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Poison Oak: Friend or Enemy?

Poison oak. A name to inspire terror. And irritation of all types.

 

But wait a minute.

 

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Leaves of three, leave them be…maybe.

 

Now, I’m not going so far as to recommend poison oak as a garden plant—but if you do have it around, you might consider letting it be, unless it’s impinging on your garden space, or crowded up against where you walk.

 

I put a container garden in a place where poison oak (and a couple of other wildlings) were already holding sway. Periodically, I prune back the poison oak—using the pruners, not my gloved hands, to carry the branches to the edge of the woods. For some reason—maybe because hard-trodden paths outline this site, maybe because I didn’t water or fluff up the soil where the poison oak was—the poison oak never spread much. With a little attention, we could co-exist just fine.

 

In another spot, poison oak was starting to muscle out the plants I’d put in. Here I dug the poison oak up—carefully—but it was hard to keep under control. This was a place where my garden plants were in the ground, and I watered. The poison oak really seemed to appreciate that. I finally dug up my plants and let the poison oak have its day.

 

When I dig up poison oak, I think it’s a good idea to talk to the plant first. Lady oak is very powerful, and she really gets irritated when you cut her off at the root. As who wouldn’t. In some cultures, people make offerings to plants before taking them.

 

So I talk to the poison oak, and I wear gloves, and I use pruners and a spade to get it out. I follow every poison oak root runner to its end, because I know if I don’t, there’ll be a new plant come spring. Using my pruners sort of like chopsticks, I pick up the poison oak branches and carry them to the edge of the woods. And then I wash off using baking-soda-and-liquid-soap paste (cuts the oils), remembering to get between the fingers and toes. And then I wash off again using Tecnu Extreme. And I often follow this up with a third round. I have respect for the powers of poison oak.

 

Everybody knows that you shouldn’t put poison oak on the burn pile, right? Anyone who inhales the smoke can have their respiratory system irritated to the point of swelling and closing. Next stop: the emergency room.

 

More on poison oak later, but for the next few posts we’ll take a tulip break.

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