Every year, a few clusters of poison ivy pop up in my yard. The cat walks through them and comes in with the oil on her fur, so though I’d like to, I can’t just ignore it. I don’t like using chemical herbicides in the first place and the couple of times I’ve broken down and used them on poison ivy, two things happened. One, the chemicals killed the top growth, but the plants resprouted. Two, I now had dead, rash-causing foliage I still had to get rid of. So if I have to touch the leaves anyway, why use chemicals?
So I‘ve found a safe way to get poison ivy out by the roots without using an herbicide: by hand-pulling. It takes a little planning and dexterity, but done correctly it gets the plant out by the roots, which is the most effective way to kill it, and gets the poison ivy bagged and in the garbage without it touching exposed skin.
This technique involves using plastic bags and lots of them. While I hate using that much plastic, there’s really no way around it for this technique.
Collect a bunch of plastic bags, like supermarket or store shopping bags. They need to be big enough to fit over your hands and up your forearms while allowing you to grasp the vines. Smaller ones work better for me; they don’t flop around as much. I like the ones newspapers come in because they are long as opposed to wide, but unless you’re getting papers delivered, they’re harder to come by. Make sure the bags don’t have holes.
If you have gauntlet gloves, the ones that are usually used for rose pruning, wear them. If not, wear a long-sleeved top that you can easily take off and throw in the wash. The object is to make sure your arms are covered. Cover any body part that could possibly touch the foliage as you pull it out of the ground, including wearing eye protection.
The roots will come out easier if you wait to pull them after a good soaking rain, or if you have access to a garden hose and can soak the soil as you go.
Gather the shopping bags, the gloves, and a larger trash bag, ideally one that can stand open by itself or is on a frame so you don’t have to touch it. You’ll be tying up the shopping bags and putting them into the larger bag.
Go to your first poison ivy vine. Pull a bag over each hand, so they go up your arm. Keep the rest of your body as far away from the vine as possible.
With one hand, grasp the vine by the stem and work as much of it as you can out of the ground. In the other hand you may need to use a hand fork, trowel, or other tool to help pry the vine out of the soil. Don’t touch the tool with bare hands, and wipe it down with rubbing alcohol or wash it with soap and water afterwards (wear gloves).
Once you’ve pulled the vine out of the ground with one bag-covered hand, hold the vine in that hand and use the other bagged hand to pull the vine-holding bag off your arm inside out, so that the act of taking the bag off your arm traps the vine inside the inverted bag.
Switch the inverted bag to the still-bagged hand. With your now free hand, pull the bag off the still-bagged arm so that the poison ivy is encased in both bags. Tie the top of the bag into a knot.
Put the bag into the larger trash bag. Got more vines? Use more bags.
Once you’re done, make sure all the smaller bags are securely inside the larger trash bag. Tie up the larger bag, making sure you haven’t touched any part of it with poison ivy. You don’t want to accidently expose yourself – or the sanitation crew – to any residual oils.
Go inside, and carefully take off the gloves and wash your hands with lots of soap and cool water. Carefully remove any clothing that might have touched any part of the vine and wash it immediately in a hot wash with detergent. Use rubbing alcohol to wipe down any surfaces that might have been contaminated with oils (wear gloves or plastic bags to do this). Poison ivy oils can remain active on surfaces for as long as five years.
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By The Davey Tree Expert Company
Photographs courtesy of The Davey Tree Expert Company
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