Avoiding poison ivy and other irritating plants

A weekend spent working in the yard can turn into an itchy, uncomfortable nightmare if you don’t steer clear of poisonous plants.

Homeowner Shirley Branham loves tending to her yard and garden, but she can’t seem to escape the itchy wrath of poison ivy. Every summer for the past ten years she’s suffered through a horrible rash.

“I usually just notice one or two little dots which eventually unfortunately then spread all the way up my arm or on my legs,” said Barnham.

The key to avoiding a rash like Shirley’s is knowing how to spot these poisonous plants. Poison ivy grows in all areas of the continental U.S. Poison oak is most common on the West Coast, but it’s also found in Southeastern states. Poison sumac grows in swampy areas of the Southeast.

“Poison oak and poison ivy look fairly similar, but poison sumac has much more leaves on the leaflet,” said horticulturist Emily Wood.

Birds often feed on the berries of these plants and consequently spread the seeds, so look for the plants in areas where birds hang out: on or under trees or near fences. The plants can grow to great lengths, so you may need help to get rid of them. Angie’s List researchers found many lawn care companies won’t go near these plants, but there are some that do specialize in removal.

“During the hiring process, be sure to cover how the company is going to tackle the problem,” said Angie’s List founder Angie Hicks. “Are they going to use chemicals to remove the plants? Are they going to dig the plants up? How long do they guarantee their work? Will they come back if the plant reappears? Also, don’t forget these plants like to spread, so if the plant is actually in your neighbor’s yard you want to understand that problem as well.”

You may be able to tackle smaller plants on your own, but be sure to wear protective clothing and know the methods of proper disposal.

“Most of the time it’s probably best to put it in a plastic bag and just throw it away, but keep in mind that anything that touches it will carry the oil, and you can get the contact dermatitis from that oil,” added Wood.

All parts of these plants produce the rash–inducing oil. It can stay on clothing and garden tools for up to five years. You should never burn these plants or use a weed eater or lawn mower to get rid of them, as doing so will just distribute the oil.