of sorts to pull the invader. She showed me the tree with the mother plant, a thick fuzzy vine, and described how they cut the vine about ten feet above the ground and let it die in the tree, removing the lower portion of the vine.

Warning! The poison goes beyond touching

Never weed whack poison ivy which will cause the oil to spew. Never burn it either as the smoke, if inhaled, can cause a rash in your lungs which can be fatal.

According to the Mayo Clinic, blister fluid from a rash does not contain urushiol and therefore you can’t catch poison ivy from another person’s itchy breakout. And, they advise washing the oil off your skin within thirty minutes of exposure to avoid getting a rash to begin with.

After using the bagging technique, I carefully strip off my gloves and clothing in an inverted fashion to launder separately. Then it’s rubbing alcohol with cotton balls, using several as I swab to be sure not to spread the oils from here to there. Next, a dish detergent bath inspired by the story of it being used to remove oil from birds impacted by the Gulf coast spill years ago.

Poison Ivy oil lingers for five years

Urushiol oil can remain active in dead vines for many years and linger for up to five years on garden tools. Be sure to hose off your garden shoes with soapy water and use the same rubbing alcohol cleaning strategy, rinsing pruners, handles, and such.

It takes twenty-four hours for the bumps and itching to start after a poison ivy altercation, so as I write I’m not out of the woods. This brings a memory of when my dear sis challenged me to rub three leaves when I was a kid. Months later I challenged her to run the red flyer wagon down our steep driveway. I believe her knees still sport scars. Fortunately, my eyes swollen shut case of poison ivy didn’t leave physical scars, but it sure left respect to stay clear of the shiny three-leaved nemesis that I can now spot with an eagle eye.

Garden Dilemmas? AskMaryStone@gmail.com (and your favorite Podcast App.)

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I did get a mild case of poison ivy after all…

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New Tip: Use long-sleeved rubber gloves!

Post Mortem: I did get a mild case of poison ivy; small in comparison to the outcome of four hours of vines removed. 

I just learned a tip to use rubber gloves to remove poison ivy then toss them. Brilliant! Also, I used Palmolive which, despite the controversy during the bird cleanup as Dawn Dish Detergent is petroleum-based, may have been the weak link. Dawn and long-sleeved rubber gloves are now on my shopping list!

Check out a previous column on a confusing look-alike Poison Ivy vs. Virginia Creeper

“If it’s Hairy you better Ask Mary” :^)

Column updated 11/6/21 

Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary
  1. April Fisher Reply

    Hi Mary,
    Another tip is to wear a pair of disposable nitrile gloves underneath the rubber gloves so when you take off the outer pair you don’t expose yourself unwittingly-although I swear the oil is airborne!!
    April (another one of the 85%)

    • Mary Stone Reply

      Thanks for the tip April! Talk about adorning ourselves with gardening armor to tackle the three-leaved nemesis. It’s running amock! Always enjoy hearing from you :^), Mary

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