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Voting out poison ivy


My dearest friend always votes Republican, and, even this year, there is no changing his mind. And, so, we've found other things to talk about. As it happens, this isn't just election season. It's poison ivy season, too. That's because when all the other weeds begin to die back, poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac turn pretty shades of red, making them much easier to spot and, as a result, making this the perfect time to get rid of them. But, again, while my friend and I do agree that the skin-irritating plants in our yards must go, we don't agree on the methods for its eradication.

All about Getting the Job Done, my pal recently hauled out his gallon container of “Total Vegetation Killer” which, indeed, lives up to its name. When choosing from the myriad herbicides available, he says he reached for this one because it was put out by Spectracide, and the company's name reminded him of the villainous SPECTRE organization from his favorite James Bond flicks. What's more, squirting a little of the poison here and there couldn't be easier, and his fingers won't have touched a single plant.

Of course, relying on chemical herbicides and pesticides has its price, and there are greener ways to do the job. Although much more labor-intensive, removing poison ivy via mechanical means works best. About this time of year, I'll throw on long pants, long sleeves, and latex gloves, with cotton gardening gloves over the latex ones, so that I can yank the plants by hand. I dig up every last inch of the roots as well, since any left behind will send up new plants in the spring. Even dead poison ivy leaves, stems, and roots contain the volatile urushiol oil which causes that miserable, itchy rash, so it's important not to come into direct contact with any weed refuse. Also, never burn the stuff -- one guy I know had to be hospitalized after inhaling urushiol -- and keep it out of the compost pile. Although I tightly bag mine and, reluctantly, send it to the landfill, you can safely cover the dead stuff with a few layers of cardboard topped with several inches of mulch.