Backyard from Hell
June 21, 2005 3:36 PM   Subscribe

Recently I moved into a rowhouse with a number of other people. The previous tenants left the backyard looking like a jungle, a poison-ivy filled jungle of death. Help. Oh God, please help.

We wouldn't have a problem rolling up our sleeves and pulling things up, but there's a bunch of poison ivy back there. The greenery is thick enough and the poison ivy wound insidiously enough that we can't target it for spot treatment. We're thinking the best idea is to raze the area and start over, but we're not quite sure how to go about that. Our landlords are pretty new at landlording and don't have any ideas either. We tried spraying everything with Round-Up and poison ivy killer, and while things are dying it still looks like Joseph Conrad is going to leap out from behind the tree.

Does anyone have a suggestion about clearing this mess out? We have a shovel, a hacksaw, and a push-mower at our disposal--are there any neato power tools we can rent that'll do the job? Nothing big, since the entrance to our backyard is about the width of a door.

After we're done, should we just fertilize and seed the area with grass or do we need to wait for the Round-Up to clear out? We're all college students so we'll only be here two years at the most--we do want a backyard, but not something that'll take three years and gobs of money to grow pretty.
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (24 answers total)
Can you get and/or use something like this weed burner?
posted by jazon at 3:41 PM on June 21, 2005

One think to keep in mind- if you're mowing the ivy, you're going to create an airborne ivy component. I ran into this once and the results were not pretty (though I am very sensitive to poison ivy). If I were you, I'd get some rubber waders and elbow-length gloves, and go out there and tear it all up/rake it/bat it with a shovel.

Another thought that might be much less labor intensive would be to cover the yard in thick black plastic and let it roast in the sun for a few weeks. When you were more or less certain what was underneath was good and dead, you could rake up the mess and plant grass seed.

Another option might be to lay sod on top of what's there, and carefully manage what makes it back up out of the sod. But I don't think this is the best solution.
posted by fake at 3:43 PM on June 21, 2005

It's difficult to tell how big the yard is, but I have had good luck with simply placing tarps over the area I want free of vegetation. Weigh the tarps down, wait, and the lack of sun will kill off most all of the unwanteds. Re-seed and start over.

This even works pretty well with invasives like morning glory, though you have to be careful to pull the weeds that crop up outside the tarp-covered area.
posted by jeffmshaw at 3:59 PM on June 21, 2005

Check with your city/town -- it's likely that there is a code requiring home owners to control poison ivy on their property. This is the homeowner's responsibility.

And your landlord should hire a pro to do it. Otherwise, they probably won't get it all and may create an even greater public health nuisance.
posted by desuetude at 4:00 PM on June 21, 2005

If you spray it, it's not enough to just spritz it. You must douse it. Aim for the stems as well as the leaves. In a few days, repeat if any green remains. When it's crispy, remove, and if you can pull the roots, even better.

The roots and stems are really bad, and remain so even after they look like they're goners, so wear lots of protective gear and dispose of it in boxes, not bags -- it'll just poke through the bags and contaminate your car (assuming you haul it to the dump) or your garbage can and months from now you'll wonder why you keep picking up a rash.

Then lay sod.

If anything comes back next year, it will be much easier to deal with little sprouts than big vines.

And god, no, don't burn it. And don't let it get into any cuts in your skin.
posted by sageleaf at 4:04 PM on June 21, 2005

If you apply full-spectrum Round-Up correctly, it will kill ALL of the living green things in your yard. You are either applying it incorrectly or you have the "weed killer" variety that may not be robust enough for poison ivy.

You'll probably want to buy a backpack sprayer (they're pretty cheap) if you are applying Round-Up to a large area. And don't inhale!
posted by naomi at 4:14 PM on June 21, 2005

Note that dead poison ivy can still muck you up badly. Remember to wear gloves, long pants and sleeves, and a hat

Then, as soon as you're done, take off all the clothing, throw it right into the washer, and jump in the shower and scrub.

And, once again, *do not burn it.* FIRE BAAAD.

It's the easiest way for Poison Ivy/Oak/Sumac to actually kill you. You think the rash is bad on your skin? You can't scratch your lungs -- and when they swell shut, they don't work.
posted by eriko at 4:27 PM on June 21, 2005

Judging from the pic, it's actually not that bad. Get some Tyvek coveralls, booties and gloves and chop down to the ground, boxing up the remains. Then run a power tiller over the space to uproot the roots, then rake them up and box. You don't need headgear, but it's hard to remember not to touch ANYTHING. When you're done, wipe anything you touched with alcohol (rakes, the tiller, ect.). Discard the suits with the ivy. Grass seed and rake, with water it should come up in a few weeks. Beware of any ivy returning, it's very persistent.

If you go the chemical route, nothing's growing there for at least a year. You might go with gravel and flagstones.

And seconding a few others, NO BURNING! Ivy on your arm sucks, ivy in your lungs is hell.
posted by Marky at 4:36 PM on June 21, 2005

I don't believe this is true of Roundup. I am not a botanist, but my understanding is that the chemical works only on living plants, and has no residual impact in the soil. You can plant things after a week where Roundup was used.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 4:42 PM on June 21, 2005

Yeah, things will again grow in areas where Roundup is used, believe me. Don't worry about that.
posted by sageleaf at 4:47 PM on June 21, 2005

I read that borax (a salt of boric acid) is a good herbicide--it does stay in the soil for a while though. You might try that if you don't mind not having a green backyard.
posted by scalespace at 5:20 PM on June 21, 2005

If you aren't all that allergic to poison ivy, I wouldn't bother with the chemicals or the tyvec. Just get a decent (i.e. $30) pair of loppers, put on your work pants and work shirt and work gloves and work neckerchief, wade out into the mess and chop all the vines' roots as close to the ground as possible, then chop them into two foot segments. Let 'em wither for a few days and rake 'em up. If there are any HUGE vines left over, you can go at them with an elbow saw or a chain saw.

If the roots will come up easily, and you feel comfortable manhandling them with work gloves, then get them that way. Otherwise, paint the exposed ends with roundup within 15 or 20 minutes of cutting them, and that should kill them dead. Roundup and its analogs need to be applied directly to green leaves or to freshly cut roots.

I bushwacked my way through a much larger poision ivy thicket a few weeks ago, and all i got were a few pimple-sized legions on fingers, probably from handling my gloves after I took them off. Wash your cloths well and wash yourself well, and you should be fine.

If you seed a lawn during the summer, it's going to need A LOT of water in most climates. In the Northeast, you are supposed to seed grass before Memorial Day or after Labor Day.
posted by armchairsocialist at 5:29 PM on June 21, 2005

Google for Urushiol - you'll find what you need. Urushiol is the oil in the poison ivy that causes blisters.

Dress in long pants and sleeves. Put plastic bags over your shoes. Wear gloves. Tape your bags to your pants and your gloves to your shirt. Pull everything out and give it to the garbage man.

Wash in cold water! Hot water will open your pores and increase your chances of contamination. If you do get it bad, google for Zanfel. It's expensive, but it really does work.
posted by kc0dxh at 6:13 PM on June 21, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice! Burning was one of the first options we eliminated, I've had enough bad experiences with poison ivy to learn about that one. Unfortunately most of us are pretty allergic, and the ones who don't know how allergic they are don't want to find out.

Part of the problem is the exact location of the poison ivy is hard to pinpoint because the rest of the greenery is so thick. Should we try to pull up as much as we can, treat the poison ivy, then pull up more?

I dunno if sod is within our budget, and the area is fairly shady, but maybe the landlord will cover it.
posted by Anonymous at 6:16 PM on June 21, 2005

Best answer: For curing the lawn after the ivy is out there are a few simple tricks to getting it back cheaply and in less than a years time.

Now: adjust your mower to it's highest setting. This lets your grass gather more light and shade any new weeds. When the grass grows 1/2" longer, mow again. You can add a small amout of nitrogen rich fertilizer now.

In the Fall: aerate your lawn using a plug puller. There is a manual variety if you really want to be cheap about it. Then seed using a broadcast style spreader. Spread some compost or rich topsoil to 1/4" over the lawn and gently rake. Water every other day for the first week, twice a week for the next three. I like Tall Fescue best. It tolerates shade and feet very well, but it takes almost twice as long to germinate.
posted by kc0dxh at 6:25 PM on June 21, 2005

Best answer: I would just pull it. If you don't get the oil on you, you won't have a reaction. Dress very carefully and you and your roomies will have it done in a couple of hours.

IDing it is easy enough. It's likely to be the only vine growning, but if it isn't, look for leaf clusters of three. The leaves will be shiny and dark green in the summer. They turn a bright red in the fall. If it wasn't for the urushiol, it would be the perfect ivy!

Here are some pics of the stuff, but you know how to do this already. In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, "Leaves of three, let it be. Leaves of four, have some more!"
posted by kc0dxh at 6:35 PM on June 21, 2005

Shower with dish soap (I like Dawn) after working with poison ivy. Also, do all your work at once, don't torment the plants and then return. If they are damaged, they will respond with extra poison. I have mown down large areas of virgin poison ivy with no problems (this is with a sickle bar mower that doesn't make a pulp).
Poison ivy sheds water very well, so it is hard to get Roundup to stick, it might help to add some surfactant (or just soap).
Also, see if you can find someone who is not allergic. I've seen some people weedwack the stuff without problems (I get it just by looking at it).
posted by 445supermag at 6:42 PM on June 21, 2005

Hmmm... i get the impression that buring poison ivy is bad. Glad I came back to check on the answers. Chalk it up to "things I learned before it's too late"
posted by jazon at 8:32 PM on June 21, 2005

cover the yard in thick black plastic and let it roast in the sun for a few weeks.

That's a tactic I've seen mentioned lots of places for relatively painless killing of weeds. I did it on an overgrown area I wanted to clear for a flower bed, and found it made removing the dead plant matter very easy. It's not the roasting so much as the elimination of sunlight that does the trick.
posted by mediareport at 8:58 PM on June 21, 2005

I've been fighting a battle with a stand of poison ivy for literally years.

After a lot of false starts and half-assed efforts, this year I actually got the upper hand on it, courtesy of Ortho Brush Killer (in N. Texas you can buy it at Lowes or Home Depot; not sure about elsewhere)

It's the only thing I've ever tried on it that actually worked well, and even so, only the hose-end sprayer version worked (the hand spray bottle failed miserably).

Basically I doused every bit of it I could find (and everything else nearby) according to the label directions about every three days until it was decidedly dead, and officially became the poisoned ivy instead of the poison ivy.

It took about a week for definite signs of poisoning to appear, a month to dead, and another month to dried out.

Once it's dead and dried, follow some of the excellent disposal suggestions here.

The other product I'll mention is "Tecnu" (sold in grocery stores and pharmacies around here). It's a specific treatment for poison ivy exposure.

I'm very sensitive to poison ivy, and if I even brush up against the stuff, or think I might have, I immediately douse the exposed area with Tecnu, scrub it off with a dishwashing detergent, and repeat once or twice.

The stuff's not cheap, but it seems to work well -- I got exposed several times this spring, and never got a reaction using this regime..

Best of luck with it, and remember -- it's engaged in chemical warfare with you, it's only fair to return the favor.
posted by nonliteral at 10:12 PM on June 21, 2005

Shouldn't your landlord be required to provide a non-hazardous environment? Assuming you rented a "rowhouse with yard", is the landlord living up to the deal? If you soak his property in poisons, who is liable if the wind blows Roundup onto the neighbor's prize apple trees/zinnias?
I am with desuetude on this matter:
"Check with your city/town -- it's likely that there is a code requiring home owners to control poison ivy on their property. This is the homeowner's responsibility.

And your landlord should hire a pro to do it..."
posted by Cranberry at 11:58 PM on June 21, 2005

I have had good luck with IvyBlock. You put it on like sunscreen BEFORE expose. Obviously you still avoid letting the ivy touch your skin, but it does give a bit of extra protection until you wash. The cold water advice is good too. The cold water will bead up the poison ivy oil when washing, whereas hot water 'smears' it around more. And dishsoap works best for that first post-exposure shower since it is really great at removing oils. Cosmetic soaps with oil in them will not rid your skin of the oil as well. I have to work in this evil stuff fairly regularly and I apply the IvyBlock, then cover with clothes as much as possible, then right away take a shower with Joy soap, then repeat the washing with my regular bath soap and I rarely get the rash.
posted by juggler at 10:44 AM on June 22, 2005

"...take off and nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure."
posted by DakotaPaul at 1:01 PM on June 24, 2005

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