Tackle the removal of poison ivy with care


January 16, 2000

Q. There is a huge, hairy vine growing up a maple tree in my back yard. I've been told it's poison ivy and I need to know how to safely get rid of it. Will all the poison ivy plants in my small wooded lot grow up to be big, hairy vines?

A. Poison ivy is classified as a vine. Each plant has the potential to grow into a monster vine if growth is not interrupted and a tree for climbing is available. Approach this job with caution. The irritating oil is present year-round. Wear a cheap pair of thick work gloves you can afford to throw away. Wear a hat and launder all work clothes separately when you are done. Cut the vine with loppers close to the ground and pull down as much as possible. Some of the vine may remain in the top of your tree and will come down in a latter storm. Dispose of the vine pieces in a heavy plastic trash bag. In the spring, apply a labeled herbicide to the cut end of your vine and pull up or spray other poison ivy plants you notice.

Q. I have three large circles in my yard where trees were taken down after Hurricane Floyd. The stumps were ground down, and all that remains is a mounded mixture of wood chips, roots and soil. How will I get grass to grow in this mess?

A. Don't worry. Grass will grow even better in those areas due to increased sunlight. Rake out and smooth the area in early spring, removing any root pieces and large wood chips. Next, you can accelerate the breakdown of the wood chips by applying 3 to 4 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer, or the equivalent, per 100 square feet of area. Then, broadcast turf-type tall fescue seed over the area at the rate of 1 1/4 pounds per 100 square feet of area. Walk over the area to press the seed into the soil. Cover lightly with straw and water twice a day.

Q. I live in an apartment with a balcony and wanted to try to grow those fancy, expensive salad mixes you see in the supermarket. Can I do it in containers? Do I need a special soil?

A. Salad greens grow very well in containers. You can buy a mesclun mix seed packet and sow seeds directly into containers on your balcony in late March. We recommend a soilless mix that contains peat moss, perlite and vermiculite. You'll need to apply a liquid fertilizer every two weeks and water your containers at least once each day. The individual plants should be spaced closely -- only 1 to 2 inches apart. Harvest your greens by cutting the top 1/3 of your plants. They will regrow, giving you a two- to three-week harvest. Then you can plant a new crop.

This Week's Checklist

1. If you started feeding wild birds this fall, it is important to offer them a continuous food supply through the winter months. They're depending on you.

2. Fruit trees can be pruned now, but it is best to wait until late winter right before budbreak. This is especially true for peach trees. Pruning on mild winter days may stimulate growth and cause a premature loss of dormancy.

3. Scale problems, like San Jose scale and pine needle scale, can be treated with a dormant oil spray. Spray on a day when temperatures will remain above freezing for 24 hours.

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