Dealing with poison ivy


Now that warm weather is here, people are outside working in the garden and landscape, clearing brush or just taking a hike outdoors. What do these activities have in common? They are all possible ways people usually have a run-in with that dreaded plant ... poison ivy.

Nearly all people have heard of poison ivy and many know from personal experience that it can cause severe cases of skin rash. Poison ivy is usually found along stream banks, roadways, fencerows and woodlands. It can even be found in flower and shrub beds within the landscape. Knowing how to identify and control poison ivy can save someone from a lot of scratching later on.

When it comes to identifying poison ivy, you may have heard the saying “Leaves of three, let it be.” That saying is probably a good practice to follow since each poison ivy leaf is made up of three leaflets. These leaflets can be 2 to 4 inches long with pointed tips. The leaves can be dull or glossy. Of the three leaflets, the middle one is generally larger than the two lateral leaflets.

The leaf margins or edges tend to be variable in that they can be toothed, lobed or smooth. Poison ivy is often confused with the Virginia Creeper vine. While poison ivy has three leaflets, Virginia Creeper will have five leaflets from one point of attachment.

Poison ivy can be more shrub-like or a woody vine. The vine is usually seen growing on trees or other objects that provide support for the vine. The vine has aerial roots on the stems that give it a “fuzzy rope” appearance. Poison ivy has yellowish-green flowers that are found in clusters during June and July. It does produce a waxy, berry-like fruit that is grayish-white.

You may be scratching your head (no pun intended) when it comes to controlling poison ivy. There are a couple of approaches that can be used to keep it at bay.

Hand-pulling can be used when the plants are in moist or loose soils where the plants can be easily pulled out. Usually the roots can be pulled out in long pieces. Remove as much of the roots as possible when pulling plants because sections of the root left in the ground can re-sprout. Of course the downside to hand-pulling poison ivy is taking a chance on skin contact and getting a rash.

When hand-pulling poison ivy, avoid skin contact by wearing gloves, pants, shoes, and maybe even long sleeves could help. After working around poison ivy remember to wash as soon as possible with soap and cool water. Also, remember to wash clothes and gloves immediately afterward to remove the oil left by poison ivy.

There are several herbicides that can be used to help in controlling poison ivy. Herbicides like glyphosate (Roundup) and triclopyr (Brush-B-Gon Poison Ivy Killer) can be used for poison ivy control. One application of an herbicide will not eliminate it, but can be effective over time. The herbicides are more effective in the early summer when there are new shoots and actively growing foliage. Do be aware that these herbicides can harm other plants in your landscape, though. Carefully spot spray to avoid contact with plants you want to keep and avoid spraying on windy days to prevent drift.

Got gardening questions? We can help! Contact the Wayne County Extension Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. One can reach the Wayne County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic by phone at 919-731-1433, e-mail at or stopping by the Wayne County Extension Office at The Maxwell Regional Agricultural & Convention Center, 3114B Wayne Memorial Drive, Goldsboro.

Recommendations for the use of agricultural chemicals are included in this article as a convenience to the reader. The use of brand names and any mention or listing of commercial products or services in this article does not imply endorsement by North Carolina Cooperative Extension nor discrimination against similar products or services not mentioned. Individuals who use agricultural chemicals are responsible for ensuring that the intended use complies with current regulations and conforms to the product label. Be sure to obtain current information about usage regulations and examine a current product label before applying any chemical.

Jessica Strickland is an agriculture extension agent specializing in horticulture for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County.


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