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Be very careful removing poison ivy

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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The nonsense jingles sung below the lyrics gave rise to doo-wop. The songs are catchy and fun and the Coasters got it right with a song about a girl they compared to chickenpox, mumps, measles, the common cold, and even whooping cough. This girl was even worse because she "Lord, will make you itch." She was Poison Ivy.

Well, poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) in the yard or garden is more than a distraction; it can be a health hazard. The sap contains the toxin urushiol, which causes irritating, often painful rashes in many people who touch it. It is unrelated to true ivy.

Poison ivy and poison oak are safely eaten by many animals, and the three-leaved plants are often the result of birds dropping the seeds into your garden. They can also come in as cuttings or even in a load of mulch. Nearby woods or wild acreage probably have poison ivy.

To get rid of this pest you need to be prepared. Be sure to wear rubber gloves, a long-sleeved blouse or shirt, long pants that you tuck snugly into your socks, and waterproof shoes or rubber boots that you can wash off afterward.

For added safety wear a hat, goggles, and even a breathing mask.

Choose a day with no wind. Try to cut the plants down to ground level and immediately put the cuttings into heavy plastic bags. This is one plant you do not want to try to compost; the toxins can last for years.

If you only have a single poison ivy or poison oak plant you might be able to dig out the roots. Like many perennials, poison ivy roots can run for several feet, and it might not always be practical to dig them out. If not, you can starve the remaining roots by continuously cutting any new growth.

If you can catch the three-leaved seedlings early on you can carefully pull them up roots and all before they get established. As always, use gloves and proper attire even with small plants.

You can also cover the affected area with black plastic mulch to block out sunlight and nutrients to kill the remaining roots.

Never cut or shred or tear any roots, stems or leaves, as you can easily release the toxins into the air with life-threatening results.

If poison ivy is climbing trees, don't bother trying to rip the vines away. It can release dangerous toxins into the air. Just cut them off at ground level.

The vines will die and even cling to the tree but they will not kill it. Poison ivy is not a strangler fig; it only uses the tree for support and it is not a parasite.

And absolutely never burn poison oak or poison ivy, or the resulting fumes can seriously injure your lungs.

When you are through removing poison ivy you need to thoroughly disinfect all of the tools used.

Hose off all shovels, pruners, saws and even shoes or boots. Then apply rubbing alcohol. Let everything air dry. To prevent rust you can oil the metal parts of the tools when they are thoroughly dry. Carefully remove all of your clothing and wash it separately.

You can even use goats to graze the area. Goats are immune to the toxin urushiol in poison ivy, and will happily eat the leaves and stems, often killing the plants.

Whether you cut them out, dig them up or let goats eat them, remove all poison ivy as soon as you can. After all, like the girl in the song, Lord she will make you itch.

Copyright 2016 Cape Gazette, Lewes, Delaware. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: July 12, 2016

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