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Rampant Poison Ivy

Posted by Isa Campbell 
Rampant Poison Ivy
August 03, 2018 06:05PM
There is just so much poison ivy in our young non-bearing 2 acre orchard. I have a pretty good resistance for the time being and also just watch out for it, however I am concerned as we approach harvest years. Of course they will become exponentially bigger and we hope to invite the community to get involved; I don't want anyone getting it!
So, this season I've weeded it plenty and found some pretty big runners up to 12 ft. This doesn't seem a manageable task for one person and would require many hours every year. Would it be insane to brush round-up or some other herbicide on the ivy? Never used the stuff before, not even sure if it would be as effective as I would expect. I could sacrifice the beneficial flowering and nitrogen fixing species by close mowing in the walkways. Would the poison ivy eventually relent to a thicker sod?

Seems there are no answers, only questions. Have any of you encountered this problem and what have you done about it?


Vineyard Hills Community Orchard
Grow Ohio Valley
Zone 6a in Wheeling, WV

Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 12/09/2020 09:09PM by Isa Campbell.
Re: Rampant Poison Ivy
August 03, 2018 07:29PM
Two things: 1) Poison ivy is a funny thing: Somewhere around 15% of people have no reaction to it, and can happily play in it with bare skin. (It is not an antigen-antibody reaction, so you don't become "allergic" to it.) 2) My own experience is that, yes Round-Up does kill it. And the advantage of Round-Up is that it gets the roots also, so it will eventually eliminate it from your property, (at least until birds spread the seed from your neighbours). However, poison ivy has shiny leaves that make it more difficult to get the Round-Up into the plant. If you are willing to go after it in a highly focused fashion, I strongly support your plan of painting a somewhat stronger solution of Round-Up on individual plants. I have in fact eliminated poison ivy adjacent to my house by such highly focused application, with minimal effect on any surrounding vegetation. (And Round-Up is inactivated as soon as it comes in contact with soil, according to some; others contest this, saying it has long-lasting effects on soil organisms for up to several years. I have no good science in support of either stance.) But even if one adopts the latter position, it comes down to a balance of harms and benefits, and to my mind, the harms of uncontrolled poison ivy where individuals sensitive to it may contact it, considerably outweigh the the uncertain effect on the soil ecology.
One other caution: even after it has been killed by Round-Up or anything else, poison ivy still has the urushiol in the residue, and will still cause a rash. Also, if you burn it, you will vaporize the urushiol, which can cause really nasty effects, (essentially a poison ivy rash in the lungs). Find somebody to collect up the residue who doesn't react, and clean everything up as much as possible.

Broomholm Orchard
Zone 5b in Nova Scotia
Re: Rampant Poison Ivy
August 05, 2018 09:26PM

That's cool you have resistance to poison ivy, the one time I got it was really nasty. One of my friends drank a tea made from it when he was little and claims he is no longer allergic to it at all...

Anyway, why not try sheet mulching and then a deep layer of ramial wood chips? There are literal mountains of free cardboard on craigslist available and there are a number of ways to obtain free wood chips by the truckload depending on where you're located. Once you get everything covered up, you shouldn't have to do any maintaining and you can move on to more pleasant chores! I think the fungi in the chips would definitely molecularly decompose the urushiol as well.

I would avoid the chemicals personally.

Good luck.

Karn Piana
Zone 7 Semi-Arid Steppe
Northern New Mexico
Re: Rampant Poison Ivy
August 05, 2018 11:31PM
No, I personally am every bit as sensitive as the majority of people. And your friend who claims that he is not sensitive to it is probably absolutely correct - just not because he was drinking poison ivy tea as kid. He never was sensitive, (and, more interestingly), probably never will be.

In terms of the sheet mulching, I agree this is an excellent solution for the tree rows. But what are you going to do in the aisles? Covering the entire orchard may not be entirely feasible. I too dislike chemicals, but sometimes there is simply no other way, at which point if the fix can be tailored, in the words of your military, to be "surgically precise", the benefit may outweigh the larger harms. (I adopted the same philosophy in my war on the Round Headed Apple Borers which were working on the total destruction of my orchard - I injected a few cc's of nasty insecticide into their holes with a syringe, comforting myself that the total amount added to the environment was miniscule.)

Broomholm Orchard
Zone 5b in Nova Scotia
Re: Rampant Poison Ivy
August 06, 2018 01:52AM
If a patch of poison ivy emerges in an area where there are no wood chips, just dump some more on that spot.

Also, heed David, drinking poison ivy tea is nightmarishly dangerous and seems like it would either be lethal or else so painful and horrible that a person would wish it was. I guess I was sharing the story more from the angle of something that I thought was interesting and I didn't think about the idea of someone actually attempting this. So, sorry for that. Thanks for clarifying David.

In our case here in New Mexico, our goal is to not only grow food and fruit, but also foster a more abundant ecosystem around us. Personally, I want to do this with mostly inputs we create here on this land and to avoid the use of all "engineered" insecticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. Our trees are not rare or unique (or even mature), but it seems like yours in Nova Scotia are those that one could think of as a treasure. The thought of having a beautiful and mature orchard of rare heirloom apples be destroyed by borer beetles is incomprehensible to me and it sounds like the infestation reached a point where you concluded that you had no other choice and attempted to avoid the chemicals as much as you could. I think the way that you approached the use of pesticides to save your heirloom trees, as a surgical procedure isolated as much as possible from contaminating anything outside of your narrow target is about as good as one could hope for in such a case.

Karn Piana
Zone 7 Semi-Arid Steppe
Northern New Mexico

Edited 7 time(s). Last edit at 08/06/2018 08:39AM by Karn Piana.
Re: Rampant Poison Ivy
August 08, 2018 11:35PM
I feel your pain! I too am always looking for PI solutions that balance understory diversity.

I generally subscribe to the "All of the Above" strategy! smiling smiley Especially given the various needs for each specific location in your orchard (aisles vs. rows vs. windbreaks, etc.)

We have similarly strong growing PI here in central MD, but we've generally kept it pushed back via regular mowing...sometimes that means ~3-4 times / year in better maintained aisle, and ~10 times / year (for the time being) in areas we are 'reclaiming,' i.e., basically sacrificing some understory diversity for the sake of getting ahead of the curve.. Of course, that's all for areas where there aren't many-years-old vines/leaves already...those areas have enough vegetation to make mowing it an airborne danger. I find someone who doesn't mind PI to strip those areas. Afterwards, regular mowing & mulching seem to do a good job of keeping any root stragglers down...and eventually the persistent $@!$ roots will run out of energy.

I also echo David's comment re: pinpoint Roundup (edit: I meant to say Ortho Poison Ivy spray -- I think it is a salt based spray. Not sure why I said Round Up, that stuff is definitely no good!). That's worked well thus far for getting rid of seed sprouts, etc. I usually carry a bottle around with me along with pruners, etc, and scout for it as a regular part of my walk about.

Most of all, we just keep a steady look out for any areas that escape our attention...as I'm sure you see in WV, it only takes no time at all for PI to blanket a tree & start seeding.

Zone 7a in West-Central MD

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/27/2022 05:07AM by Josh Willis.
Re: Rampant Poison Ivy
February 18, 2022 05:46AM
On our property with relatively sandy soil, I have had no problem pulling the poison ivy and the roots in the dormant season. I have low sensitivity to PI, and attacking it when the leaves are off seems to help a lot. This is especially easy with seedlings that haven’t developed much root yet, as well as PI that has lost its vigor due to repeated attacks.
We are on the “No Roundup” program, not just for our own health, but also in consideration of those that work and live where those chemicals are manufactured.
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