Do any plants compete successfully with poison ivy?
February 7, 2008 11:54 AM   Subscribe

I've been looking around (books, Google), trying to find a plant which can compete successfully against poison ivy for land/space. So far no luck so giving AskMeFi a try. I live in New England and want to eliminate this pest from wooded areas of my lot in an environmentally friendly manner.
posted by evilelf to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Anything that can naturally compete is going to be an even bigger problem. (read: Cane Toads) The only sustainable and entirely environmentally friendly option is going in an pulling it all out, digging out the roots and then destroying the leftover plant mass. This requires a lot of labor, and needs to be a pretty sustained effort as the stuff can grow back pretty heartily. The upside is that poison ivy is not terribly strong compared to other pest plants like English Ivy or Kudzu.
posted by French Fry at 12:08 PM on February 7, 2008

Here in California you can rent a goat if you need to clear poison oak. It doesn't get the entire root, you must do that, but having the foliage gone is a big help.
posted by jet_silver at 12:13 PM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you're going to have a hard time getting rid of it with another plant. It is, after all, an ivy. Plus, even if you get a vine established and it looks like it's covered the area, the poison ivy might (er, will probably) still be lurking in there. You'll never know unless you eradicate it first.

You really need to use a systemic herbicide, and they're all pretty nasty. I'm as tree-hugging as they come, but you don't really have many environmentally friendly options. Round-up is mentioned here as your best bet.

And you probably already know this, but whatever you do, DON'T burn the vines. The fumes are toxic and can lead to a reaction in your lungs.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:14 PM on February 7, 2008

Just want to second not burning the vines, as you likely know, but better on the safe side. Don't burn them.
posted by French Fry at 12:17 PM on February 7, 2008

You can yank it out of the ground during the wet seasons (if you are careful about not getting it on you). Poison Ivy Control:
Poison ivy can usually be grubbed out when the soil is wet and there are only a few plants. Attempts to remove roots from dry soil are futile. Pieces of root remaining in the soil will sprout vigorously and replace the original plants. Plowing is also of little value since the disturbed root systems will sprout. Repeated cutting of the plant back to the ground surface will eventually starve the root system and the plant will die. However, repeated cutting increases the chances of exposure to the poisonous oil.
Finding a plant to take its place is a matter of first getting rid of what you have. Then maybe find heavy ground cover that works in your climate. You should look for something native to your area. Your local agricultural extension would be a good place to start asking questions about location-specific solutions.

And just in case you skimmed above: don't burn it. I knew someone who burned it and got a horrible red face (etc.) from the smoke. And also, just, you know, in case the thought crossed your mind: don't smoke it.
posted by pracowity at 12:22 PM on February 7, 2008

Get a goat.
posted by OmieWise at 12:22 PM on February 7, 2008

Maybe give hop rhizomes a shot. The bines are hardy, and they spread very aggressively.

Or, as jet silver mentioned, rent a goat.
posted by cog_nate at 12:24 PM on February 7, 2008

I'm as tree hugging as they come, but the only real ways to get rid of a good crop is to bulldoze to the root level or kill it with an herbicide.

Unless you're near water, Roundup is actually reasonably safe and not residual in soil. Plain blue-label Roundup will kill it if you douse the plant. Halfway measures will make it come back nice and strong.

You can pull it if you just have few plants. Invest in IvyBlock and Zanfel and set aside a few dollars for the ER in case you get the urushiol in your bloodstream.
posted by sageleaf at 12:29 PM on February 7, 2008

Agreeing with other posters that you'll have to kill the ivy first.

If you don't want to spray chemicals and don't want to yank it out, you might try depriving it of light. Get a bunch of old newspapers and cover the ivy thickly enough that light can't get through. If you're trying to start a competing plant, you can then cover the newspaper with a layer of clean, ivy-seed-free soil and plant your competing plant in that. The newspaper will eventually biodegrade, but hopefully by then your other plant will be well established enough that the ivy is pwned.

Most mints are invasive as hell, plus they smell nice when you stomp on them.
posted by Gianna at 12:37 PM on February 7, 2008

I've had success with marketed Poison Ivy herbicides, but it generally took 3 applications about 3 weeks apart, so altogether about 2 months. But after that, the plants seems to just give up.

I also chopped through the vines climbing trees last winter. The largest was about 3 inches thick and had more than twenty growth rings. Some trees had poison ivy as half their branches. (Besides climbing as a vine, poison ivy also forms quite ordinary-looking free standing branches.)
posted by hexatron at 12:50 PM on February 7, 2008

Here's is an effective, if not labor intensive, chemical free method for eliminating poison ivy:

STEP 1) Make sure the soil is wet:
Either wait for a rainy day or soak the area with a hose for A LONG TIME (pulling when the dirt is dry leave far more pieces of root behind).

STEP 2) Pull the poison ivy:
Put on some hefty gloves (you may want to throw them away afterwards to dispose of the oil residue left by the leaves) and two layers of long sleeved shirts, tucked into the gloves. Be sure to get as much of the root system as possible. This is the most difficult part of the whole ordeal. Tilling after this step will also help, but is not entirely necessary.

AS ALWAYS, be sure to TAKE A THOROUGH BATH directly after handling poison ivy. Many people have different levels of reaction to the oils, but any resistance subsides with repeated and prolonged exposure, so BE DELIBERATE and CLEAN UP!

STEP 3) Mulch, mulch, mulch:
Add several layers of leaves, bark, or gravel if you wish. Woody mulches are the best option here, since the processes can take upwards of three years, and you want that mulch to last.

STEP 4) Cover it up:
Cover up the entire mulched area with durable black plastic. This will ensure that the effected region does not get any sunlight. Another alternative is to use several layers of used newspaper, but the newspaper bio-degrades quickly and can blow away, allowing sunlight in.

STEP 5) Mulch mulch mulch again:
Cover the plastic with an additional layer of woody mulch (for aesthetics and added light protection).

If allowed to rest for 2 years, this method should kill all of the rootstock, but if you have a real problem and want to be certain that the ivy is eliminated, three years is preferable.

Once you've uncovered the plastic, just go ahead and plant right over the old layers of mulch (you don't want to stir up a dormant seed or root on accident), or just leave as is.


I learned this method while working at a summer camp in Wisconsin as a camp counselor. Every weekend we were responsible for maintenance and grounds-keeping. We used this method to keep the children safe and to set a good example for respecting the environment. I hope this was helpful.
posted by lukeklein at 12:58 PM on February 7, 2008 [3 favorites]

Thanks all, sort of just turned into another "How do I get rid of poison ivy?" post so my apologies for that.
I had thought of goats b/c the pygmy goats are sooo cute, but my wife is against that.
lso, was thinking of going a route similar to that suggested by lukeklein (covering after spraying) and appreciate the response for providing additional tips relevant to that method.
posted by evilelf at 1:32 PM on February 7, 2008

Lukeklein may be right if there are no trees or plants you want to keep. Plastic does keep water away from all roots.

I'd like to say something positive about poison ivy before I tell you how to kill it. It creates and holds soil before anything else. In the Northeast, at the dry end of the interface between ocean and land it is the plant that creates and first provides the bed for everything that requires soil. It feeds birds and shelters all kinds of bugs and bacteria. Its hairy roots halt erosion.

Killing it is simple. There are four steps.
1. Pull it out when the land has been wet for three days or more. Don't forget to protect yourself from the oil or else hire someone who is or has developed immunity. Never burn.
2. Scalp-mow every three to seven gays till it the remaining plant has used up all its root-bound food and dies.
3. Plant what you will
4. Make a thickish mix of roundup and Ivory dishwash soap. Use a small sponge to dampen ivy leaves that return or are we-seeded by bird or other droppings.

Ta Da
posted by elmaddog at 1:43 PM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

You might also want to scalp-mow every three to seven days.
posted by elmaddog at 1:55 PM on February 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'll 4th: Do not then burn what you pull. I know someone who did that and it was bad.
posted by salvia at 2:38 PM on February 7, 2008

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