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Over the Garden Fence

Where gardeners come to find out what's happening out in the yard.

Yikes! Poison Ivy

Posted by Richard Hentschel -

Down the Garden Path

Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator

Poison Ivy- Click for Full Image
There have been a "rash" of problems this year with Poison Ivy in places we have never had it in the home landscape and surrounding woods. This is yet another example of how the drought of 2012 influences the plant dynamic in nature. Very likely the Poison Ivy has been around in the yard or woods, tucked away and not causing problems. As many of our ornamentals slowed down and other natives responded to the lack of water, Poison Ivy steadily grew taking advantage of open spaces during 2012... Birds finding limited berries to feed upon in the summer ate the Poison Ivy berries and aided in the distribution. The saying "Leaves of Three, Let it Be" is pretty good if you do not already know what Poison Ivy looks like. Right now it does not have a lot of the red in the stems and leaf petioles it does later in the summer since it is so young and vigorous.

Poison Ivy can be a ground cover and probably starts out that way. It will creep into the lawn from the edge of the woods. Next it can twine and climb into woody plants. This is a common location in the home landscape. Birds roost in a shrub, leave behind the seed and later on we find the Poison Ivy growing through and out of the top of those woody plants. The third way we find it as a large heavy vine attaching itself to the trunks of trees. The leaves up in the tree canopy can be 3-4 times the size of those as a ground cover. This is also where the Poison Ivy will flower and have the berries the birds eat.

Right now the plants are very vigorous and full of sap, making it really easy to come down with the rash and blisters. It is the oil in the sap that causes the dermatitis associated with the plant. If you suspect you have come in contact with Poison Ivy, immediately use lots of soap and water to remove the oils from the skin. Be very careful in removing the clothing you are wearing so you do not get the sap on your skin. Putting the clothes through the laundry will remove the oils. If you were wearing gloves or a hat, deal with those too. You can still get the rash days later from the residual oils from the gloves and hat. If you suspect the rash you have is Poison Ivy, see the doctor. Moderate to severe cases can leave scaring.

If you have Poison Ivy in the lawn DO NOT mow that area until you control the plants. DO NOT burn Poison Ivy as the smoke will contain the oils that you can breathe in and if you walk through the smoke, you can get the rash anywhere on your body.

If you find it in the lawn, control can be done without killing the lawn with an appropriate product. If it is in the shrubs, carefully locate where it comes from the soil, cut it a few inches about the soil line. Let the plant wither and die before getting out of the shrub. Treat the stub carefully with a glyphosate based product or poison ivy control product designed for this kind of application. If it is the vine growing up the trunk, treat it as you would the vine in the shrub.

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