This article previously ran in the July 6, 2004, issue of CAPPER'S.
'Leaves of three, let it be' is a timeless piece of advice for all who venture outdoors, but this guidance is not an option for gardeners who have poison ivy invade their space.
Poison ivy is a plant that, if not for its blistering effects to a person's skin, would be quite interesting in the garden. This plant has outstanding red foliage in the fall. It could be used as a vine, a groundcover or a spreading shrub. It has very few, if any, natural enemies, and the berry provides a food source for the birds we like to attract to our gardens. However, the negatives of this plant far outweigh the positives, from my point of view.
Since the berries of the poison ivy plant are a food source for some of the birds that may visit our gardens, it's no wonder that seedlings of this wild plant often get started among domesticated plants. All gardeners attract birds to their yards, whether consciously or not. We plant shrubs and flowers that provide shelter and food for them, and we supply water by having birdbaths or water gardens in the landscape. Some gardeners even put out feeders to further entice these feathered friends.
If you've had this obnoxious weed in your garden, look around. Chances are that the plant was growing beneath an area that birds have used to roost, such as a power line, a fence rail or a nice open branch over the corner of a perennial bed. I'm not saying to rid the garden of birds or roosting spaces, but these are areas to watch for new seedlings to emerge if you've had a problem with poison ivy in the past.
It's easier to eradicate the plant at the seedling stage - by pulling or with herbicide - compared to eliminating the plant after it has become established. In other words, heed the advice of yet another old saying: 'Nip it in the bud.'
Established poison ivy plants in the garden may require some persistence on your part. These plants can be pulled or dug out, but because it's difficult to get the entire root - and the plant will resprout from root pieces - it could require pulling them several times to defeat the plant.
Herbicides can also be used to eliminate poison ivy. Products containing glyphosate - such as Roundup, a nonselective weed killer - can be used when the plant is in an area where no other plants will be hit by the spray of the herbicide. A broadleaf herbicide can be used that contains triclopyr, often marketed under names similar to Brush-B-Gone or Brush Killer. A second or third application may be required if the plant releafs.
If you have a plant that's growing up a tree and would make spraying the foliage impossible, cut the vine at the base of the tree and apply herbicide after the plant puts out new growth from the severed point.
Poison ivy is one plant that definitely goes to the landfill instead of the compost pile when it's found in my garden. Also, do not burn any portion of a poison ivy plant.The oils that cause the skin irritation are found in all parts of the plant, including the roots. The smoke caused from burning these parts will carry the oils to the skin, and they can be inhaled. And since the oils are contained in all parts of the plant, a dormant plant without any foliage can still cause problems.
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