Poison Ivy

I found some poison ivy mixed in with our ivy ground cover. How can I get rid of the poison ivy without killing the regular ivy?

Your letter is just one of dozens I received just this week about poison ivy. The basic defense against this plant is identification.

It’s important to note that there are two native vines, one poisonous and one not, that are commonly confused. These vines are Virginia creeper and poison ivy. Virginia creeper has five leaves where poison ivy has three. They are easily confused because the leaves are very similar. But one way to remember which one is the bad guy is by memorizing the old adage, “leaves of three, let it be.”

You have to wonder how poison ivy or poison oak can find its way into our gardens. Typically birds and wind distribute the plant’s seeds. Dormant roots may also be brought in along with a new plant added to your garden.

If you find you have made contact with one of these leaves the best thing to do is wash any affected skin area with a four to one solution of cool water and vinegar and remove the clothing you were wearing and wash it separately from any others.

For those seriously allergic to poison ivy, wear latex gloves, long sleeves and long pants when pulling weeds.

One of the toughest problems in the garden is eliminating specific weeds, like poison ivy, without destroying the plants you’ve worked so hard to grow. Because I’m so allergic to it I can’t just pull it out and even if I did some of the root might remain underground and come back. Several years ago I noticed a lot of poison ivy entwined among my iris and fountain grass. I had to get really tough with it – even though I try not to use herbicides occasionally they can be useful in combating difficult, specific problems.

I knew if I tried to spray just the poison ivy with a conventional sprayer and herbicide I would inevitably get it on all the surrounding plants and kill them. That’s when I remembered seeing some products that allow you to be “target specific” with each application. One brand is a foam herbicide made by Roundup called “Sure Shot”. You can see exactly where it goes and since it’s a systemic, the plant will ingest the poison from the leaf all the way to the root.

This seems to be a much safer and more responsible use of herbicides. The application seems most effective when the plant is in full hot sun. Once the plant dies I still use caution and wear gloves to remove the woody stems. You see, even stems can cause an allergic reaction. Once removed, I suggest sealing the dead plant in a plastic bag and placing it in the garbage.