Ready for a flashback? “Leaves of three, let it be.”
Most of us learned this phrase as a kid to help us avoid the dreaded poison ivy rash. And don’t worry, I’m NOT about to tell you it’s not true. It’s still a good rule to follow.
But there are some other important things to keep in mind now that summer is in full swing, and we’re all spending more time outdoors. Starting with how poison ivy looks.
You probably already know to keep your eyes peeled for vines, but it turns out poison ivy can masquerade as a bush too.
When poison ivy vines climb up and cover something like a post and don’t have anything left to attach to they can keep branching out until they no longer resemble a vine, but rather a shrub.
How to spot poison ivy
The truth is there are a number of different kinds of poison ivy and depending on the variety of plant, or time of year, they can all look a bit different.
But the good news is there are a few rules that can help you figure out if what you’re looking at is poison ivy.
Poison ivy always has…
- three leaves, never more (See? I told you that rhyme still works)
- an alternating pattern of growth with each grouping of three leaves sprouting from opposite sides of the vine or branch (never directly across from each other)
In the spring the plants typically produce solid green pointed leaves, and yellow-green flowers. And in the fall the leaves may turn yellow or red.
The leaves can be notched or not, and they can be shiny or matte. And the vines never have thorns.
Poison ivy can grow just about anywhere from deep woods to sandy beach areas. This plant is just as much at home in an urban garden as it is in a forest.
Pooches and poison ivy
If you’re a dog owner keep in mind that even if you manage to avoid coming into contact with poison ivy your pooch may not.
Lucky for Spot he’s immune to the toxin, called urushiol, which will cause your skin to itch and burn. But unlucky for you he CAN pick up the poison on his coat and bring it back to you.
If your pup goes wandering in uncharted territory and you suspect he may have come into contact with poison ivy give him a bath as soon as possible. In a pinch disposable cloths will help.
Urushiol can hitch a ride on clothing, shoes and gardening equipment too. So be sure to wash everything well after spending time outdoors.
Getting rid of poison ivy without chemicals
If you find poison ivy in your garden and want to get rid of it, but don’t want to use chemical herbicides, the best bit of advice I can give is to proceed with caution.
If the plant is easy to reach some experts suggest pulling the vines. The advantage of this method is you may be able to get rid of it all the way down to the roots. Dig at least eight inches down to keep it from coming back.
However, if you’re going to pull the vines make sure you suit up properly.
- Use a pair of gloves that you’re positive have no holes in them
- Wear clothing that covers any parts of your body that might come into contact with the plant. (Long sleeves and pants.)
- Use duct tape around the cuffs of your pants and around your shirt cuffs to close the gap between them and your gloves
Immediately after pulling the plants wash what you were wearing. Put it through at least two cycles in the hottest water allowable for the clothing.
If pulling the vines isn’t possible you can kill the vine you can see by dousing the leaves with vinegar or mixing a cup of salt and a tablespoon of dishsoap into a gallon of water and spraying it onto the leaves.
But keep in mind these methods can harm other nearby plants and will need to be reapplied when the vines grow back. And never under any circumstances burn poison ivy! This will release urushiol into the air where you, or someone else, can breathe it in triggering a serious allergic reaction.
If you do come into contact with poison ivy immediately rinsing the area with cold water. This simple step could help head off the worst of the rash. But if a rash does develop keep the area cool by avoiding direct sunlight and hot showers. Good old fashioned calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream or a baking soda paste (baking soda mixed with water) can help with the itching and burning.