Many Hats were Required to Kill a Plant


There shouldn’t be much to killing a plant.  Don’t give it water or sunlight – Done. A misstep in the yard – squashed squash.  So many plants have gone that way.  But not yard weeds. They get stepped on, ground down, pulled out, dried out, flooded and yet they are always back and green.  They are hardy, thriving on neglect.  I let the dandelions thrive in my yard.  But even the dandelion can be pulled. But mostly I don’t do that.  I like lawn diversity.  With my biologist hat I am happy to see the mix of plants that grown on my lawn.  I’ve seen 4-5 different types of flowers this Spring, hidden among the blades of grass.  Each week in the Spring there is a biological sadness when I must get out the mower and cut the lawn down to a reasonable height (city ordinance and all).  I let it grow as much as possible so the bees and bugs and birds to do their thing.  The one plant I cannot abide is poison ivy.  I’m live and let live with the plant life, but poison ivy gets me itchy just thinking (or writing) about it.  I had some last year on the side of the house.  I found it the hard way when I wasn’t paying attention and mowed it down then hit it with the weed-whacker.  I got all itchy-rashy.  I sprayed it’s irritant oil all over my legs.  So, I brought out my toxicologist hat and looked closely at which weed killers were most effective, and providing long lasting weed-killing with a limit repercussions on other plants and animals and people.  Toxicologically, it was fun exercise. Balance pet and family safety with reduction in direct irritable plants.  And last year it worked.  The noxious week was destroyed and I remained rash free through the remainder of the summer.

Maybe poison ivy

definitely poison ivy and the target of this blog.

This year, however, the poison ivy has returned.  And not just on the side of the house (away from where anyone normally goes), it has shown up right by the front door.  The spot is right where Katie and Rio would find it.  Katie often touches those bushes.  Now I must take off my biologist hat and put on my Dad hat.  As a Dad, I can think of few things I’d like to face less than a toddler with lots of poison ivy rash.  I also must put on my ecotoxicologist hat and try to figure out how to kill the poison ivy without killing the nice bush that it is currently growing under (nice bush is a bit of an oversell, as it is really a scraggly agglomeration of 3 or more different plants all growing together in bush form).  But the biologist finds them cool, so the ecotoxicologist must find a way to cause the least harm to non-target organisms.

Now I have four hats – toxicology hat (how do I kill things most effectivity/safely), ecotoxicologist hat (how do I minimize risk to non-target organisms), biologist hat (plants are cool, except you poison ivy – ok your kind of cool too, but irritating), and of course Dad hat (don’t touch that, that doesn’t go in your mouth, alert alert danger danger).

The new poison ivy killer (blue) and the one from last year (empty).

All the hats brought me to a home improvement store on a Sunday afternoon.  And as a stare at the wall of plant poisons another hat emerged: an economical hat.  It turns out pesticides are expensive.  The best formulations (according to me wearing my toxicologist hat) were only available in concentrates.  These were expensive ($30-50), required mixing, and would necessitate the purchase of some sort of pressurized sprayer (for an additional $25). This would drive my cost up to $50+ and the economical hat was balking at that idea.  Econ, Tox, and Dad hats all had a frank discussion.  Econ was concerned about the cost for the removal of two plants.  Dad was concerned about the sprayer looking like a fun toy and about having concentrated poisons around the house (even if they are low toxicity to mammals concentrated form my approach those threshold – info courtesy of Tox hat).  While starring at the wall of pesticides I discovered on the bottom shelf a diluted version of the poison ivy specific weed killer.  It didn’t contain all the pesticides I wanted, but the lower cost and less concentrated formula, plus not having to buy additional equipment all met criteria set by the non-scientific hats.  It only has one of the weed-killers (no glyphosate – which is proprietary to Roundup brands), so Tox hat is not completely convinced it will be as effective, but given other concerns is willing to try.  Additionally, biologist hat chimes in that perhaps we can manually remove the plant as well, which might go pretty far in saving some of the surrounding plant life.

Now, the plant has been sprayed.  Ecotox hat took care to spray only the poison ivy, even going as far as to shield the other plants from over-spray.  And since Katie is out of town with Sara and her Nana I don’t have to worry about her getting into the sprayed plant and being exposed to weed-killing chemicals.  If it works I’ll also remove the threat of poison ivy from our direct area of concern before the girls return on Wednesday.

All told, it required 5 separate hat for me to enact a plan to kill two little plants.  It also was a long story just to say that I killed a couple of plants with weed killer.  But sometimes it’s easier to write about the mundane.

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