Category Archives: BMPs

Poison Ivy – Don’t scratch

“Lewis Ziska, one of the lead scientists on the six-year study in a forest at Duke University, found that with increased atmospheric CO2 we get bigger, stronger, leafier poison ivy.” – Mary Woodsen, Poison ivy (like the Rolling Stones said …)

Just what we needed. Bigger, healthier, more toxic poison ivy.

New leaves on an old vine. Note the root-like structures gripping to the tree trunk.

New leaves on an old vine. Note the root-like structures gripping the tree trunk.

Poison ivy has a wide variety of habits – it’s often a climber with thick, woody vines. The vines are covered with rootlike hairs that help it cling to tree trunks or fences, which is a great way to distinguish it from other vines such as Virginia creeper. You will likely see this form most often on school grounds as it climbs fences, trees, and buildings.

It can also be standalone plants with a groundcover quality to them. And it can present in a shrub-like manner – most commonly seen along woodland edges.

The famous saying, “Leaves of three, let it be” is the one feature common to all growth forms. Those leaves, however, can range from ½” on new plants to over 5 inches long on older plants. They are usually smooth, but they can be toothed and sometimes lobed. Young leaves are usually reddish, older leaves can be a deep green, turning red or yellow in the fall. Shinyness is an option, therefore you can’t count on it to confirm your identification.

It's in there, and a quick inspection could have saved me a lot of itching.

Poison ivy is in there, and a quick inspection could have saved me a lot of itching.

And sometimes, it’s just hidden. As I type this blog, my fingers are pink with calamine lotion and I am trying desperately not to rub them against my pants. After a trying day, I vented my frustration on a neglected mulched area under a tree. I noticed the small poison ivy plants tucked into the other weeds only after I had ripped them out with my bare hands. I washed my hands with soap and water to remove the offending urushiol, the toxic oil that causes the dermatitis. But I wasn’t fast enough. A few days later, here come the blisters.

So, the motivation to check the NYS IPM resources on poison ivy management was strong. Here’s what I found on the School IPM Best Practices website:

Give it a trim. Often

Take a closer look. The leaves of three are less obvious when poison ivy gets bushy.

Poison ivy does not like to be trimmed. Mowing or cutting back young growth will deplete the energy in the roots. Plant stems, aerial vines and underground creeping stems are all capable of producing new nodes and leaves, so continue to monitor and trim. For best results, cut back new growth at the base of the plant.

Using a weed whacker is not recommended without full protective gear as plant material can be kicked back and land on exposed skin. Or in your eyes (shudder).

DO NOT BURN! The oils can be distributed through the smoke. It’s bad enough in between your fingers. You do not want to experience that kind of rash in your lungs.

Spot applications of a nonselective herbicide can be helpful for hard to reach locations or if you are extremely sensitive, but you need to follow the regulations laid out in the Child Safe Playing Fields Act and other state regulations. And remember, plants killed by herbicides will still have urushiol and can cause a rash.

In fact, the longlasting oils are present on all parts of the plant whether the plant is actively growing, dormant, or dead. So…

Wash your equipment!

Once on skin, tools, clothes, boots, and gloves, the oils need to be removed with soap and water. If you mowed poison ivy, urushiol may still be present on the mower blades the next time you remove them to sharpen them. If you used goats (yes, goats have been used to remove poison ivy), it could be in their hair. Take precautions.

And, for goodness sake, give a quick visual check before plunging into handweeding.

One last thought – according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, poison ivy “produces just the kind of fat-rich berries that are essential for sustaining migrating birds during fall and year-round residents in the winter”. So if you have poison ivy in an out-of-the-way area, consider leaving it behind for its wildlife value.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to take another benadryl.

 

 

The ABCs of Ticks on School and Childcare Grounds

“The more we hear people telling us their tick stories, the more we’re realizing that much of the information that a majority of people “know” about ticks is just wrong enough to leave them at risk.” – Dr. Thomas Mather, TickEncounter Resource Center

Tom Mathers, a personal tick education hero of mine, recently created #JustWrongEnough to cover those areas that people think they know, but puts them at risk. He used “ticks jump out of trees” and “ticks die in the winter” as examples. I have also heard many #JustWrongEnough tick beliefs that put people and kids at risk for tick-borne diseases.

I won’t comment on people who believe they are safe because they have never had a tick on them.

We won’t get into how much time a tick needs to be attached before transmitting disease-causing pathogens (I consider the 15 minutes needed from attachment to transmission of the Powassan virus to deem this argument moot anyway).

And don’t get me started on the correct way to remove a tick. I covered this in my 2016 blog post, It’s tick season. Put away the matches., and have found no evidence to convince me that pointy tweezers are not the superior method.

Let us focus, then, on #JustWrongEnough beliefs that are important to school and childcare grounds.

#JustWrongEnough 1: All ticks carry Lyme disease.

The risk: Individuals, and their doctors, might not know what diseases they might have been exposed to and lead to a misdiagnosis.

Species matter! Different ticks carry different disease-causing pathogens.

Tick-borne disease is very common in the Northeast. In addition to Lyme disease, ticks in the northeast transmit the pathogens that cause Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Powassan Virus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia and a bacteria related to the agent of Lyme disease called Borrelia miyamotoi. But different ticks carry different disease pathogens.

In addition, not all life stages are equal. Most disease pathogens are ingested by the tick when they feed on an infected host. Adults are usually twice as likely to be carrying pathogens than a nymph because they have fed twice compared to the nymph’s single feeding. But we also know that Borrelia miyamotoi can be transmitted from an infected female to her eggs, so larval blacklegged ticks cannot be discounted as disease vectors.

School nurses can play a crucial role in tick education. This was covered in our guest blog, The Role of School Nurses in Integrated Pest Management for Public Health.

#JustWrongEnough 2: Ticks are found in tall grass.

The risk: Individuals will only think about tick prevention and conducting a tick check when visiting areas with tall grass.

Different tick species prefer different habitats, but that does not mean that you won’t find them in other areas as well.

We can find ticks in tall grass, but we are less likely to find blacklegged ticks. And species matter! The three New York ticks that pose the highest risk to us are the blacklegged tick, American dog tick, and lone star tick. These three ticks prefer different habitat types.

Blacklegged ticks prefer shady, moist areas. Dehydration is their greatest enemy, and so you are most likely to encounter them in the woods. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find them in a lawn or athletic field, especially in areas that receive significant shade. Ground covers, like pachysandra, found right next to buildings, can also provide suitable habitat for these ticks.

On your school grounds, students will likely have little risk of tick exposure in the middle of the playing field, but it’s a different story when they chase a ball into the wood edge.

How can you determine if there are tick risky locations on your school or child care grounds? You can use a simple drag cloth to monitor for ticks, covered in the blog, Ticks: Assessing the risk at schools and child care centers. This is also covered in our infographic, Monitor for Ticks in Your School Yard.

If you find locations with tick activity, you can take steps to restrict students from those areas by placing orange cones or signage. When access can’t be restricted, students and parents should be made aware of how to protect themselves from ticks.

#JustWrongEnough 3: Ticks are a summer problem.

The risk: Individuals will only think about tick prevention and conducting a tick check during hot weather.

American dog ticks and lone star ticks don’t mind the hot weather and can be a summer problem. But just as different species of ticks prefer different habitats, they also have different seasons when they are most active.

For the blacklegged tick, which is responsible for most of the tick-borne diseases in NY, the nymphs are most active in the spring and the adults most active in the fall. It is true that larvae hatch in the summer, and now that we know that they can transmit Borrelia miyamotoi we need to protect ourselves against them as well, but the greatest risk for disease transmission are in the spring and fall.

The different life stages of blacklegged ticks are most active in different seasons, but ticks that did not find a host will continue looking when the weather is favorable.

#JustWrongEnough 4: I can’t prevent ticks from getting on me.

The risk: Individuals are so afraid of ticks that they avoid spending time outside.

Here’s a gratuitous picture from a recent hike to highlight what you could be missing if you let a fear of ticks keep you inside.

We often find we are walking a fine line between frightening people and encouraging them to take precautions. Our underlying message is you can go outside. There are proven methods that can be used to protect ourselves from tick bites and the pathogens that may be transmitted while the tick is feeding.

Dressing the part, using repellents correctly, conducting daily tick checks, and knowing how to properly remove a tick can help you return from your next outing tick free. Details on these steps can be found on our How Do I Protect Myself From Ticks? page of our Don’t Get Ticked NY website.

So let them play outside during recess. Take your students outdoors. And schedule that field trip.

What questions do you have about ticks on school and child care grounds? You can reach me via email at jkz6 @ cornell.edu.

 

Pests and pupils don’t mix

Year in and out, outreach to schools has our community IPM staff going back to school. Literally. We work with maintenance staff, nurses, groundskeepers, teachers, and parents. We provide the insight and know-how it takes to keep kids safe from pests and pesticides both. But schools are tricky to manage because—well, think of them as a village. You’ve got your cafeterias, laboratories, auditoriums, theaters, classrooms, athletic fields, playgrounds. Add in vacation and after-hours use for public meetings, community sports teams, summer schools and camps. Plus, New York’s laws restrict when, where and how pesticides can be used at school.

Which means you’ve got work. Because chances are, you’ve got pests.

Worried about ticks? By rights you should be. The hazards can hardly be overstated. We help teachers, school nurses, and entire communities learn how to stay tick-free regardless the season—and warn them that old-time remedies could increase the likelihood of disease.

Next up—unsafe playing fields. Is there goose poo on athletic fields and playgrounds? It’s not just unsanitary—it makes for slick footing and falls. And take it from us: weedy, compacted soil is a “slick footing and falls” risk too. How to manage turf, pesticide-free? We teach repetitive overseeding as a thoughtful alternative to repetitive herbicides. We’ll get to that in another post.

And then you’ve got your ants, bed bugs, cockroaches, drain flies, drugstore beetles, fleas, grubs, lice, mice, mosquitoes, pigeons, rats, termites and wasps. Did we say we get calls? Each year we field several hundred. Then, of course, there’s the workshops we lead, the conferences we speak at, the media interviews we give. Work, yes, but also deeply rewarding.

 

New York State’s “Clean, Green, & Healthy Schools” website

The NYS Department of Health has organized a website with extensive information on school environmental health, defined as the way the physical environment of school buildings and school grounds influences the overall health and safety of occupants. The key role that IPM plays in protecting school children and staff is prominent and includes resources from the NYS IPM Program. If you have not visited the site in a while, check it out at https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/indoors/healthy_schools/index.htm

What now? Autumn sports field management

“Of all the seasons, autumn offers the most to man and requires the least of him.” – Hal Borland

No disrespect to Mr. Borland, but he obviously was not in charge of keeping school athletic fields in good shape. While autumn can bring some of the best grass growing weather, when our cool season turf really thrives, it also brings students on the fields for recess, practice, physical education, and games. That can lead to a great amount of compaction and wear and tear. Combine heavy traffic with this year’s drought, and Autumn 2015 promises to be challenging.

Broadleaf weeds such as plantain are tripping hazards.

Broadleaf weeds such as plantain are tripping hazards.

The Child Safe Playing Fields Act was implemented in 2011 to reduce the impact of pesticides on students. While we are confident that we can reduce the impact of insects and weeds on athletic fields with good cultural practices, the Act failed to bolster school budgets, which often do not reflect the need for providing more training for staff, equipment, irrigation, and materials such as fertilizer and seed needed to produce safe fields. Without these resources, weeds, which cannot handle the same traffic as grass, can overtake a field. As the season progresses, these weedy areas become bare, leaving much more slippery and harder patches behind.

 So what is the minimum that should be done now to minimize the likelihood of injury?
  • Mowing -If the grass is growing, mowing should be conducted at least twice a week. Mowing increases shoot density by increasing tillering (stems that develop from the crown of the parent plant). More tillers means more traction and cushioning.
  • Fertilizing -Apply 1 pound of 50% water soluble nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft. in September and ½ pound of 100% water soluble nitrogen in mid-October. Note – if you do not have irrigation, it is worth waiting until the day before rain is predicted to ensure the fertilizer is watered in.
  • Overseeding -Seed perennial rye at 2 pounds per 1,000 sq. ft. weekly in high-use areas. The athletes’ cleats will make the necessary seed to soil contact. Again, this year’s drought makes this practice tricky. If you can borrow irrigation equipment, do so.
What if I can do more than the minimum?
This school soccer field is mostly crabgrass, which starts to decline just as the season begins.

This school soccer field is mostly crabgrass, which starts to decline just as the season begins.

  • Watering -Maintain adequate soil moisture but keep surfaces dry to maximize traffic tolerance. Irrigate if you can see your foot prints after walking on the turf.
  • Fertilizing -Conduct a soil test to see if other nutrients are needed in addition to the nitrogen.
  • Cultivating -Concentrating on high-use areas, solid tine cultivate in multiple directions to maintain infiltration of air and water.
  • Overseeding -Have a mixture of one part seed to ten parts soil available so coaches and players can repair divots left after heavy use.

For more information on maintaining safe, functional athletic fields, visit http://safesportsfields.cals.cornell.edu. You will find different maintenance schedules based on number of seasons used and resources available, detailed information on different management practices, and information on “Duty of Care”, a legal obligation to a standard of reasonable care.