Before you can effectively deal with Poison Ivy you have to know what it looks like. The above drawing shows the shape of the leaves and the vein structure. The old adage "Leaflets three, let it be." holds true. Poison Ivy leaves always grow in clusters of three.
Virginia Creeper resembles poison ivy and often fools many a gardener. However, The leaves of Virginia Creeper are in clusters of five leaflets. Boston Ivy on the other hand looks like Poison Ivy and the leaves are in clusters of three. On closer inspection you will find that Boston Ivy is not consistent in it's leaf clusters. Some leaves grow singular, enabling you to distinguish Boston Ivy from Poison Ivy.
Poison Ivy grows in the form of a fuzzy vine clinging to the trunk of trees, and as a vine growing on the ground. Poison Ivy can also grow as an upright shrub.
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Coming in contact with this plant can cause severe and aggravating skin irritations. It is often said that if you scrub with a strong soap immediately after encountering this pesky plant you can prevent the outbreak of this irritating rash. Experts claim this not to be true. They contend that by the time you get to the soap, it's too late. You've already been exposed and the damage is done. I don't think washing with soap is going do any harm, but I certainly would not handle this plant thinking that you can wash away the danger.
All parts of the Poison Ivy plant contain this powerful irritant. Leaves, flowers, fruit, stem, and roots, with the sap being the most powerful. Usually coming in contact with the plant is how most people are affected by this powerful pest, but the powerful irritants of Poison Ivy can be transferred in other ways. The poison can be carried on clothes and gloves. Very thorough washing is required to remove it. If the exposure has been extreme, burning contaminated clothes and gloves may be required. Even dogs running through Poison Ivy can get it on their coat and transfer it to humans. When the plant is burned the irritant can be carried in the smoke, and has been known to cause severe poisoning of people who come in contact with this contaminated smoke.
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So how do you get rid of Poison Ivy if you have it in your garden? The most effective method is to spray it with an herbicide that is labeled for the control of Poison Ivy. Make sure you get a herbicide that is a systemic. A systemic is absorbed through the leaves of the plant and translocated to the root system. This type of herbicide can be quite effective, and several applications can get rid of Poison Ivy completely.
Be careful when spraying herbicides that you don't allow the spray to drift onto other plants in your garden, or worse yet, to plants on your neighbors property. Always spray when there is no wind, and adjust the nozzle of your sprayer so that the spray pattern delivers larger droplets that can not be easily carried by the wind.
Once the Poison Ivy has been sprayed and has died completely, it must still be handled with caution as the dried plant is almost as irritating as the live plant.
Poison Ivy can be removed by digging and grubbing, but when the plant tissues are damaged through the process of digging they release more of these irritants than usual. I do not recommend digging out Poison Ivy. If you choose to do so, make sure you wear plenty of protective clothing. If you happen not to be allergic to Poison Ivy yourself, be careful not to let someone else handle your clothing that might be allergic. Like the person who does the laundry.
If you remove Poison Ivy by digging and grubbing you can expect it to come back several times before it is gone completely. It's difficult to get all the roots, and new plants will sprout from the remaining roots. Don't let these new plants grow much before you dig them out. As long as you quickly get rid of any new plants that come up, you will be disturbing much less plant, therefore reducing the risk of exposure. By removing these small plants as soon as they sprout, the root system will eventually die from a lack of nutrition.
The final word on Poison Ivy........Proceed with extreme caution!