Is poison ivy still poisonous in winter?
October 24, 2006 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Is poison ivy less poisonous when it dies for the winter? I'm rather allergic and have gotten rashy several times over the spring and summer, either from preparing the garden or the dogs running through the ground cover and then rubbing up against me. I know where the ivy is, but need to know how to get it out of there without killing the desirable ground cover that it is growing in.

So, I'd like to pull it out without using any weed killer as suggested in this thread but I guess I can kill it all if necessary. How long does it take the irritant to dry up in the dead plant? Will covering my skin with thick clothes and gloves be enough to keep me safe if I just try pulling it all out?
posted by Roger Dodger to Science & Nature (15 answers total)
If you are strongly allergic, you should probably go ahead and use some Round Up to kill it all. The Round Up will neutralize in 24 hours, so you won't be polluting much. Once the poison ivy is dead, all brown and wilted, you can pull (with gloves) or just leave it there and it will decompose.

If you are completely against a herbicide, then get some good gloves and pull it all up and place it in a plastic bag. Do not burn it or grind it up. Just trash it. Immediately after pulling it up remove all your clothes and put them straight into a washing machine and get in the shower and thoroughly scrub with soap.
posted by sulaine at 1:37 PM on October 24, 2006

Not sure if it is less poisonous, but I am highly allergic to poison oak and I know I have had the itch during every season at least once. I would highly suggest investing in some Tecnu before this undertaking, regardless of path chosen.
posted by Big_B at 1:39 PM on October 24, 2006

And to echo what sulaine said, DO NOT burn it!
posted by Big_B at 1:40 PM on October 24, 2006

Don't touch it! I react to poison ivy failry badly too, and can assure you it is still "poisonous" after it is dead. The plant produces an oil called urishol that most people are allergic to and which causes the rash. That oil doesn't dissappear once the plant is dead.

When I have to deal with it like you are suggesting, I wear old clothes and shoes that completely cover my skin, and then throw them away after I'm done- including the shoes. I got a case of it one spring from a pair of shoes that had been exposed the fall before!
posted by gus at 1:45 PM on October 24, 2006

It's still poisonous. I used to get poison ivy all the time in November and December (!) from my dog running around in the woods.

Round-Up, cover up, Tecnu/Ivy Block, and an immediate rush to the washing machine and shower when you're done with work.
posted by schroedinger at 1:47 PM on October 24, 2006

Hire someone who's not allergic to take it out. Seriously.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 2:20 PM on October 24, 2006

Yep, still poisonious. I remember reading somewhere that some believed that the "mummy's curse" was from explorers cracking open tombs which had been lined with poison ivy. Spores carrying the still-live oils filled their lungs, triggering a fatal reaction.

A quick google search produces nada though. Meh.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:50 PM on October 24, 2006

Roundup applied in a spray is actually not as effective on the plant and far more harmful to the environment than the following approach:
1. cut the plant free from the root stock, but leave a bit of 'stump' (you can just cut the vine, and leave a bit, you don't have to remove it)
2. very carefully 'paint' the Roundup onto the exposed cut.
This is an excellent time to do this for vining plants, they are sending down new roots for the winter and Roundup will kill the whole thing by getting into the roots of the organism.
Try to do this after dew has dried and on a day where no rain/precipitation is forecast for at least 24 hours.
You should know that this is not a fast-acting "magic bullet", but the plant will die - it just takes time. We used it on a sumac seedling and it took about six weeks for the plant to die. Similarly, we've used this technique on English Ivy and it's taken 2-3 months for the full effect to be seen.
As others have said, use precautions in how you dress. You could even buy a cheap set of painters coveralls, and throw them out when you're done.
posted by dbmcd at 3:34 PM on October 24, 2006

Get someone (as Sweetie Darling said) to execute dbmcd's treatment. Spraying Round-Up would kill your desirable ground cover, probably better than it would kill the P.I.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:10 PM on October 24, 2006

Oh, and if you decide to do it yourself, wear disposable clothes, and throw them away, as gus recommends. The toxic oils are very tenacious, and I would not trust regular laundry detergent to remove them all.

If you know that some part of you was exposed, use Fels-Naptha bar soap (the brown bar that grocery stores have in their detergent aisle) to thoroughly wash that part, as soon as you can. You should have a bar on hand in case you need it, because the quicker you get the poison off, the better.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:18 PM on October 24, 2006

2nding Sweetie - you should find someone else to do it. Your local small-job ads will likely have somebody who can do it without pain.

If you must do it yourself, wash with rubbing alcohol before showering - alcohol denatures the urushiol. Another trick is to rub dirt over hands after handling poison oak -- the oil seems to be absorbed -- but this might not work if you're seriously sensitive.

Personal experience says that Roundup will not necessarily do the trick. Our poison oak often manages to shrug off Roundup (no poison ivy here to experiment on) even when applied direct. Manual removal is a better permanent solution.
posted by anadem at 4:18 PM on October 24, 2006

I think you should hire someone to do it.

Think about it this way: if you mess up - no matter how careful you are - you will spend days if not weeks or months in misery. How much would you pay to avoid that misery? Here is a pretty good discussion with various experiences from people who have tried/succeeded to remove it themselves.

Things to keep in mind: the irritant is urisol, which is in the sap, which typically migrates to the roots during the winter so as not to crystalize. This suggests to me that the roots in the autumn/winter have a greater concentrated of urisol than the leaves would in the summer.
posted by plinth at 6:37 PM on October 24, 2006

You might want to wear some kind of breathing protection; I'm not sure how much of an issue this is, but I think I've heard of it affecting people before. Those mucous membranes sure do take allergens.
posted by amtho at 7:45 PM on October 24, 2006

In California you rent a goat.
posted by jet_silver at 8:58 PM on October 24, 2006

I've gotten poison ivy in the winter. There usually aren't leaves on it but the vines are probably more toxic. They appear kind of hairy and usually grow up trees.
posted by elkelk at 12:56 PM on October 25, 2006

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