Poison ivy a sticky subject
According to many of my gardening friends, this has been a particularly bad year for poison ivy. It seems that the rainy spring and summer have encouraged ample poison ivy growth and everyone is coming down with the rash. And wondering how best to get rid of the plants without resorting to nasty chemicals.
About 80 percent of the population is susceptible to the urushiol oil contained in poison-ivy plants. It is contact with this oil that causes skin to break out in a red, bumpy, itchy rash. But even if you haven't developed a rash in the past, new exposures can always bring about an allergic reaction. In fact, repeated exposures increase the odds of susceptibility.
That's why it's so important to wash up with a poison-ivy soap like Tecnu or Ivy Off immediately after possible exposure to the plant, including in the winter. These products break up the urushiol and allow it to be washed off the skin readily. Urushiol residue remains potent on exposed clothing, tools, shoes and pets for several years, so carefully washing all these items is a must as well.
A rash from poison-ivy exposure initially develops right where the urushiol directly contacted the skin anywhere from a few hours to a few days after contact. The really bad news is that the poison-ivy allergen can then be carried systemically within your body, causing other areas of rash to “pop up” anywhere on your skin. It is not, however, contagious to other people who come in contact with the rash on your skin, even if it's oozing. The initial exposure must come from direct contact with the urushiol itself.
Unfortunately, it's possible to contract poison ivy year-round. You can contract it from exposure to the leaves for sure, but you can also get it from touching the dormant stems and even the root system. Because of this, be careful when handling firewood from trees that may have had poison-ivy vines growing up them. The vines and exposed wood remain poisonous for up five years after being cut down. Plus, the smoke produced from burning poison ivy is also dangerous; you can end up developing the rash all over your body and even in your lungs.
To successfully get rid of small- to medium-sized poison-ivy plants, dig them out. As I am highly allergic myself, I have a dedicated “poison-ivy shovel” in my shed that I only use to dig out poison-ivy plants. I wear an old raincoat and chemical-resistant gloves for the task (these too are dedicated as “poison ivy gear”). Once the plant is dug out, I put a large plastic trash bag up over my arm and then pick up the plant and flip the bag down over it, so it's completely encased in the bag (kind of like picking up after Fido). I then tie the bag closed and throw it in the garbage.
Larger vines are a tougher issue. I have hired a landscaper to remove them for us in the past and would probably do the same again, if the need arose. You also can saw off the “trunk” of the ivy and allow the top portion to die off on it's own (but remember, the urushiol can remain potent for up to five years). You can dig out the root or continue to regularly remove any new growth as soon as it sprouts. This will eventually serve to starve the roots of carbohydrates and kill the plant.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
Send your gardening or landscaping questions to email@example.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Lure of tuition aid, gifts draw college students to ‘sugar daddy’ sites
- Crosby, Malkin dazzle fellow All-Stars
- Starkey: Rinaldo doesn’t belong in NHL
- Woman killed in Washington Township crash
- Long-term solution for wastewater disposal eludes shale gas industry
- Tough times are in past for Pitt senior guard Kiesel
- Former athletes open businesses
- Suburban Catholic schools grow in Western Pennsylvania
- Power 5 conferences’ paying cost of attendance worries schools large and small
- ‘Line is definitely blurry,’ state police say of dating websites and prostitution
- State’s no-bid contracts with private law firms prompt scrutiny