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 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 pulled the itchy invader by the roots, ensuring not to rip the leaves or vines that can spew oil. Then I inverted the bag, tied it up, and dumped 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. They’re not nearly as effective as pulling poison ivy up by the roots. The urushiol oil in all parts of the plant (leaves, stems, roots, flowers, and berries) causes a rash in about eighty-five percent of us.
While dogs typically don’t get the rash because of their protective coat, they can spread the oils onto you. Peg from Sparta, NJ, whose yard was chock full of Toxicodendron radicans, recently adopted a rescue pup. 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; 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 them 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 I’m not out of the woods as I write. This reminds me of when my dear sis challenged me to rub three leaves as 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 I can now spot with an eagle eye.
Post Mortem: I got a mild case of poison ivy, which is small compared 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 may have been the weak link. Despite the controversy during the bird cleanup, Dawn Dish Detergent is petroleum-based, so it works well removing oil. Now Dawn and long-sleeved rubber gloves are on my shopping list!
Check out a previous column on a confusing look-alike of Poison Ivy vs. Virginia Creeper.
“If it’s Hairy, you better Ask Mary” :^)
Column updated 5/13/23