No matter how hard one tries, it’s tough to transform the topic of fertilizers into lively con­ver­­sation. But for all gardeners, knowledge of fertilizers and how to apply them effectively is as crucial to vigorous plant growth as knowing a plant’s har­diness zones. So in the interest of growing healthy plants, what follows is a brief discussion of the why, what, how, and when of applying these multi­vitamins.

Three prime chemical elements are found in all mixed fertilizers:

N = Nitrogen promotes healthy leaf growth by stimulating the production of chlorophyll (the main chemical involved in photosynthesis—how plants convert sunlight to food).

P = Phosphorus supports the vigorous development of roots, stems, blossoms, and fruits.

K = Potassium plays a key role in helping plants digest and manufacture their foods.

  • WHY PLANTS NEED FERTILIZERS


All of the nutrients essential to plant growth are present in the soil or are floating in the air, so what’s the point of fertilizing? The point is that not all plants can access the key nutrients found in the soil or in the air. Each soil type has its own mix of nutritional ingredients, so before considering what fer­tilizers a plant may require, we need to con­sider the soil in which a plant is growing. Activities like intensive farming, construction, and traffic can alter soil chemistry and structure, limiting the nutrients that plants can use. In some cases, the nutrients aren’t naturally there to begin with or have been leached out over time. For these reasons, we, the diggers of the dirt and keepers of the garden, must replenish, replace, or help release those elements that are beyond the reach of our plants.

When it comes to fertilizing, more does not mean better. It is possible to overfeed your plants. Too much fertilizer can damage and maybe even kill your plants. Before applying any fertilizer, it’s a good idea to have your soil tested so you can select the type and formula that suits your plants’ needs. In return, our plants will reward us with bigger flowers, bigger leaves, and bigger fruits and vegetables.


  • Water-soluble fertilizers are faster acting but must be applied more frequently.


Base application

This method gives plants food while you water. Used with water-soluble fertilizers, follow the mixing instructions and water the soil at the plant’s base with a watering can or hose attachment. This is good for feeding container plants and vegetables.

Foliar application

This approach is similar to base application, but the water is applied to the leaves rather than to the soil. It is useful when plants need to quickly absorb trace elements, like iron.


  • WHAT PLANTS NEED

          The three essential elements that all plants need are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium—or N-P-K, the proportions of which are stated as numbers on the package. For instance, a general-purpose fertilizer labeled 20-20-20 means that each chemical element—N, P, and K—contributes 20 percent by weight to the total formula (the remaining 40 percent is composed of inert materials and trace elements). The element percentages are offered in varying proportions to suit different fertil­izer needs. If you are looking to boost flower production, you want a mix like 15-30-15, which is high in flower-developing phosphorus. If you want to green up your lawn, choose a mix like 25-6-4, which is high in nitrogen. Many fertilizers are formulated for specific plants like roses, bulbs, or vegetables. Be sure to check the label for the N-P-K ratio, as you may be able to use a general fertilizer with close to the same nutrient percentages but at a lower price.

In addition to N-P-K, most fertilizers contain traces of other elements important to plant health. Some trace elements are more important than others, but each nourishes a plant in its own way. The main trace elements in fertilizers are calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, zinc, molybdenum, boron, and sulfur (you can usually purchase these items individually as well). If any of these elements are lacking, a plant may show characteristic deficiency symptoms. An iron deficiency, for instance, causes chlorosis (yellow leaves with green veins), which is easily corrected with a dose of chelated iron.

There are quite a number of fertilizers available today, both organic (plant and animal derived) and inorganic (chemically derived). While the majority are commercially produced inorganic fertilizers, there are a few options for the organic gardener. Many rely on the old standbys—animal manure and compost—which, although organic and good for soil building, actually contain few nutrients. For flower and fruit development, bonemeal with a high phosphorus count is the organic of choice, while blood meal is a good source of nitrogen.

 

  • HOW TO CHOOSE

           There are two types of fertilizers available to the home gardener: granular and water soluble. Each type has advantages and disadvantages. Granular fertilizers deliver food to a plant slowly but have the advantage of longevity. Since they must be broken down by water before a plant can use them, granular fertilizers do not leach out of the soil as rapidly as water-soluble types. Water-soluble fertilizers are faster acting but more transient, which means they must be applied more frequently than the granular type.

Both types of fertilizers are effective, so the one you choose depends on whether you want to give your plants a quick but frequent fix or a sluggish but extended feeding. And for those of us gardeners who are oh so very busy (or oh so very lazy), nothing beats time-release granular fertilizers, some of which require only one application every six to nine months.

There are several ways to apply granular and water-soluble fertilizers, but there are a few general guidelines that one should follow when applying them. Avoid applying a fertilizer on windy or rainy days. This can cause it to be misplaced and ineffective. When using a granular fertilizer, always be sure to knock the fertilizer off plant leaves to avoid burn. Never apply a granular fertilizer when the soil is extremely dry, and water it in thoroughly after applying to prevent plant burn.

LONG-TERM SUSTENANCE VS. FAST FOOD: WHICH IS THE RIGHT CHOICE FOR YOUR SITUATION?


Broadcast application

This method, which covers large areas well, is used to apply granular fer­tilizers to lawns or to new beds before they are planted. The broadcast method can be done with a hand-rotary or drop spreader.

Top-dress application

This technique, which provides nutrients to individual plants such as shrubs and perennials, is done by hand with granular fertilizers. Simply apply the fertilizer around the base of the plant, extending to the drip line. For vegetables, place the fertilizer in a strip parallel to the plant­ing row.

WHEN TO FERTILIZE
       Knowing when to fertilize is as important as using the right fertilizer. If you don’t apply the fertilizer at a time when the plant can use it, there’s no point in fertilizing. Most perennials, annuals, vegetables, and lawns will reward you handsomely if fed with a balanced granular fertil­izer in early spring. Avoid fertilizing before the spring showers, however, or you will be throwing your money away, since the nutrients will simply leach out of the soil. Annuals like to be fed an additional three to four times during the growing season with a high-phosphorus, water-soluble fertilizer, while lawns benefit from a second granular application in early fall.

Trees and shrubs, especially those that flower, also like a dose of a balanced granular fertilizer in the spring and another in the fall. But remember to heed the phrase “late and light” when fertilizing trees and shrubs in autumn. Late fall is also a good time to fertilize bulbs, especially if you are planting them for the first time; a teaspoon of bonemeal added to each bulb hole will generally be sufficient.

Roses have insatiable appetites. To keep them fat and happy, feed them with a soluble fertilizer every seven days during their blooming season. “Weekly, weakly” is the feeding mantra for all roses. One final thought: Feed only well-established plants; fertilizing seeds or tiny seedlings will cause fertilizer burn.

Just remember, these guidelines on feeding are just that—guidelines. Read the package directions before scattering both food and caution to the wind.
Read more:
http://www.finegardening.com/fertilizing-

basics#ixzz44K8zxBUJ

Preventing Winter Damage
 Gardening Essentials: National Home Gardening Club by Barbara Pleasant​

*** GARDENING TIPS​​​ ***

Fertilizing Basics
It pays to know why, what, how, and when to feed your plants

by Sandra C. Gorry, Fine Gardening issue 96 3





Root and Crown Rot- Perennials

Gardeners lose many hardy perennial plants every winter due to root or crown rot caused by excess soil moisture.  Clay soil and low areas are especially prone to holding too much water. To avoid this, incorporate plenty of organic matter at planting time to improve drainage, or grow your hardy perennials in raised beds. It is also important to avoid smothering the crowns of perennials with too much winter mulch.  Plants that hold onto a small tuft of green leaves through winter usually benefit from exposure to winter sun. They may become subject to disease if smothered beneath a damp mulch.


Sun-scald Trees

Young, smooth skinned trees, such as fruit trees and Japanese maples sometimes develop sun scald, which appears as ragged cracks in the trunk.  Sun scald is the result of rapid temperature changes during the winter and usually develops on the west or south side of the tree.  


On sunny days, a tree trunk may be warmed 18 degrees Fahrenheit above air temperature.  When the sun goes down, the temperature plummets and the trunk suddenly freezes, splitting wood and tearing bark.  In spring, pests and diseases are able to enter the trunk through these openings in the bark. 


  • Avoid Sunscald:

Wrap young trees with at least 2 feet of stretchy waterproof paper (sold as tree wrap) when temperatures get near freezing.  This moderates daily temperature extremes.  Do not wrap trees too early because it inhibits the photosynthesis process and can rob plants of needed nutrients.  Remove tree wrap in early to mid-spring.


  • Minimize Sunscald:

Plant smooth-skinned trees where they receive minimal afternoon sun in winter - such as the northeast corner of the building.  Position a new plant so that the side with the most branches faces southwest so the trunk has some added protection.


Lightening Snow Load

A blanket of snow is a wonderful insulator, but too much snow or heavy ice can cause exactly the kind of natural pruning you do not want.  Avoid planting brittle shrubs under the eaves of your house or other places where ice and snow tend to accumulate.  When heavy ice bends a plant, DO NOT attempt to help it until after the ice melts.  Frozen braces splinter and break very easily.  


To give the crowns of peonies and other shallow perennials a bit of breathing room under snow or ice, mulch the lightly with a loose pile of evergreen branches.  Covering the ground with evergreen  branches may also benefit spring flowering bulbs after they are planted in the fall.




O L D E R   T H AN   D I R T  !!

When we think of this planet's oldest plants,  we usually think of the ancient sequoias and bristlecone pines of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which have been reliably dated by their wood rings to be 3000 to 5000 years old.  However that doesn't hold a candle to the humble box huckleberry (Gaylussacia brachycera) of the Mid-Atlantic states and Appalachia.

A curator of the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants at Duke University has discovered a famous patch of this native huckleberry at Losh Run in a remote forest in Perry County, Pennsylvania.  Several botonists have estimated that patch's age at 13,000 YEARS, meaning it is the  oldest continuously living organism on earth !!

(condensed from the story in HORTICULTURE magazine by Jeff Cox)

  • Consider a Drive to North Carolina to Sarah P. Duke Gardens this year. View roadside wildflowers never seen before during a road trip.



8 Best Poison Ivy Remedies

FALL GARDEN QUESTIONS & ANSWERS






“LOVE THE COLEUS YOU RECOMMENDED, HOW CAN I KEEP THEM ALL YEAR? ”.
Coleus is still my favorite of all annuals, and so many new selections every year to choose from; many now doing well in full sun.  But guess what?  Coleus can actually do very well indoors over the winter, grown as a houseplant!  Try potting a few in containers, or take cuttings and place them in water.  They root easily and can be grown in the water or in soil.  When it’s time to clean out my annual pots and planted areas at the end of the season, I will cut stems from the different coleus and make indoor arrangements with them in a vase.  They last a long time, and many will actually root!  Several of your annuals are good for doing that, including ornamental sweet potato vines.  By the way, when you dig those up at the end of the season and find the sweet potato tubers in the soil, yes, they are very edible!

“IS IT TRUE I SHOULD BE ADDING A PRE-EMERGENT HERBICIDE TO MY BEDS THIS LATE IN THE SEASON?”.
Yes, if you’ve had issues with those pesky winter annuals growing in the beds!  By applying a pre-emergent now, you’ll help control annual weeds like hairy bittercress, purple deadnettle, henbit and chickweed, which germinate in the fall and begin to grow over the winter, and then take over our landscape beds and gardens early next spring.  As a matter of fact, keep after any weeds that pop up in the beds this fall, to keep your beds weed free now, and off to a cleaner start next spring.  Use your Roundup where you can, or hand pull if needed.  But don’t let the weeds grow this fall.

“WHEN CAN I TAKE THE STRAW OFF MY NEW GRASS SEED?”.
As soon as you can lightly rake the straw without pulling up the grass.  It takes a while, so just experiment to see.  Once you can, lightly rake off what you can (get as much as you can), may take a couple times of raking, and then when you mow, simply chop up what’s left and throw it back into the turf.

“WHAT SHOULD I DO ABOUT THE HOLES IN MY KALE AND CABBAGE?”.
Unless you see the culprit – nothing!  But best guess is that if you looked closely on the undersides of the leaves and towards the base of the plant, you’ll see green caterpillars – cabbage worms.  Just pick them off and smash them.  If you need to spray, use Bt or Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew.

“HELP!  SOMETHING HAS TORN UP OUR LAWN IN ONE AREA; THE SOD HAS HOLES AND SOME HAS ACTUALLY BEEN ROLLED UP!”  WHAT’S GOING ON?”.
Looks like you may have some skunks and raccoons helping you get rid of grubs in the soil.  They’ll find a pocket of grubs, dig them out, and have a feast.  Problem is; they tear up your turf in the meantime!  You can apply a grub killer to the area, but that takes time to work, the grubs are still there (dead or alive) and the critters keep digging. (Only apply grub killers if there is a problem with grubs killing the lawn – not as a means of control for grubs and digging critters.)  So try applying Milorganite to the area; gives the lawn a natural fertilizing which helps in the recovery, and acts as a critter repellent (works for deer as well).  In extreme cases, it may take Milorganite plus laying bird netting on the lawn to keep the critters from digging.  And, just when you get them to stop digging, the moles tunnel in and begin their fall feasting of soil insects and earthworms!  

“WHAT SHOULD I DO IF THERE IS ROSE ROSETTE ON MY ROSE BUSHES?”.
If indeed you’re sure its rose rosette, dig and remove those roses, bag them and throw them away.  Yes, you can replant roses there next year, but this means they, too, could be susceptible to the mite infestation that vectors the rose rosette virus.  (No, you cannot spread the mites on your clothes or tools, and no you cannot spread the virus from your garden tools.)

“WHAT IS A NICE SCREEN PLANT THAT LIKES A LOT OF SHADE TO REPLACE INVASIVE HONEYSUCKLE?”.
First of all, we applaud you for getting rid of the invasive honeysuckle.  And to be honest, not sure anything can grow as well as that invasive honeysuckle does given those conditions.  But, some plants to consider depending on shade density would include: oakleaf hydrangea, climbing hydrangea, hemlock, taxus, spicebush, some viburnums, bottlebrush buckeye, serviceberry, witchhazel, dogwood, buttonbush, alpine currant, beautyberry, deciduous holly, bayberry, plus many shade tolerant perennials.

“WHAT SHOULD WE BE CONTROLLING NOW IN THE GARDEN?”.
Good question!  Aphids and black spot on roses, maybe an extreme case of turf diseases, scale on magnolias (dormant spraying later this fall, too), slugs, pesky hornet and wasp nests, spraying soaps or horticultural oils on tropical plants before bringing them indoors for the winter, timely apps of systemics for borer, scale, psyllid and leafminer controls, maybe a quick kill (dylox) for high populations of grubs in the turf, etc.  I’m sure there may be a few more, but the point is in many cases, most situations rarely warrant sprays this time of the year.

“WHAT SHOULD I DO ABOUT BAGWORMS ON MY ARBORVITAE? WILL THE NEEDLES THEY ATE RETURN?”.
As for new needles coming back, only time will tell.  You’ll know by mid next spring.  Sometimes they do – many times they do not and the area stays bare.  As for the existing bagworms, when you have time, pick them off and destroy them.  Squash each one between your fingers as you pick them off.  If there are too many to pick, you don’t want to take the time, or they’re too high on the evergreen to get to, then mark your calendar to start watching the plants around June 1st.  That’s when they hatch and begin feeding.  Give them a couple weeks from when you first see them (they’ll be small), and then spray the plant with Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew.  Soak it.  Then just watch for future activity and spray if needed.  But one spray can really do the trick!






Question: When should I top my trees? Why do I still have moles even after applying grub preventer?


(These are just some of the questions we received at the extension office this past year.)

Answer: Here are some suggested New Year’s resolutions for gardeners that should help answer these and several other common questions.

• I will never top my trees, and certainly won’t pay someone else to top my trees. 
Topping is also known as “dehorning,” “hat-racking” or “butchering,” cutting back all the branches to the same height.
Topping disfigures trees and makes them grow back weaker than they were before, and it makes them more susceptible to sunscald, frost cracks, and attack from insects and disease. For proper pruning techniques, consult your local county extension office, or ask for our list of ISA-trained Certified Arborists.

 I will not try to control moles in my yard by simply applying grub-control chemicals.
Moles eat earthworms, snails, spiders, insect larvae and various other insects in addition to white grubs, so you will need to use another control method such as trapping, mole repellents, or poison baits like Talpirid or Tom Cat Mole Killer. Consult the extension office for details.

• I will never let the mulch touch the trunks of my trees.
When mulch is piled up against the trunks of trees, it keeps the base of the tree trunk too wet during rainy seasons, leading to bark decay. Roots grow up into the mulch and result in “girdling roots” which strangle the tree. Voles (resembling field mice) live in the mulch pile around the tree, chewing the bark off the tree trunk during the winter, leading to an early death.

 I will always consider the planting site (sun, shade, soil/drainage, slopes, wet or dry conditions) before selecting plants for my landscape. Many trees, shrubs and flowers will grow quite well in places other than where you may want to plant them. Don’t plant Canadian hemlock or white pine in a heavy, poorly drained clay soil, or near where de-icing salts are used. Don’t plant flowering dogwoods in full sun in a heavy clay soil. Don’t plant azaleas and rhododendrons in an alkaline (high pH), poorly drained clay soil.




New Year’s resolutions for the gardener 
Mike Klahr, Community Recorder Contributor for horticulture.


PLANTS ARE LIKE FURNITURE...

You can move them about until you find the perfect place, or you can give them away if you find you don't like or need them anymore.            Anne Campodonico (Submittal: Gloria Schuler)




8 Best Poison Ivy Remedies...



It starts innocently enough. You chop down a scraggly shrub while trimming your lawn. Then, your arms and legs start tingling and turn red. Before you know it they're covered with an itchy rash. Much too late you realize that shrub was actually poison ivy.

Finding poison ivy is easy in the United States, where it grows virtually everywhere except for Alaska, Hawaii, and some desert areas of the southwest. It also grows in parts of Canada, Mexico, and Asia.

In the northern and western parts of the United States and Canada, poison ivy usually grows as a shrub. In the East, Midwest, and South, it usually appears as a vine. It's generally found on the edges of woods, fields, beaches, and streams, but can turn up almost anywhere — even in a park or your flowerbeds.

Look, But Don’t Touch

"Leaflets three, let it be" is catchy and sound advice — poison ivy is easy to identify by its clusters of three pointed leaves. Usually the middle leaf is on a longer stalk than the two side leaves. Leaves can range from about a third of an inch to more than three inches long, and can have smooth edges or be serrated like a knife.

In the spring poison ivy leaves can have a reddish tint. The leaves turn green in summer and various shades of red, yellow, or orange in the fall.

A Real People-Plant

You have good reason to be jealous of your pets — not only are they spoiled, but they’ll never get a poison ivy rash. Only humans are susceptible to it. Poison ivy produces an oil called urushiol that causes a rash in about 85 percent of people who come in contact with it, according to theAmerican Academy of Dermatology.

Urushiol is tenacious. It'll stick to almost everything — your clothes and shoes, camping and gardening equipment, even your pets' or horses' coats. And it's in virtually every part of the plant; leaves, stems, even the roots. Brushing against a winter-bared vine can still cause a nasty rash.

Remedies for the Rash

1. Dress for Success

If you know you're heading into a poison ivy stronghold, prepare by covering as much of your skin as possible. Long-sleeved shirts, pants (tucked into socks if needed), hats, heavy rubber gloves, socks, and closed-toe shoes make good frontline defenses.

2. Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Rinsing your skin with cool, soapy water or rubbing alcohol within about an hour of touching poison ivy may remove the urushiol and help you avoid a rash — or at least make it less severe.

You'll also need to wash anything else that's come in contact with the plant. Urushiol can remain potent for years, so skipping the cleanup could net you a rash at a later point.

Some swear that dishwashing liquids can help wash the oil from your skin. Other specialty washes are produced by brands like Burt's Bees, Ivarest, and Tecnu.

3. Block the Oil

If a preventative measure is what you’re after, several over-the-counter creams can delay urushiol from penetrating the skin, like Ivy Block, Stokoguard Outdoor Cream, Hollister Moisture Barrier, and Hydropel Moisture Barrier. The cream needs to be thickly applied all over your skin less than an hour before you expect to be exposed to a poison ivy plant. If you are exposed, you must wash all the cream off within four hours of the exposure to keep your skin from absorbing the urushiol.

4. Water is Your Friend

If you do develop a poison ivy rash, expect it to take one to three weeks to clear up. Water can help ease the itching and burning. Soaking in cool-water baths containing an oatmeal-based product such as Aveeno should provide relief. Also, placing a cool, wet compresses on the rash for 15 to 30 minutes several times a day should help.

5. The Double Cs

Over-the-counter cortisone creams and calamine lotion can help ease some of the itchiness of a poison ivy rash. Follow the label directions when applying. Make sure to wash and dry the area before reapplying.

Other products that may help with itching are aloe vera gel, a three-to-one baking soda/water paste applied to the skin, or cucumber slices placed on the rash. You can also mash up cucumber into a paste and apply to the rash.

6. Hit the (Pill) Bottle

Over-the-counter antihistamines such as loratadine (Claritin) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can help ease your itching and inflammation too. Benadryl has the added benefit of making some people sleepy, which could help boost your comfort at bedtime.

Do not apply an antihistamine cream to your rash, though. It can actually make the itching worse.

7. Call in the Professionals

If your rash is widespread, on your face or genitals, or has caused lots of blisters, you may want to contact your doctor. They’ll be able to prescribe a steroid, such as prednisone, to help ease the itching and inflammation.

Depending on your condition and your doctor's preference, you may be given steroid pills, a shot, or topical preparations like gels, ointments, or creams.

Sometimes if you scratch your skin or your blisters break open, you can develop a bacterial infection. Your doctor can give you a prescription antibiotic if that happens.

8. Head for Help

If you have any of the following symptoms head to the emergency room or urgent care center:

Trouble breathing or swallowing    Swelling, especially an eye swelling shut    

Rash near or in your mouth



Bundt Pan-Bird Wreath:

Fresh treats for the birds during winter
Posted on December 11, 2015 by Dixie Sandborn, Michigan State University Extension

Bird watching comes second only to America’s favorite hobby of gardening. It makes sense that most gardeners love bird watching and go to great lengths to plant habitats and flowers that provide seedheads for their feathered garden friends. Although planting habitats and seed barring plants are great ways to attract birds to your garden, during the cold, winter months the seedheads get depleted and birds need an additional food source. Birds need an incredible amount of energy just to keep from freezing to death. Feeding birds in the winter is a great way to help them survive the harsh winter months.

Almost 40 percent of Americans have a bird feeder and enjoy this hobby. A bird feeder can supply hours of entertainment for you and your family. One way to get kids involved is having them make some bird treats for the cold, winter days. Bird seed wreaths are an easy one kids love to make.

For a Bundt pan-sized bird seed wreath, you’ll need:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup warm water
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 package unflavored gelatin
4 cups bird food, such as seeds, peanuts, berries, dried fruits
Bundt pan or other mold
Nonstick cooking spray

If you don’t have a mold, shape the mixture by hand onto a piece of waxed paper or a cookie sheet.
Let the wreath harden by putting it in a cool place or even the freezer for 24 hours. Remove from the mold. Add ribbon for hanging and hang for the birds to enjoy. My family likes to add cranberries for a festive touch. Don’t forget to make a hole in the seed mixture to loop a string through for hanging. Smaller ornaments can also be made from the mixture using cookie cutters. Helpful hints: Coat the inside of your cookie cutters for easier removal. Cool until hardened before removing from cookie cutter.

These wreaths and ornaments make great gifts for teachers, neighbors and others on your kid’s gift list. It is especially meaningful to those receiving the bird seed ornament knowing they are made by kids, and the kids are learning about nature in the process.

For more ideas for kid-created bird feeders, check out DIY Bird Feeders.

There are many reasons to feed birds during the winter, helping to enhance their survival rate. Michigan State University Extension suggests the following extra things kids can do for birds this winter:

Feed a variety of foods to attract a variety of birds.
Make bird feeders.
Keep your bird feeding areas clean.
Learn more about birds.

There are many resources available about feeding birds in the winter. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has many interesting fact sheets on feeding birds. MSU Extension also has tips on winter bird feeding and how to get kids involved in learning more about feeding birds and nature in the following articles: “Winter is bird feeder time!” and “Engaging youth in bird feeding.”

For even more information for the very curious kid, visit the following Audubon Society articles: “To Feed, or Not to Feed” and “Bird-Feeding Tips.”

Have fun, it’s not just for the birds!

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit http://bit.ly/MSUENews.






It starts innocently enough. You chop down a scraggly shrub while trimming your lawn. Then, your arms and legs start tingling and turn red. Before you know it they're covered with an itchy rash. Much too late you realize that shrub was actually poison ivy.

Finding poison ivy is easy in the United States, where it grows virtually everywhere except for Alaska, Hawaii, and some desert areas of the southwest. It also grows in parts of Canada, Mexico, and Asia.

In the northern and western parts of the United States and Canada, poison ivy usually grows as a shrub. In the East, Midwest, and South, it usually appears as a vine. It's generally found on the edges of woods, fields, beaches, and streams, but can turn up almost anywhere — even in a park or your flowerbeds.

Look, But Don’t Touch

"Leaflets three, let it be" is catchy and sound advice — poison ivy is easy to identify by its clusters of three pointed leaves. Usually the middle leaf is on a longer stalk than the two side leaves. Leaves can range from about a third of an inch to more than three inches long, and can have smooth edges or be serrated like a knife.

In the spring poison ivy leaves can have a reddish tint. The leaves turn green in summer and various shades of red, yellow, or orange in the fall.

A Real People-Plant

You have good reason to be jealous of your pets — not only are they spoiled, but they’ll never get a poison ivy rash. Only humans are susceptible to it. Poison ivy produces an oil called urushiol that causes a rash in about 85 percent of people who come in contact with it, according to theAmerican Academy of Dermatology.

Urushiol is tenacious. It'll stick to almost everything — your clothes and shoes, camping and gardening equipment, even your pets' or horses' coats. And it's in virtually every part of the plant; leaves, stems, even the roots. Brushing against a winter-bared vine can still cause a nasty rash.

Remedies for the Rash

1. Dress for Success

If you know you're heading into a poison ivy stronghold, prepare by covering as much of your skin as possible. Long-sleeved shirts, pants (tucked into socks if needed), hats, heavy rubber gloves, socks, and closed-toe shoes make good frontline defenses.

2. Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Rinsing your skin with cool, soapy water or rubbing alcohol within about an hour of touching poison ivy may remove the urushiol and help you avoid a rash — or at least make it less severe.

You'll also need to wash anything else that's come in contact with the plant. Urushiol can remain potent for years, so skipping the cleanup could net you a rash at a later point.

Some swear that dishwashing liquids can help wash the oil from your skin. Other specialty washes are produced by brands like Burt's Bees, Ivarest, and Tecnu.

3. Block the Oil

If a preventative measure is what you’re after, several over-the-counter creams can delay urushiol from penetrating the skin, like Ivy Block, Stokoguard Outdoor Cream, Hollister Moisture Barrier, and Hydropel Moisture Barrier. The cream needs to be thickly applied all over your skin less than an hour before you expect to be exposed to a poison ivy plant. If you are exposed, you must wash all the cream off within four hours of the exposure to keep your skin from absorbing the urushiol.

4. Water is Your Friend

If you do develop a poison ivy rash, expect it to take one to three weeks to clear up. Water can help ease the itching and burning. Soaking in cool-water baths containing an oatmeal-based product such as Aveeno should provide relief. Also, placing a cool, wet compresses on the rash for 15 to 30 minutes several times a day should help.

5. The Double Cs

Over-the-counter cortisone creams and calamine lotion can help ease some of the itchiness of a poison ivy rash. Follow the label directions when applying. Make sure to wash and dry the area before reapplying.

Other products that may help with itching are aloe vera gel, a three-to-one baking soda/water paste applied to the skin, or cucumber slices placed on the rash. You can also mash up cucumber into a paste and apply to the rash.

6. Hit the (Pill) Bottle

Over-the-counter antihistamines such as loratadine (Claritin) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can help ease your itching and inflammation too. Benadryl has the added benefit of making some people sleepy, which could help boost your comfort at bedtime.

Do not apply an antihistamine cream to your rash, though. It can actually make the itching worse.

7. Call in the Professionals

If your rash is widespread, on your face or genitals, or has caused lots of blisters, you may want to contact your doctor. They’ll be able to prescribe a steroid, such as prednisone, to help ease the itching and inflammation.

Depending on your condition and your doctor's preference, you may be given steroid pills, a shot, or topical preparations like gels, ointments, or creams.

Sometimes if you scratch your skin or your blisters break open, you can develop a bacterial infection. Your doctor can give you a prescription antibiotic if that happens.

8. Head for Help

If you have any of the following symptoms head to the emergency room or urgent care center:

Trouble breathing or swallowing    Swelling, especially an eye swelling shut    

Rash near or in your mouth