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Looking at Poison Ivy Through the Eyes of Permaculture

 
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I have a few questions for the greater community that I'm sure many have had and I think the answers to these questions would be very valuable to us all. If anything even brainstorming a solution to this problem (or a problem to this solution?) would be a challenging permacultural task.

If the problem is the solution, what problem is poison ivy the solution to?

What permaculture methods can be used to "deal with" poison ivy?

For those who haven't ever dealt with poison ivy there are a few things you should know.
1. It causes a strong itchy rash by contact with almost any part of the plant. This rash varies in intensity and can last for weeks.
2. It can grow as a vine across the ground on a tree or as a shrub.
3. It has tiny berries that birds eat which they then spread the seeds.
4. Trying to stifle its growth by plastic, heavy mulching, or any other method other than pulling it out by hand doesn't work.
5. People have reported it is even immune to glyphosate.
6. It grows mainly on forest verges and inside forests. Can grow in full sun all the way to mostly shaded environments.
7. It also spreads from root division, so anything left in the ground will grow back.
8. Burning it causes a highly toxic smoke that when inhaled gets poison ivy in your lungs
9. It is a highly aggressively growing pioneer plant. Easily out competing practically anything.

I am working on a garden in a backyard of a home that backs onto a swampy forest that is chock full of poison ivy. I mean 4-6 inch think vines that choke trees. So much is growing up some trees that when the foliage comes out in the spring its hard to tell what is the tree foliage and what is the poison ivy. The only thing I can think of in terms of dealing with it now is pulling it out very carefully by hand and keeping a kind of poison-ivy wall between the garden and the forest. The wall is just a 4-5 foot wide cleared area so whenever poison ivy grows into it I just pull it out.

I have even hired this man http://www.poison-ivy.org/ who came to my home and by hand removed a great amount of the poison ivy but since the house backs onto a swamp that is infested with it, this is just a temporary measure. I can see the poison ivy invading our garden in the next 3-5 years or so when it has grown back.

I find myself think existentially about difficult problems to help me solve them and I often come to the conclusion that poison ivy is one of mother nature's prime weapon against the encroachment of man. Think about it, as suburbia has spread, so has the range of poison ivy. People often resort to just spraying it with roundup which only takes care of it for a season or two and just results in poisoning their soil and water table. People who claim to not be allergic (I wasn't all my childhood) very often develop a reaction if exposed to it enough (which I have). Animals that rub against it get the poisonous oils on their fur. The oils can last actively for weeks on clothes and fur. It grows incredibly fast in a huge variety of environments. Articles have been written about how the expansion rate and potency of poison is directly correlated to CO2 in the atmosphere. So more global warming, faster growing and more poisonous poison ivy.

People claim goats eat it. What if you don't have a goat? Goats also eat everything else near it.

I've tried, heavily mulching over it and pulling it out but I just see it returning in a few years.

I'm trying to think of things that can out-compete it but I have yet to find anything. And if I do, is that really something that I want to plant? I can just imagine the rest of my garden being overtaken by the new plant instead.

My thinking now is along the lines of #3 above. If its main form of dispersal is the birds eating the berries, can I get the birds to eat something else instead? Is the Poison Ivy berry the equivalent of famine food for birds? Would they give it up if they had more delicious things to eat?

Any thought?
Thanks
-Elia
 
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I have also been looking into this as poison ivy is coming into my yard from the neighbors'.

While the oils do last a while on hides and fur, it seems that lots of animals eat it with no problem whatsoever. When I get my paddock set up in the proper area, I'll be letting my muscovy ducks eat as much as they like.

If you don't have livestock, then you must do the pig's work.
 
pollinator
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Try spraying the plants with strong pickling vinegar.
 
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Not the solution for every situation but I've read that goats love poison ivy (and it doesn't hurt them at all). I don't have any growing on my place but a neighbor across the canyon has a small patch and asked if my goats would like to visit. Haven't had the time yet, but will report back when we do.
 
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We have a 100 acre forest that is full of ivy (I prefer to not use the P word). I haven't found more than about 100 square feet together without it present. Here are my observations so far...

It makes me exceptionally observant of all flora around me.

Eating young red leaves in gel-caps prevents rashes, and lessens the itch of current rashes. It is the only effective treatment we have found. We have had limited success with jewelweed.

Goats will eat it, but their preference for it varies. Our goats will not eat it until they have eaten other browse for 20-30 minutes. I haven't seen them eat any that grows below about 6 inches. Also, while romping through it they get the oils all over themselves, which makes handling them difficult.

If I were in your situation, I would cut the existing large vines in the woods at ground level. They will grow back, but they will at least not be producing copious berry clusters for the next few years.

I definitely agree that ivy is a counter measure to human maintained ecological disturbance. FYI, humans are apparently the only animal to have any negative reaction to it.

Peace and happy pulling!
 
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Poison ivy is part of our landscape also. Where we can mow it eventually stops growing , but tries at every stump and tree and the foundation of the house. We are able to keep it mostly to the woods edges but it, along with the ticks and the heat, keeps me from doing much in the woods over the summer. It is usually knee high by early summer.
When we had goats they ate it and we all thought drinking the milk kept us and our kids from getting a rash when we were exposed to the leaves. We have a corner of the forty that has no poison ivy, The ground has a lot of young muscadine vines and huckleberries and is higher and maybe drier than the rest of the land.
I have tried vinegar spray and pouring it on the vines at the house foundation but I wouldnt want to use vinegar any place else. I think it set them back a bit but I still have to pull the vines.
Our dog and cat are walking through it every day and we dont get it from petting them.
I think we build up an immunity over years of exposure. From a permaculture point of view maybe it serves the purpose of limiting human activity and adds that bit of humility to our "control" of nature.
 
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I would add intensive grazing. I am looking at a piece of property now with ten acres that were grazed several years ago still free of P, however the wood lot running the length of the ten AC is a field of P under the trees. After doing my research I'm going with a heard of St. Croix sheep to do a rotation of intensive grazing in the wood lot. This should knock it down to a manageable by hand amount. I will also consider pigs for certain areas in a rotation, and then come back and plant native beneficial species that also do well in my area. Hopefully they will do some of the work of the P and give it some completion. I have never seen this much PO/I in one area in my life.

Possible consider renting/borrowing some sheep/goats that are bread to live off of forage only (very important) and tether them so they can move that line of P back for you. Toss out various types of local herbal species and see what happens. For a list call your local extension office, or Mater Gardeners.

We also ate the leaves this last spring in yogurt and in the spring when exposed our break outs were very manageable and unusual for us sensitive types. Now when I walk through the solid P I have no reaction at all. We will be eating the leaves every spring from now on.
 
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It clearly lends itself to keeping out human intruders. Want to protect a delicate and thief-attracting crop? Plant it in the area you've surrounded by a thick hedge of poison ivy.
 
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Location: Pennsylvania
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we have lots of p ivey in our woods. fortunately I do not get any reaction from it. I have been using our steers to pioneer some areas that I want to clear for additional grazing area. The cows seem to eat a lot of it and trample the rest. out in the pasture and where the grass has been kept down there is no p ivey. I want to try to make areas where it has too much struggle to thrive. I also just use an ax to cut any vines from trees. I also plan on running my daughters goats and some pigs in this area too.
kent.
 
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osker brown wrote:
Eating young red leaves in gel-caps prevents rashes, and lessens the itch of current rashes. It is the only effective treatment we have found. We have had limited success with jewelweed.



How do you get the young leaves into the gel caps without getting a horrendous exposure? I get it really bad. I have 3-4 weeks of open oozing skin if I get any on me.

JA
 
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Goat food....my girls eat it like me on a bag of jerky...
 
osker brown
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Julie Anderson wrote:

How do you get the young leaves into the gel caps without getting a horrendous exposure? I get it really bad. I have 3-4 weeks of open oozing skin if I get any on me.

JA



Sorry, didn't see this until now. I use tweezers to carefully pluck the young leaves and stuff them in a gel-cap.
 
pollinator
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My goats pass it by in favor of just about anything else. I read pigs are great at spreading comfrey because their rooting breaks up the roots and each piece sprouts a new plant. Wouldn't poison ivy work the same way?

I'd definitely cut down all the vines. The roots are strong and would send up vigorous new growth but it would be tender and more tempting to goats and deer.

I thought we had a bad poison ivy problem here but it turns out most of what I thought was poison ivy was actually boxelder seedlings! With just a little bit of poison ivy. Those baby boxelders look just like poison ivy!
 
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My understanding of Poison Ivy is that it is a pioneer species, colonizing disturbed sites. From an ecological perspective one could almost view it as sheltering plants that will grow to be the pinnacle species of that ecosystem.

From a permaculture perspective, if you have poison ivy then you probably have a disturbed site that has not reached a natural balance. Not to oversimplify it though, because poison ivy will grow most places regardless of disturbance.

At my property I've found that Sweet Autumn Clematis (which is a weed for me) seems to outcompete Ivy. Wild grapes are pretty good at smothering as well, and both are easier to remove.

PS: Don't burn it! I've had relatives hospitalized from inhaling the oil laden smoke.
 
Renate Howard
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Native wisteria also out-grows it but can be invasive on its own - at least it doesn't cause a rash! Virginia creeper likes the same conditions and also smothers poison ivy.
 
pollinator
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Do we just have to live with it? Why is it there? It likes disturbed soil but the vines can get huge if left alone. I am looking for more wisdom here.
 
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We have lot's of PI here on Cape Cod. I've tried a vinegar/vodka solution on young sprouts with some marginal success. It's not practical for large infestations.

Keep in mind though that PI is an important plant food for wildlife so I don't go too far in trying to eradicate it. Birds and small mammals eat the berries.

I don't, however, want it in my intensional meadow/orchard even though it'd probably be a good guild for some plant. So when a patch creeps in too close I sheet mulch it with grass clippings and wood chips. A cardboard under layer would probably be even better to smother it. I then planted sunflowers as a border thinking that the allelopathic characteristics would help hold the stuff back as well. I would think throwing in some other aggressive but beneficial plants like comfrey and mullein would make it that much harder for the PI to get in.

 
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We have it like mad. I notice it's not so bad where the wild muscadine grow. Where the vines were really thick on the trees, I chopped off about four feet of the vine but only in the winter. I can't even look at the stuff without a majour rash. I just live with the itch. Two weeks of itchy whenever I'm exposed and try not to be exposed. But in the summer, I usually have a patch somewhere on my body. Wash your hands really well with a super caustic soap helps. Until the skin starts peeling off your fingers...Better than having poison Ivy rash on your winkie though. That's my motto.

As for a preventative, I find whiskey works really well. Maintain a mellow healthy buzz all summer and it's easier to resist going out to work in the woods.
 
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To get rid of the big vines, you could try cutting it and building a hot compost pile on top. I've heard this is an effective method for getting rid of comfrey, so I imagine it would work well for other plants. Naturally, this is labor intensive, so would only be practical for the very large ivy.
 
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Kdan Horton wrote:We have it like mad. I notice it's not so bad where the wild muscadine grow. Where the vines were really thick on the trees, I chopped off about four feet of the vine but only in the winter. I can't even look at the stuff without a majour rash. I just live with the itch. Two weeks of itchy whenever I'm exposed and try not to be exposed. But in the summer, I usually have a patch somewhere on my body. Wash your hands really well with a super caustic soap helps. Until the skin starts peeling off your fingers...Better than having poison Ivy rash on your winkie though. That's my motto.

As for a preventative, I find whiskey works really well. Maintain a mellow healthy buzz all summer and it's easier to resist going out to work in the woods.



I live in southwest Florida, and agree wholeheartedly with your motto. Once as a child I had swelling on my face and neck so bad that my pediatrician prescribed steroids. Now, I find that a heavy application of a good dish soap and cool water after I know I've touched the vine helps. The last four or five times I've gotten a rash, I saw the vine after I touched it and knew to watch out for an itch. After washing with ample dish soap, I usually only get a small spot here or there. A regimen of near-scolding hot water exposure, washing gently with soap, and generous application a mixture of neem seed and jojoba oils cuts the itch almost completely.

Poison Ivy grows thick in our woods, and I have also noticed that I see patches of wild grape without ivy or vice versa. It's possible that there's a specific condition that benefits one over the other or that one possesses a countermeasure it deploys against the other.
 
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Does anyone know how PoI interacts with bamboo? What about sunchokes? These plants tend to prevent anything else from growing in theirs midst, would they do the same to PO I?
 
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Two suggestions

1) go to amazon and get 20% or higher vinegar or glacial acetic acid. Add a concentrated soap and some light vegetable oil. Shake to make an emulsion.
The high acid will kill the leaves and the soap and fat will make the emulsion stick long enough to do it's damage.

2) I have poison ivy and I find that some plants it can live with like under giant ragweed and some plants can smother it out. The key seems to be light. I do not find it growing under burdock or mullen.
 
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My thoughts:
1) It is a native vine so I would be very surprised if it was killing trees. Compare it to something invasive like English Ivy or Kudzu and this should become apparent.

2) The berries are a very important food source for birds and this is one reason why it spreads so aggressively.

3) Jewelweed works very well for me. Just grab a green leaf and rub it on the exposed area. We have also had some luck boiling down the Jewelweed plants and freezing the juice into an ice cube tray. Put one of those in a bath and you are good to go. For me this was more effective than the $300+ (1990s dollars) steroid shot I have had in the past. You can also buy Jewelweed infused soap.

4) Repeated mowing kills it in areas where that is possible.

5) I had some success spot spraying it with AM Leonard's Horticultural Vinegar, but it was an expensive product so I would only use it in important areas.

6) Sweet Autumn Clematis is the devil.

7) Technu is OK. People rinse with it after exposure, but I think soap and water are just as effective.

8 ) My experience with goats leads me to believe that sending them into the woods to get rid of it will do more harm than good.
 
Judith Browning
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poison ivy is beautiful here this fall...........
IMG_1764.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_1764.JPG]
 
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I wanted to check-in if anyone had any updates to this poison ivy thread??  I have a poison oak problem but suspect they are similar enough?

Can anyone elaborate on smothering and/or allelopathic plants, specifically native to northern california?  Any groundcover plants that could be grown under a bunch of Oak trees?

Since it is a pioneer plant that likes disturbed areas, anyone have any luck with bringing the ecosystem back in balance? If so, how did you do it? (Separate but related, it appears poison ivy is growing bigger and stronger due to the increased carbon in the atmosphere due to climate change?!  

I suspect it's a long shot, but have seen interesting information on fungal networks in the soil such as this product: https://producthype.co/netzero/ (I would be interested separately on Permies thoughts on this generally??)  Any chance poison oak relies on more superficial fungal networks that could be disrupted (without disrupting the deeper ones that our Oak tress rely on?)  Would a product like that disrupt an important fungal ecosystem already in place?

Clearly, I'm desperate!!!  
 
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Suit up, cut down, remove, repeat.

Eventually you'll rid yourself of the problem but it takes persistence. I always carry gloves and bags so while I'm on property walking around, I remove seedlings as well. They probably started a long time before you got there so eradication doesn't happen quickly. There is a lot of energy underground.

That probably isn't an accepted permie response. But there are other more beneficial plants with berries you could replace it with if it's in the more natural zones.
 
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The key to understanding how poison ivy, oak, and sumac cause such a bothersome rash lies in with Urisol actually does to the body. It is not an allergy as most folks repeat. Urisol when left on the skin absorbs in and attaches to cell wall, if you end up with a rash from this it is the result of your immune system attacking these cells as they appear foreign. So technically those who don't develop irritation have no immune response. This can change over time if repeated exposure occurs. Areas of thick skin cannot be penetrated by the oil. Once exposed you have 10 minutes to remove the oil from your skin with cold soapy water. The level of exposure varies according to the thickness of the oil and causes the immune response to appear to spread outward, however this is just an area with low exposure that requires more time to flare up.

Birds eat the seed and spread them along fencing buildings ect. These plants are native to North America but were normally limited to the edge of forrest before large scale human activity.

If you wish to completely eradicate from an area you must pull the roots. I use a single long glove. Placing everything in a grocery bag for disposal (urisol will persist through composting as will the roots)   I defoliate the vine single handedly in a tetris like manner and place each piece in the bag as it is removed. Once you can see the main stem and reach to pull on it without any leaves  brushing you, start pulling those. It is important to only use one glove as it seems to easy to absent mindedly wipe your face or something silly. I take a break every 15 20 mins to scrub off. Do this two or three times the first summer,  it will be weakened severely come next spring it should be thin enough to pluck and tossed away to dry in the sun. Monitor the area for shoots , these will be coming from the deeper lateral roots. Dig down and tug gently and it will  give up its grip. Again one glove, its easier to remember what to touch and not to touch .
 
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Susan Derm wrote:Can anyone elaborate on smothering and/or allelopathic plants, specifically native to northern california?  Any groundcover plants that could be grown under a bunch of Oak trees?

Since it is a pioneer plant that likes disturbed areas, anyone have any luck with bringing the ecosystem back in balance? If so, how did you do it?



I had a lot of poison ivy start to spread though an area that I had removed a lot of the vegetation. I just let the other wild plants start growing again and they soon smothered the poison ivy out. I was glad I didn't have to pull any up myself, I was dreading doing that.
 
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Question: I have noticed I only have poison ivy in the shade, when the shade is removed, the PI doesn't seem to come back. Would sun kill it? Can I put a reflector to brighten up it's shade and get something I want there growing?
 
pollinator
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Pearl Sutton wrote:Question: I have noticed I only have poison ivy in the shade, when the shade is removed, the PI doesn't seem to come back. Would sun kill it? Can I put a reflector to brighten up it's shade and get something I want there growing?


You are lucky. Look at my poison ivy thriving in full sun. Easy to spot in leaves turned red. And I got a 10000 sq ft area full of them!
PI.jpg
Poison ivy fall colors
Poison ivy fall colors
 
Pearl Sutton
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May: Well, uh... it's festive! :D
Guess the sun won't kill mine then. Poop.
When I got here there was a tree that didn't look healthy, although it had leaves... looked closer, holy crap, poison ivy the whole way up. All the greenery I could see was PI.

:D
 
May Lotito
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Before I moved to Missouri, I have never seen a poison ivy, or tick, or chigger! I remembered admiring those fall colors along the fence without knowing they were PI. They were left out of control for years until the propane guy complained about PI growing all around the propane tank.

I started getting them under control for a few years now. Pulling the roots would be the best but very time consuming. Now I try to curb their growth and let other plants outcompete them. There are two time points that make the job easier: one is in early fall when leaves turn red. I can identify very tiny shoots and cut them off ground with a long pruner, minimizing the risk of touching any part.

Second time is late winter, bare shoots are still very easy to spot and from my skin rash test, the urushiol lever is very low too. I cut them as I chop other invasive vines. Pile up the dry sticks and make biochar.  it was quick and complete burn, no smoke coming out.

The area I did last year has been taken over by wildflowers and dewberries. I am working on the rest of 1/4 acre, clearing invasives with hand tools then plant tree seeds, cuttings and wildflowers. It may turn out to be a food forest, but definitly better than this jungle of poison ivy/japanese honeysuckle.
 
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Location: On the plateau in crab orchard, TN
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In winter poison ivy has hairy things coming out of the vines.  In TN I see it growing up near trees.  I usually cut it off at base of a tree, ~2 inch vines by using a pick axe or maddox.   I found some growing right in middle of wild asparagus patch last summer with it's white flowers.  So did my best at cutting it with pruners a couple feet at a time and initially just tossing pieces on lawn, then got rid of it somewhere.
 
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Nicole Masters, author of For the Love of Soil, has mentioned Betzy Ross (sp?) In Texas doing work with Mesquite trees; she studied them and made a profile of the elements that the tree was good at bringing up from the soil, put rhat stuff together with fulvic acid and other materials and the mesquite trees died. She said if you look at what the plant is trying to address, then you can shift something in the soil that apparently makes it more or less likely to grow certain things.  (Regenerative agriculture podcast, episode #72. You'll have to listen or read her book to get a better understanding. That is the best I can do with a 2.5 year old running around me.)

Years ago I seem to recall reading that poison ivy was in areas low in calcium. I tried ro find that resource but cannot anymore. Another page said that it was likely to grow in places low in other things, and that it liked soil a little acidic.

Perhaps there's something else we can do to shift soil health in favor of other plants?

Anyone know if adding mycelium, or vermicompost, or benefiting soil health in general has helped the poison ivy control?

Or anyone able to speculate on whether the items planted around them are showing signs in low calcium, phosphorous, etc.?
 
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Thank you for this explanation of the oil and method for pulling it out.
 
echo minarosa
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Location: KY - Zone 6b (near border of 6a), Heat Zone 7, Urban habitat
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I've seen large amounts of poison ivy in every light regime, moisture regime, elevation, etc. I've witnessed nothing that out competes it and exterminates it. Disturbed ground just shows how much seed there was in your seed-bank. The safe removal methods like vinegar, etc. really just kill leaves and don't do much to the roots. As for large expanses of seedlings, goats...I know it's been said but they are the only thing I've seen that really put a dent in poison ivy.  Outside of that, the only real control is repeated hand digging. I bag and make sure it goes far off-site. I don't use poisons on my own property but have addressed other areas that had loads of large woody vines that where roots were too numerous to remove by cutting as close to the ground as possible and then applying herbicide to the cut stump. That method had been by far the most effective on restoration efforts where sites required prepping for a couple of years prior to restoration. If it's an area that gets it really bad, that may be where the last use of my truly raggedy clothing gets its last ride. Afterwards, a LOT of showering in water as hot as you can stand with lots of soap.

There aren't many plants I have a visceral reaction to...but poison ivy is one. After decades of trying to get along, my only regret is that you can kill it just once. :)
 
Permaculture isn't that hard to understand. Sometimes a little bump helps: richsoil.com/cards
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