Poison Ivy: Get it Before it Gets You!

By Jane Malec, EMGV

Few things scare me in the garden. Copperheads, brown recluse spiders and wasp nests come to mind. Now, poison ivy has climbed nearly to the top. Sure, you most likely won’t die from a poison ivy rash, but you may want to at a given point.

I had an encounter, unknowingly, with this vine and the rash is just abating after nearly three weeks. I have been on steroids and antibiotics and will end up with some scars. I did nothing after coming in contact with the poison ivy which made things much worse.

Recognizing Poison Ivy
So, we are going to pretend that this gardener surveyed her yard adequately for all poisonous vines before cutting in new beds. Let’s look at recognizing these plants and how to get them out of your yard. Keep in mind, in areas that you do not plan to garden, compost, or sit and enjoy the scenery, leave the plants alone. Nature has a purpose even for these devils.

poison-ivy
Here’s an interactive QUIZ to help you identify poison ivy.

As a review, poison ivy is a very prolific perennial vine/shrub with the distinctive three leaves. It can be found nearly everywhere in the landscape in both disturbed and undisturbed areas such as roadsides, hiking trails and wooded lots. This woody perennial spreads by runners and will grow in all types of soils. Also, there are many species of birds that eat the berries and pass them directly through their systems which get deposited in other areas to yet be eaten by different types of animals. They in turn redeposit the seeds in your garden. Interestingly, the animals who eat the seeds do not have an allergic reaction to the volatile oils. Lucky them! This process, together with the runners, greatly increases the likelihood that you will have a poisonous creeper of some kind in your yard.

Control with an Herbicide Containing Triclopyr
Armed with this information and knowing the result of an encounter with the plant, being proactive is the best measure. Every article I read online at 2:30 a.m. when the itching kept me from sleeping started out with “the easiest way to avoid contact is to be aware and get it out of your environment.” Not what I wanted to read at that point, but it’s the truth. The options for control really boil down to utilizing an herbicide containing triclopyr which is a woody brush killer. Yanking, pulling and digging are time consuming, risky, and ultimately not effective.

The herbicide should be applied directly to the leaves of the plant. Spray your target not the area. Spring and summer are excellent times to control poison ivy because the plants are actively growing so the herbicide will travel through the plant. Weather also plays a role. Temperatures should be in the range of 60-85 degrees F and avoid windy days. Check the label for dry times to make sure effectiveness is not lost during a rain shower.

Oftentimes, this is not a once-and-done project. You may need to spray again, but wait two weeks or more to give the first application time to work. Look for new growth when you are circling back and, for the best results, spray open leaves only. Be vigilant in your search as resprouting may occur several months later. Once the fall color appears on these plants, do not apply any more herbicide. Wait until spring when the leaves open up and the plants are growing.

Keep in mind that it may take more than one season to rid an area of poison ivy or oak. Check areas carefully and never be over confident. Remember our winged friends are spreading the berries!

Beware of Virginia Creeper
Poison ivy or oak are not the only plants that can cause problems. A very small number of people, myself included, have reactions to Virginia Creeper. Although not as allergic as poison ivy,  raphides, the sap of this vine can cause rashes and blisters if the skin is punctured.

Virginia Creeper is a popular native ground cover or climbing vine due in part to its beautiful fall color and blue-black berries. It is often planted by gardeners and spreads quickly once established. Most people are unaware of potential problems and don’t take precautions with a five-leaf plant as we do with the dreaded three leaves.  If you have had a severe reaction to other poisonous plants, you would be well served to avoid Virginia Creeper.  Follow the same steps previously outlined for poison ivy control if you wish to remove this plant from your environment.

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Virginia Creeper

Finally, here are some important reminders:

  • As with any treatment product, read the label carefully.  Avoid the “this is good enough” method. Also, wear protective clothing.
  • Be very careful cutting down poison ivy plants as all parts of them are poisonous including a dead plant. Do not compost any parts of them; Carefully trash them.
  • Never burn any part of these plants. The smoke and ash can cause a rash and inhaling them can win you a painful trip to the emergency room.

I cannot warn you enough … do not be over confident!

Learn to protect yourself from poison Ivy: Avoiding Poison Ivy’s Wrath

Resources

MSU identify the plant

U of Minn poison ivy control

UAB Virginia Creeper reactions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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