Gardening: How to deal with poison ivy

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News
Poison Ivy
Poison ivy is commonly confused with other plants, such as box elder, fragrant sumac and Virginia creeper. Notice that poison ivy has three divided leaves, with the center leaflet on a longer stalk. It also produces white, waxy berries along the stem in summer.

Fall is a great time to clear areas for new plantings in the landscape as you can take advantage of the cooler weather and plant trees, shrubs and perennials or just prep the soil to be ready to hit the ground running in spring. 

If you’re clearing an area filled with vines and weeds, check out the plants to see if you have any poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac to contend with. If you find it, dress for success by wearing long sleeves, long pants and washable gloves. The oils from these plants can cause painful blisters that seem to take forever to heal.

Do not wipe your brow or scratch your bare back with a gloved hand as you may spread the toxic oil (urushiol) to your face and body. When finished weeding, carefully remove all your clothing and wash it immediately.  Also wipe your shoes or boots with rubbing alcohol and wash your garden tools.  If the weather is cold, I wear tight-fitting washable gloves under a pair of disposable latex gloves and toss the disposables after a single use. 

Poison ivy is a fairly common weed that can pop up in a shaded or sunny area at any time, as the seeds are distributed by birds. So, don’t take for granted that you don’t have it. It grows in the form of a plant, a shrub or a vine and it’s smart to familiarize yourself with the leaf structure – three leaves on a stem. The old saying is, if you see three, let them be.

Google “poison ivy treatment” to find photos and all kinds of information on care if you come in contact with poisonous plants. 

If you have had poison ivy before, consider taking extra care and protection.  Knowing you’re sensitive to poison ivy, a product I recommend is Gloves in a Bottle liquid skin protection, available at Walmart. However, you still need to wear protective gloves. 

 To learn how to control poison ivy, Google It has a list of herbicides that can be used to treat poison ivy labeled for South Carolina and may not be available in Michigan. However, you can take the information on contents as well as product names to an independent garden center to find similar products.  

Should you come in contact with poisonous plants, there are specially prepared cleansing agents (such as Tecnu Skin Cleanser, Tecnu Extreme Medicated Poison Ivy Scrub and Zanfel) that remove much of the rash-causing oil if applied to the skin within four to eight hours of contact.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at