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Poison ivy management strategy: scorched earth or pick my battles?

Poison ivy

Recently, as I was walking my property and spotting some more returning poison ivy here and there and lamenting the existence and stubbornness of this pesky weed, a novel thought (for me) popped into my head: I know poison ivy is a native plant – does this mean it is right to totally eradicate it?

A study showing more CO2 in the atmosphere means we might get stronger, more potent poison ivy in the future with climate change, so it’s probably good to determine a strategy moving forward.

About five years ago, I had made an attempt to clear a space on my property beyond my fence and into a drainage ditch that was hard to reach, but getting overrun with tree-smothering vines, English ivy, and all matter of problematic brush. After several hard hours of pulling, clipping, snipping, and dragging, I declared the job done. In the next few days, poison ivy rash made its appearance up and down both arms, a bit on my legs, and even a few places on my body I must have rubbed. This took weeks to heal, and I resolved to be more careful in the future. I hadn’t even realized poison ivy was back there.

The next year, I wore pants, got better educated on how to spot it, and kept a better eye out for poison ivy while I worked on maintaining the same space. Poison ivy again got me pretty bad on the arms!

That was it! I didn’t want to resort to chemical warfare, but it was time to spray weed killer! I disliked the fact that I would be spraying near the drainage waterway and potentially transporting the chemicals further into the environment, but that poison ivy had got to go, right? I’m not risking physically pulling anything back there again, so it seemed like spraying, which would hopefully kill it down to the root, would be the best option.

For a couple of years, I sprayed the ivy with glyphosate weed killer, taking care to aim well and not overspray. I would make good dents in it, but it still came back, and often would be stronger than the previous years. I do have a few other spots around certain corners of my property that can host small amounts of poison ivy as well.

Poison ivy is actually beneficial

This year, as I pondered my strategy, I remembered poison ivy’s status as a native plant. This means it’s actually beneficial to the environment to have around even if this one is harmful to me to touch it. Many birds love to eat their fruit, and deer and rabbits eat the leaves, fruit, and stems (I wish they would eat more of mine!). Poison ivy oils are only harmful to humans (and potentially a few other primates).

Should I just let the poison ivy be? Give up the battle? Mother nature may be happy about that. I know how to look for it and don’t plan on rolling around on the ground around the perimeter of my yard too often.

However, I do have a duty to make at least the main areas of my property human-safe; when we have get-togethers outside, kids of friends of mine will run around the yard and explore every corner. I’ve got my own crawling baby now who will be a toddling baby this time next year as well.

What’s the plan?

I’ve decided to keep vigilant on spot-spraying the poison ivy that I can spot in the higher-trafficked areas of the yard. If someone can easily walk there, or it’s inside or alongside my backyard fence, it’s getting sprayed. An accurate squirt or two to coat the leaves on a day that does not have rain forecasted will do it. I’ll check back a few days later to spray again if the plant does not look totally dead.

For the stuff that is found beyond my rail fence and into the drainage way, it will get a pass as long as it stays in its zone. If it comes within 1 foot of my fence, I’m gonna spray it! I don’t want it to become so overgrown that it starts creeping across the fence or high up into the trees, so I’ll still practice some ivy enforcement, but this way I won’t have to long-range spray down the embankment where more of the chemicals are likely to get into the waterways.

Not all wars are worth winning. Hopefully, the poison ivy can keep benefitting the environment, but do so in its designated neutral zone.

Dan Adler
HGIC Web Support and Video Production

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