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Have you found when adding native plants to your garden you need to be careful?

This past week, I was in the garden clearing out an area to create more space for perennial edible foods and more pollinator friendly plants. I was not paying attention to where I was working and not wearing appropriate weeding clothes. I got poison ivy! Yep, I let my garden area run a bit wild since I was busy with our front yard native pollinator habitats I was trying to create this summer.

“Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac plants are becoming larger and stronger, a trend that’s been developing over recent years, according to researchers. That may be a combination of the plant’s nature to cause more severe reactions over time and the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a result of global warming.”Β ( read more here)


I have found that creating habitat in city gardens means attracting birds and inviting nature to your back door. I believe in incorporating native pollinators to our landscape but also need to be reminded we need to keep our beds a bit free of certain “natives” that may cause us issues, for example, rashes! Poison ivy is a native plant. Did you know?

‘Poison ivy is a valuable species in natural communities providing cover and food for wildlife. Though abhorred by most humans, poison ivy can be quite attractive, especially when the glossy green of the foliage yields to yellow, bright orange, and scarlet in the autumn.Poison ivy is native to the eastern United States and Canada growing in open woods and disturbed sites from Nova Scotia to Florida and west to Minnesota and Texas.”( read more here)

Years ago, before I incorporated native plants into our landscape. Our dogs would meander through the back of our city lot and get the “oils” on their skin when they brushed up against it in the garden. I use to cuddle with them as we watched tv and found myself getting it too often. I finally decided to tear out some bushes along the fence, and that was the start of our backyard habitat.


I had to go to our Hospital Express Care and be put on 60mg of Prednisone and antibiotics for a week and a half! Usually, I would just put a drying cream on, and that would be the end of my poison ivy encounter. Well, not anymore. I will never wander in the Garden and not be covered when I see a weed or want to clear out an overgrown bed. NO WAY!!! My arm is all scabbed over right now, and when I went for my daily bike ride, I wore long sleeves. Thank goodness we have had some wonderful cool weather. When people see it, their faces just cringe in all sort of contortions and exclaim-Yuck!Β I felt like I had leprosy!

I love to attract nature to my yard, and I know birds love the berries produced by the “native rash plants”, my coined term! When we build our native infused gardens; the birds visit. They drop the seeds, and the rest is history.


That’s why, I have been seeing more poison ivy in my garden this year. I usually am very careful but one day you forget to wear your protective clothing when weeding, you pay the price.


I will not give up on native plants or attracting wildlife to my city lot, but I will never be without long sleeves, long pants and gloves when I weed through my garden.The other day when my husband and I weeded, by noon it was unbearable to be in long sleeves and pants out in a garden. Thank goodness the humidity was not 90 percent that morning! It can be a sauna out there in our Illinois humid weather.


Gear up folks when you weed or maybe you are one of the lucky ones that never had it. Trust me you don’t want to get it!


42 replies »

  1. Oh No!! What a terrible misadventure you have had Robbie! I have never encountered poison ivy, it isn’t here as far as I know. But of course I have heard of it and its uncomfortable effects. How very interesting that its effect is becoming stronger and more difficult to clear up though. Despite the claim of global warming being to blame I also wonder about the effects of pesticides. Just as hospitals are now responsible for the spread of ‘super-bugs’ due to ‘over disinfecting’ and pharma is responsible for more and stronger viruses due to the overuse of antibiotics, it makes a certain amount of sense to me that the targeted plants of pesticides are growing bigger and stronger.

    I imagine that poison ivy contributes something to the soil of ‘disturbed’ ground – maybe like stinging nettles, which are a sign of poor or depleted soil and which [from memory now, so I may be wrong] bring increased oxygen[or something] to the soil on those neglected pastures. [This was relevant stuff to me when I lived in the UK and that was a while ago now and the memory is not what it was!]

    Any how I do hope your leprous appearance clears up soon and you return to full health! Keep covered, stay safe! xoxo

    • lol-Pauline!!! “leprous appearance” yep, that is how I feel-too funny + SPOT ON!
      Really good point you are bringing up + it makes one wonder about all this stuff. I hardly ever use antibiotics and hate them in my body. I hate the prednisone for it makes me have a lot of energy which I have to hold off. I am hyper as it is, so this is very difficult! The first day, I wanted to clean everything in sight I saw-LOL-I had so much energy, but I know too well the crash from this stuff. I have never had PO this badly! I will be covered head to toe next time I venture out to weed:-) Only my eyes will be visible-LOL

  2. Stunning photos Robbie – despite the poison ivy your garden is looking amazing. It’s not a plant we have here in Ireland. Hope your arm is feeling better.

    • aww.thank you-Really, you have no PO-I need to move there:-) You are so lucky and it is good! It would horrible if your kids got this while enjoying your beautiful place:-)

  3. Very worrying that your reaction to PO is getting more severe. I hope you are back to your unblemished self soon. I agree that your garden looks wonderfully bright and beautiful.

    • The first day or two after I was thinking-hmmm-this usually goes away. Then I thought this does not look good, I decided to go see the doctor. Thankful, I did. It taught me about being careful when you go in the garden and to wear the proper clothing when clearing out over grown areas to reseed. I bare arms carrying piles around-DUMB ME! I will be more careful now:-)

  4. Ouch! I’m never again going to whinge about the English ivy, honeysuckle and jasmine that over-runs every garden here. Grevilleas are known to cause contact dermatitis in some people, but on the whole, Australian native plants are OK in that regard (we make up for it by having billions of venomous spiders and snakes lurking around!)
    We don’t have Poison Ivy in Australia, but it’s scary to think that it’s getting stronger in the US. I know how hot it gets over there in summer, so I don’t relish the idea of going out in long sleeves…you poor thing!
    But it is true, when attracting birds to your garden, you need to be prepared for weeds to pop up thanks to birds pooping out πŸ™‚

    • You are so lucky! The problem is when you start weeding they hide down in the bed and are wrapped some where around another flower you welcome to your garden. Just hate that about them!I gathered allthe weeds in my “bare arms” it was humid and hot that day. Stupid me! What was I thinking. Usually I see it on the ground and grab it up with gloves, but just assumed it was all gone. Naw!!! It got me:-( But you learn from your mistakes. I said in another comment, I will be covered from head to toe next time-never again. I am going out to harvest raspberries for dinner tonight and will wear long jeans + long sleeves to harvest the berries:-) Don’ t need to learn this again:-)
      I do welcome the birds and I know they bring the weeds but how could one not have the birds:-) Especially the birds in your paradise!

  5. I couldn’t click “like” to this! We forget that nature has ways of protecting herself and she just did a number on you Robbie :(. My gran always taught me to look for something good in things and I guess the burglars won’t be jumping into your garden to pinch your veggies, fruit and flowers any day soon eh? Sorry you had such a terrible reaction and glad you are on the mend πŸ™‚

  6. Thank you for the warning, Robbie! I’m terribly allergic to poison ivy. Fortunately ( πŸ™‚ ), I have mosquitoes and sand flies to remind me to cover up most times when I weed. It would have occurred to me that the “native itch plants” might appear once the invasive non-native plants are under control.

  7. Thank you for the warning, Robbie! I’m terribly allergic to poison ivy. Fortunately ( ? ), I have mosquitoes and sand flies to remind me to cover up most times when I weed. It would never have occurred to me that the “native itch plants” might appear once the invasive non-native plants are under control (if that day ever comes).

  8. So sorry about the PI. Ugh. I have seen more of it –and bigger specimens lately, as well as more faux grapes and of all things, poke weed. Hope you have clear skin soon. Your garden is still beautiful!

    • awww…yep, my one arm looks so gross, I have to refrain from pulling the scabs! So anxious to see my skin again. When I went to the the doctor she said, “oh you have been scratching it” and it is infected. I NEVER scratched any of it once. This one is awful!

    • ME TOO!!!I picked my raspberries all covered up tonight from head to toe just in case + no longer venture in there with shorts and sleeveless shirts:-) I have my
      Weed Pulling Clothes -LOL

    • I feel it is a mission to attract pollinators:-) They need our help. I love seeing the bees sleeping in the flowers at night, makes me feel so good:-)

  9. I’m so thankful I have never been affected by poison ivy. It is a fear of mine that I will come across it someday in my garden that is morphing into a wild kingdom each passing day. I let the jewelweed go, too – it is a natural poison ivy remedy – plus I am enjoying the hummingbirds that can’t seem to pass it up. My husband and I just bought some lakeside property (hear me jumping up and down singing yay yay yay) that makes my garden look tame. We trekked all over the land which I’m certain is infested with poison ivy. We came home and my husband immediately boiled up a batch of jewelweed and we sprayed everything with it. No poison ivy. Apparently if you apply the jewelweed within 24 hours, you will not be affected by poison ivy. We have a lot of work to do on that property so we’ll see if it holds true all next season. My husband had poison ivy and it looked bad, real bad – yuck. I hope yours clears up soon – sounds serious!

    • I am on the mend. Rode my bike on the river and down to 60mg of prednisone. So not sleeping much but feeling a lot better. I will not be going out there anytime soon without my entire ‘Weeding Outfit”-lol…covered head to toe! I am heading out to pick raspberries for dinner and will wear pants and long shirt to complete the job. Not planning to venture out there in bare feet and shorts. I can look at it from afar ( in my shorts) but when I work-covered up:-)
      Congrats on the property! Can’t wait to read about it and hear all about your new adventure. I have no doubt with your “eye” for design and plants it will be AMAZING!

    • I am on the mend:-) Learned my lesson about doing work in the garden weeding-Cover up!!! I even have the outfit ready to use each night I go out pick berries:-)

  10. Oh, I feel your pain! I mean your itches, as someone who is VERY sensitive to poison ivy. Though many birds love the berries, I would not hesitate to rip out any poison ivy in our garden, or even in the neighbors’.

    • I totally agree!My husband went out there with me the next day and helped me clear out some beds. I was unable to get to them due to this PO outbreak. We were having friends over in the garden, so I needed to clear out beds but was a bit apprehensive. I remember my grandmother wearing long sleeves, gloves and long pants when weeding. I will never be without them again. Picking raspberries the other night, I was covered from head to toe!:-)

  11. Ooh, no! I hope you heal quickly. I’ve had poison ivy once or twice and poison oak more times than I can count. I can recall spending summer nights trying to sleep with all limbs wrapped in gauze to avoid oozing on the sheets (or “waking up the itching” by rolling over.) We swore by TechNu as a post-adventure shower wash to prevent outbreak. Sometimes I still got it, and then it was onto dousing myself in a bleach solution, counting to thirty, and jumping in a cold shower.
    TechNu also works to clean clothing, boots, and equipment if you haven’t already made your tools from that day safe again.

    • Oh, I could totally relate to your comment about “oozing on the sheets or waking up to itching”….YUCK! I read once you have PI or PO you get a worse reaction the next time. I am all about covering up and washing hands etc when I come from the garden now. I gauzed up when I went out for the worst of it for people just would be so grossed out by the look of it on my arms. They “yucked” me-LOL

  12. Robbie, I am so sorry I missed this post! I do hope a couple weeks down the road you are well on the way to recovery! You’re absolutely right about the new Perils of Poison Ivy. Returning to the East Coast a few years ago, I heard from various folks about the usual P.I. spots to avoid. This year I found it growing in the middle of my yard (out of the empty bed that I’d been stocking with green manure between crops). Shocked because I’d never seen it growing straight out of the ground (usually it’s around a tree or bush or fenceline, I almost touched it as I was doing some glove-free weeding of buckwheat volunteers. I quickly got my hoe and lifted it out and haven’t seen any since then but am very wary now. Be careful out there!!!

    • My husband finally got rid of his that we got but he did not need the medication. I am so afraid to weed near the edges of my lot, I am waiting till fall when things die down to clear out the area. I do not want to get that stuff again. I wear long pants when I go out near the edges of my yard. I found it on the walkway up to my house in the cracks of the sidewalk.You are so right, it was showing up places I have never seen it before! It is low to the ground so when clearing out a bed for planting you would miss it. I did! The doctor said,” Oh you must of scratched it?” I did not scratch it at all but it got infected. Go figure. I know not to scratch it but it was spreading all over my body. I would get it each season if the dog brushed up against it in the garden and just put some lotion on a spot and it would go away. This stuff was awful. You be safe,too!:-) I am clearing all my beds out this fall so I can see it now before I head back there and work next time!

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