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Extension Notes: Identifying and taming poison ivy

By: Rebecca Konopka
Carter County Extension Agent

Poison ivy is a common perennial plant notorious for causing itchy rashes and allergic reactions in humans. It can be challenging to control due to its ability to spread rapidly and its resilience in various environments. With proper knowledge and effective strategies, you can manage and control poison ivy.

Learn how to identify poison ivy. It is a deciduous vine, shrub, and ground cover that typically grows in clusters of three leaflets, although leaf count may vary. Its leaves are glossy, oval-shaped, and may have serrated or smooth edges. The plant’s color ranges from light green to reddish orange, depending on age and time of year. Birds love the white, waxy poison ivy berries.

The pesky plant poses health risks through its oily resin called urushiol, which causes allergic reactions. Direct contact with any part of the plant—leaves, stems, roots or even the smoke from burning it—can trigger a rash, accompanied by itching, redness, swelling and blisters. The oil can remain on clothing, pets, or tools that touch it. Avoid unprotected contact with poison ivy and take necessary precautions when attempting to control it. Reponses may range from mild to severe depending on the person, the amount of oil contacted, the method of contact (touching, inhalation from burning, etc.) and the time of year.

Here are some effective strategies for controlling poison ivy growth:

  • Wear protective clothing. When dealing with poison ivy, wear long sleeves, long pants, gloves and closed-toe shoes to minimize skin exposure. Eye protection and a hat may be necessary.  Use disposable gloves and turn them inside out when removing them.  You may need to use a disposable garment such as those used by pesticide applicators, or make sure to wash clothing separately from other items to prevent urushiol transfer.
  • You can manually remove small infestations of poison ivy by digging up the roots with a garden trowel or gloved hands. Ensure you remove the entire plant, including the roots, to prevent regrowth.
  • For larger infestations or difficult-to-reach areas, you may find herbicides effective. These herbicides can be selective to broadleaf plants, or a non-selective herbicide such as those containing glyphosate.  The use of glyphosate-based herbicide is recommended in late summer through fall when the plant is preparing for winter and sending reserves to the roots and the chemical is transported with it to kill the root.  Carefully read and follow the instructions on the product label and consider using a targeted application method like a paintbrush to minimize damage to desirable plants in the same area.
  • Smothering it with a barrier. Try using layers of newspaper or cardboard covered with mulch or soil to block sunlight and prevent the plant from growing. Regularly monitor the covered area for any new sprouts.  Unfortunately, poison ivy can travel as a vine for a considerable distance so this method will not usually be very effective.
  • Don’t be afraid to call in a professional. In severe cases, or if you are unsure about dealing with poison
  • ivy yourself, consider seeking professional help from landscapers or pest control services experienced in poison ivy removal.

Now that you’ve removed the pest, you want to prevent it from regrowing. Remain vigilant with a few preventative measures:

  • Regularly inspect your property for new poison ivy growth, especially in areas where it is known to thrive, such as fence lines, wooded areas, neglected corners, and areas where birds roost.
  • When you spot new poison ivy plants, promptly remove them using the methods mentioned earlier to prevent their spread.
  • Educate yourself and others about poison ivy identification and precautions to avoid contact. Knowledge will empower you to take proactive measures and prevent accidental exposure.

Controlling poison ivy requires a combination of identification, protective measures, and effective removal strategies. By understanding the plant’s characteristics and using appropriate methods, you can minimize the risks associated with poison ivy and regain control over your environment. Remember to prioritize safety and, when in doubt, seek professional assistance to ensure effective and long-lasting control.

For more information about poison ivy and other topics, contact the Carter County Cooperative Extension Service. Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, or physical or mental disability.



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