Removing Poison Ivy without Chemicals (permanently)
by Patrick Clark, Certified Permaculuter Designer
This method can be used with other ‘weeds’ not JUST poison ivy. Other plants which spread with rhizome systems like blackberries need the longer-term surface coverage of several weeks or months. This EM-Bokashi™ method can turn a patch of ground into a fertile but seedless area ready to planting with a fraction of the time and energy it takes to ‘maintain’ using chemical herbacides or any other method of weed removal
I have worked with chemical-free poison ivy removal for over 20 years. Most of it was ‘weeding’ by hand wearing gloves. Of course it would constantly grow back and this was not a solution but only a ‘band aid’. I have since discovered a way to permanently remove poison ivy and at the same time rehabilitate the soil so it can be put into productive use for more desirable species.
First let’s understand poison ivy. It is mostly a rhizome (root) system underground, so you can’t really see the majority of the plant. So merely killing or removing the part of the plant you see on the surface is really hardly doing anything to the plant.
Second, poison ivy thrives on oxidant rich soil. That means soil that is poor, low fertility, low microorganism content. It grows on disturbed land meaning places that have been developed and native habitat disturbed. What we need to do is heal the soil and build a structure (soil) which supports the life forms we want.
Let’s take a typical residential hypothetical patch of poison ivy. This approach will be tweaked to meet the details of each situation such as, size of patch, climate, etc.
The EM-Bokashi™ Method of Poison Ivy Removal
1–Spray the leaves of the plant with EM-1™ microbial innoculant. Either use a backpack sprayer or a hose-end sprayer to the concentration of 1 tbsp. EM™ to 1 gallon of water. Spray the entire plant. If you can’t reach the tall vines, spray what you can and cut the vine while wearing respirator and protective clothing and gloves. This spraying is an attempt to start to weaken the plant by putting anti-oxidants in it’s ‘face’ for awhile before tackling the bigger picture. The poison ivy patch can be sprayed several times before the next step.
2–Cut everything to the ground. Use hand-tools and protective clothing and respirator. Use loppers, snippers, scyth, machete, etc.Power tools tend to spread the sap which is why hand tools are important. A reel lawn mover is excellent for cutting close to the ground after it has been hacked with other tools.
3–Put the poison ivy clippings into a pile and spread a piece of black plastic over it. Spread EM-Bokashi™ on the pile before covering. Pin the edges of the black plastic with tent stakes or wire or landscape staples. Let the pile ferment for at least 2 months depending on season, temperature, etc. The longer the better, obviously. The poison can be active for years after the plant is killed so use caution.
4–When the poison ivy has been cut and removed so the ground is now exposed, you are ready to tackle the roots–which can grow up to five feet deep. This is the ‘EM-Bokashi™ method.
Now you sprinkle EM-Bokashi™ on the ground in a 10’x10′ section. Then cover the section with a 10’x10′ piece of black plastic. Staple the edges down with landscape staples.
5–Leave the plastic down for 3 months of longer. Each poison ivy patch will be unique in how old and big the roots are, and the amount of time to leave the plastic will vary. It’s obviously good to play it safe.
What is happening with the EM-Bokashi Plastic Treatment is several synergistic activities.
The EM-Bokashi is adding anti-oxidants and powerful microbes which starts to turn the soil into a highly fertile mix. This attracts earthworms which arrive and further till and fertilize the soil. The soil becomes more vibrant and anti-oxidant rich and the poison ivy can’t thrive. It starts to loose its life-force. You are turning mostly clay into humus.
There is also a fermenting action happening which destroys all plants and seeds in the soil, and increases bio-availability of nutrients for future plants that you will put there.
6–When you are ready to remove the plastic, you need to plant the area in either a cover crop, or grass, or sheet mulch with cardboard and other materials on top (bark, straw, leaves, etc.)
If you have waited long enough you will now have a weed-free, fertile piece of ground so will want to make use of it.
If you find a bit of the poison ivy root survives and pokes its head up sometime later, which is practiacally inevitable–the poison ivy plant can still die if it has to compete with other plants. You HAVE to do something else with the land. (Use it or loose it).
7–The poison ivy root can and will try to re-route its vine to an area outside the plastic. For this reason it is important to tackle the whole area and to leave the plastic for about 2-3 months. However, one can begin with a 10’x10′ section and add more as time permits.
8–The idea is to starve the plant of food and light and create and environment where it slowly just gives up. The poison ivy plant is not really a plant but a root ‘rizome’ ystem. It lives underground and just comes up to feed. It will take an entire season to turn a poison ivy patch into a useable piece of land.
9–A alternative but related method is to create ‘sheet mulch’ beds using cardboard and straw or leaves. This would be good if the black plastic was not preferred–due to unsightlyness and catchiong mosquitoes in water pockets that down’t drain. However, the black plastic method is recommended to ensure the poison ivy is sufficiently killed or weakened before turning the area into sheet mulch beds or lawn or whatever else you want to do. One could do a black plastic treatment for a short period like 2-4 weeks and then turn the area into sheet mulch beds for a more long range plan of killing the deep roots of the poison ivy.
10–You still need to remove vines from the trees in case the dead vine drops seeds.
Here’s short video on sheet mulching:
Details about EM-1™ microbial innoculant and EM™ Bokashi
Go to this page and click on the banner at the top.
That will take to you www.teraganix.com
You can order EM™ microbial innoculant from terraganix which is the us branch of EMRO (Effective Microorganism@ Research Organization) and create ‘activated; em’s from that. You can order bokashi from there or make you own following the instructions on that site and using the EM™ microbial innoculant, wheat bran, and molasses.
You can go to the Solutions and Downloads sections to find recipes on making Bokashi and Activated EM™ from EM™1 Microbial Innoculant.
I am available for questions or consulting :
Protecting Yourself From Poison Ivy
Whenever you’re working in an environment with poison ivy, and especially when you’re working directly to get rid of the plant, you need to protect yourself from the toxic urushiol oil. Urushiol is the oily sap in poisonous plants like poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac that causes an allergic reaction. Take the following precautions to avoid getting a poison ivy rash when getting rid of poison ivy plants:
• Keep your skin covered: wear long sleeves, long pants, socks, shoes, and gloves
• Wear a breathing mask and safety goggles to keep the urushiol out of your mouth, throat, lungs, and eyes.
• Don’t work with poison ivy on a windy day. The wind can spread unseen seeds to take root elsewhere. If you’re working with herbicides, wind can also spread the toxic chemicals to other plants and people.
• Keep all parts of the poison ivy plants contained to avoid unintentional contact later.
• Never, ever burn poison ivy. Burning poison ivy will release the urushiol into the air, which can cause severe allergic reactions on your body and in your nose, mouth, lungs, and throat.
Identification and Facts about Poison Ivy
The deciduous leaves of poison ivy are trifoliate with three almond-shaped leaflets. Leaf colour ranges from light green (usually the younger leaves) to dark green (mature leaves), turning bright red in fall; though other sources say leaves are reddish when expanding, turn green through maturity, then back to red, orange, or yellow in the fall. The leaflets of mature leaves are somewhat shiny. The leaflets are 3–12 cm (1.2–4.7 in) long, rarely up to 30 cm (12 in). Each leaflet has a few or no teeth along its edge, and the leaf surface is smooth. Leaflet clusters are alternate on the vine, and the plant has no thorns. Vines growing on the trunk of a tree become firmly attached through numerous aerial rootlets. The vines develop adventitious roots, or the plant can spread from rhizomes or root crowns. The milky sap of poison ivy darkens after exposure to the air.
Poison ivy spreads either vegetatively or sexually. Poison ivy is dioecious; flowering occurs from May to July. The yellowish- or greenish-white flowers are typically inconspicuous and are located in clusters up to 8 cm (3.1 in) above the leaves. The berry-like fruit, a drupe, mature by August to November with a grayish-white colour. Fruits are a favorite winter food of some birds and other animals. Seeds are spread mainly by animals and remain viable after passing through the digestive tract.
Before I discovered the EM Bokashi Weed Removal Method something like this was the best thing I could find. (Sounds like a really lot of work).
Mulch, Tarps, Pulling
I’ve taken out long-established vines with trunks as big as your arm with but two or three strategic, thorough cuttings and a bit of digging and pulling. I carefully note locations of major vine colonies in the middle of winter here, when they’re easier to see and brittle to cut as well. One had completely covered a large stone retaining wall, at the bank to the ramp to the main barn loft. In winter I removed major sections of matted vines from the stones, after cutting all along the perimeter of the wall. I threw mulch hay along the top of the wall and it killed the poison ivy there without further ado. I knew that there’d be a good burst of new growth from the base of the big vine I chopped away and dug out, but part of that would be mowed as part of the yard and the other would be the rest of the project. More runners would pull up as the ground thawed, too. Then I waited until the leaf growth was as good as it could be before the seeds form. I cut the vines twice each with a sharp action of the corn knife, two or more inches apart, digging aside the cut section. That takes only minutes. I usually let it rot in place or at least wilt down to a dry brown before removing it to a composting area for ornamental, non-food uses. The seeds are a big source of food for birds and end up under trees to a large extent, so thick mulches can be used in places where mowing isn’t practical, as long as they don’t extend right up to the trees. I search for separate smaller vines and pull them to find all their branches. It’s often easy that way to get most of the ivy in a big area just by first locating a small number of well-spread vines. I have a spading fork, rake, and hay hook that I use to lift stubborn vines rather than cut into the dirt with the knife. I also use nippers to finish off each and every smaller sprout in the area. At most I’ll check it to remove any resprouts, once, later in the season. If I remove a plant I replace it with something else, and I’ll mulch heavily and position the replacements once I see that the growth is all browned out. This is a plant that gets as indignant as any hothouse ornamental if you demonstrate your willingness to cut away at it with some persistence. It enjoys thick mulches even less. Hell, I’ve killed some vines just by dropping scrap visqueen and tarps on them, which do the job in a season or two and can be hidden under mulch until removed. One big cluster of vines used to live under a spot where I subsequently stored a couple tons of cypress bark, but it didn’t seem to thrive at all once it was under a few feet of slow-rotting mill byproduct …