This is the second of a two-part series on how to deal with three plants you never want to grow. Collectively they're referred to as poison ivy.
In part one, I gave you some important background information and dispelled a few myths. Now it's time to deal with the issues that make these plants so unpopular.
What to do if exposed
If you think you've been exposed to poison ivy, the oil can be removed from your skin if caught in time. The earlier you can cleanse the exposed area, the better chance you have of avoiding an outbreak. However urushiol can penetrate the skin in as little as five minutes.
Over the counter solvents such as Technu are effective first steps at removing the oils when applied liberally to the skin. Common rubbing alcohol is also effective at stripping the oil. Unfortunately it's also effective at removing your body's protective layer as well. Any additional exposure the same day enables the urushiol to penetrate your skin twice as fast.
Once you've applied a solvent, next rinse your body thoroughly with water only. Then shower with soap and water. Clothes should be washed immediately in hot water and any tools, shoes or equipment should be cleaned with rubbing alcohol. Wear gloves that can be disposed of after use.
If you get a rash
The first signs of an outbreak occur about four to 48 hours after exposure. Redness of the skin and swelling are the first symptoms, followed by blistering and itching. Contrary to popular belief, scratching won't spread the rash, but bacteria beneath the fingernails can lead to infection.
Severe cases -- ones that include infection over 30 percent of the body -- or rashes on the face or genitals should be treated with oral prescription steroids. Otherwise, there are several over the counter products that are designed to relieve itching and dry up the oozing blisters.
Some of the most common, readily available aids for treating the symptoms include corticosteroid creams such as hydrocortisone, Calamine lotion and antihistamines such as Benadryl. Untreated, the rash will usually clear up on its own in about two to three weeks.
Eradicating Poison Ivy
The fastest way to eliminate the poison ivy is to pull it out from the roots. Of course you will need to wear protective gloves and clothing that cover as much of your skin as possible.
Soak the entire area where the poison ivy is growing with water to make the soil soft. Use a shovel or fork to turn over the soil and pull out the roots. Discard the vines and roots in a plastic garbage bag.
Inevitably there will be some roots left that will re-sprout. Spray these new sprouts approximately two weeks after they appear with glyphosate (Roundup or Ortho's Kleeraway Grass & Weed Killer), or triclopyr (Ortho's Brush-B-Gon Poison Ivy Killer). Use as directed on the label. It may take several applications before the entire plant has died.
If the ground is just too difficult to work, you can cut the vines off at the ground. Apply the glyphosate or triclopyr at full strength to the cut area. Again, some of the roots may re-sprout and you should spray them with additional glyphosate or triclopyr according to directions.
If you're highly allergic, use any of the chemicals listed above and spray the plants until they eventually die. This is one of the rare exceptions where you'll see me suggest the use of chemicals as a first line of offense.
Lastly, never burn poison ivy. The oils can be carried in the smoke to affect your body and there is the added risk of it being carried into your eyes, nasal passages, mouth and lungs.
For more information: A longer version of this article appears on www.joegardener.com. You might also enjoy a recount of my latest outbreak and its effect on my recent Today Show appearance at www.joegardener.com/blog.
Joe Lamp'l, host of Fresh from the Garden on the DIY Network and GardenSMART on PBS, is a Master Gardener and author.