Poison ivy, a gardener’s nemesis

Consumer Reports News: July 21, 2011 04:30 PM

Recent rains and warm temperatures have resulted in a bumper crop of poison ivy and doctors have seen an increase in outbreaks in recent weeks. Getting rid of poison ivy and its partners in pain, poison oak and poison sumac, can be a challenge but here’s something not to try—a string trimmer. Whacking the weed will just toss the bits back at you resulting in a malady called trimmer’s itch.

The itch is quickly followed by a rash and blisters and weeks of misery. Recognizing these plants and knowing where they grow is the best way to avoid them. The old adage, “Leaves of three, let it be” only applies to the ivy. Poison oak can have three to five leaves on a stem and poison sumac seven to 13. The Food and Drug Administration also recommends the following:


  • Wash your garden tools and gloves regularly. If you think you may be working around poison ivy, wear long sleeves, long pants tucked into boots, and gloves.
  • Wash your pet if it may have brushed up against poison ivy, oak, or sumac. Use pet shampoo and water while wearing rubber gloves, such as dishwashing gloves. Most pets are not sensitive to poison ivy, but the oil can stick to their fur and cause a reaction in someone who pets them.
  • Wash your skin in cool water as soon as possible if you come in contact with a poisonous plant. The sooner you cleanse the skin, the greater the chance that you can remove the plant oil or help prevent further spread.
  • Use the topical product Ivy Block if you know you will come into contact with the poisonous plants. This FDA-approved product is available over the counter.

Because poison ivy, oak and sumac are so hard to get rid of, we recommend checking with your local cooperative extension service for removal tips relevant to where you live. The Poison Ivy, Oak & Sumac Information Center is also a good place to start.

Mary H.J. Farrell


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