Archive for February, 2009

Getting Rid of Poison Ivy,Oak, and Sumac

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Poison ivy, oak and sumac  can be very hard to get rid of. The three choices are mechanical remove (by hand), use of an herbicide, or suffocation .

 Interestingly, these plants are native plants, and therefore considered desirable by many environmentalists. By native, I mean they and the local ecosystem are very well adapted to each other and support each other. Removing these plants altogether from the region would actually disturb the ecosystem and limit bio-diversity! (more on this on the Garden Web forum: )That said, I myself am highly allergic to all three of these plants and will not tolerate them around my property (1/3 of an acre). Let them have the woods, but please not in my back yard.

Though highly allergic, I will physically remove poison ivy in the winter and summer when it is least virulent. Of course, covering yourself with long pants, long sleeve shirt, elbow length gloves, and possible a bandanna over your nose and mouth help a lot as well if you are allergic. Remembering to immediately removal all these accoutrements (wash them), and wash your arms and face thoroughly with Tech-Nu (a great product for preventing allergic reaction to these plants) limits the chance of an outbreak thereafter. These plants are at their strongest in higher growth periods like spring and fall, so avoid them completely in these seasons. You can hire one of the non-allergic elite to do this for you,  but studies show that repeated exposure will lead to the development of the allergy over time.

Though most herbicides are designed and proven to break down within 24 hours of exposure to light and air, they not only kill plants, but also kill live soil bacteria. However, if applied selectively, on a plant by plant basis, the environmental damage is minimal as long as you avoid getting the herbicide on the soil or surrounding plants (more on this at This is a trade off of course, some folks are plain anti-chemical (except when it comes to termites, roaches and rodents). Other folks will stretch it to poisonous plants. For myself, I believe that careful, selective use of herbicides is a tolerable risk. In my mind, herbacides which kill the plant through the root zone, are more reliable than mechanical removal wherein if you don’t get all the roots, the plant comes back and one may have risked another rash for nothing. If the plant comes back, hit it again until it does not.   As long as you are working composted material into your soil on a regular basis, you will counteract  any damage that a very limited quantity of “round-up” or “brush be gone” might have done.

Last of all is the pond liner solution. This works for any plant by the way. Get some heavy epdm pond liner and put it on top of the plant for three to four weeks in active seasons, or as much as seven weeks in the winter. This will suffocate the plant and anything else under the pond liner. It also suffocates the soil with the same repercussions to topsoil as herbicides.


Note: NEVER BURN THESE PLANTS. Inhaling the fumes will cause outbreak in unimaginable places!





Snowy Weather

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Managing Snow:

There are three types of snow people in the world; those who shovel, those who use a snow thrower, and those who just pay others because its easier and they don’t like the cold much.

Myself, I am a shoveler. There is a Zen to shoveling snow if you like to use your body and you like being outside. There are four basic tools in my arsenal. A chipper for ice, a square headed garden shovel for wet, icy, heavy snow, a plastic headed plow shovel with which I can push the snow off my walk or driveway, and an ergonomic snow shovel for lifting and tossing snow. I can clear snow as fast as a snow thrower, burn some calories, and work out some of those problems that always float around in the back of the brain while I’m at it. However, I have to confess that as I age, becoming a convert to the snow thrower looks more and more attractive. So here is what I have learned as I consider the prospect of purchasing a snow thrower:

There are a lot of different kinds of snow throwers or blowers and they are suited to different situations. In order to select the right machine, an assessment of needs must be performed first.  How long is your driveway? How much snow do you anticipate receiving each year? How heavy is the snow? How wide a space does your snow removal needs cover?

Most urban and sub-urban dwellers, have just a driveway and a sidewalk to clear off. A single stage gas blower will do the trick for this sized job. These types of snow blowers will touch the ground, so be aware of the area you are clearing. Most single stage gas snow blowers retail for $300 to $900. However, if you find that you get a lot of snow, or have a larger area to clear, a two stage gas blower will save you time and help avoid further back aches. These types of snow blowers have wide augers to clear off larger areas, while throwing the snow further. Depending on the type of two stage gas snow blower you are looking at, prices can range from $600 to over $2000 according to Consumer Reports.

If you have a gravel driveway, you’ll want to ensure that the auger doesn’t touch the ground (thus picking up rocks which can be hard on the snowblower, and cause harm if to items near the path of the blowing snow. Most two stage blowers are perfect for gravel driveways. If you find that you only get a few inches per snowfall, or have a relatively small area to clear, you may find that a single stage electric blower will take care of your needs. Electric snow throwers range between $100 and $300 and will clear an area of about 11-18inches.