Poison ivy, or Toxicodendron radicans, is one of many environmental hazards lawn care professionals face each day, but its risks shouldn’t be overlooked. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, about 85% of the population is allergic to the plant and one can develop sensitivity to it at any time. So most people are susceptible to its toxins. Because poison ivy grows virtually everywhere in the United States, except Alaska and Hawaii, this toxic plant can be a serious issue. Here are some tips on how to control poison ivy and protect yourself, your crew and your customers from the painful, itchy rash.
Properly identifying poison ivy in the field is crucial to prevention. Because it takes on many different forms, it can be difficult to spot. Poison ivy can grow as a climbing or trailing vine or a small woody shrub. The perennial broadleaf weed does not typically invade mowed lawns, but prefers shade along fences, rock walls and in wooded areas.
Most people know the old adage, “Leaves of three, leave it be.” Yes, poison ivy always has leaves that are divided into three leaflets. The lateral two leaflets are attached directly to the leaf stem or petiole, while the terminal leaflet is on a short leaf stalk. The leaves may vary in size, shape and appearance — some may be smooth-sided, lobed or tooth-edged and appear glossy or dull. Leaves are reddish in spring; green in summer; and yellow, orange or red in fall. They have whitish-yellow berries about quarter-inch in diameter and may have greenish-white flowers.
Prevention is the best cure
The poison ivy plant contains an oily resin called urushiol, which causes the allergic reaction. This oil is in all parts of the plant, including the leaves, stems and roots, and is toxic all year. Remember: Dry leaves are just as poisonous as the green growing plant. Here are some tips to avoid exposure:
- Cover yourself completely. Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirt, gloves, tall socks and shoes to avoid any contact with exposed skin.
- Wash your skin right away. If you come into contact with poison ivy, be sure to clean up as soon as possible to reduce your chances of getting a rash. Wash exposed areas with soap and lukewarm or cool water. Hot water may spread the urushiol oil and can open your pores. Dish soap and rubbing alcohol are effective at removing the oil.
- Clean clothing and equipment. The plant oil is sticky and very potent – only a tiny amount on the skin can cause a rash. It is possible to develop a rash from plant oil transferred from clothing or gloves to your tools, phone or steering wheel. Carefully remove any clothing that may have touched the plant to avoid spreading the oil to your skin, especially your face. Be sure to remove your gloves last. Wash clothing in hot water and thoroughly clean equipment to remove oil.
- Never burn poison ivy. Inhaling the smoke can cause serious injury to the lungs. The smoke also can travel and cause health problems for anyone nearby.
If you do develop a rash – typically redness followed by blisters and severe itching – expect it to take one to three weeks to clear up. The good news is the rash is not contagious and can’t be spread to other people, but avoid scratching to prevent infection and scarring. There are many over-the-counter remedies to help relieve the itching.
Controlling poison ivy
Poison ivy can be removed by hand, but only when the plants are young and lack thick, woody stems. Be sure to remove the entire plant, including the roots to prevent regrowth. A herbicide can also be used to help control the poisonous plant. Confront® specialty herbicide is labeled for controlling poison ivy and should be applied when the plant is in the full-leaf stage. Because poison ivy has an extensive root system, multiple herbicide applications may be needed for effective control. Refer to the product label for application rates and directions. Confront is not labeled for use on residential turf.
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