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Amazing native plant generally unappreciated

By Wayne McLaurin
and Mark Czarnota
University of Georgia

The hottest things in the landscape now are "new" and native plants. Well, there are no new plants -- just the ones we don't know about. However, one native plant is truly underappreciated.

This plant can be propagated by both cuttings and seed. And no one ever fertilizes it. It seems perfectly happy with just native soils and their inherent fertility.

Besides this low fertility requirement, it also has all of the sought-after characteristics of a Xeriscape plant. Nobody waters it. It seems to thrive in the drought and heat.

Fantastic ground cover

It grows as a fantastic ground cover. It can cover an area in a single year. It's not subject to any disease or insect, either, and it competes with weeds and grasses exceedingly well.

This plant can be grown as a small shrub or as a standard if you wish. It's deciduous and won't maintain its leaves in the winter, but it has good form and shape.

You don't need to look at the zone growing chart. Remember, it's one of our original native plants. It's well-adapted and produces fantastic growth from Nova Scotia to British Columbia and from Florida to Mexico. It grows well in all of North America.

Grows anywhere as a vine

This plant can be grown as a vine, too, on a trellis, trees, houses -- anywhere.

This amazing plant has wonderful fall color and produces wildlife food (the birds seem to devour its seeds).

Besides all these other characteristics, it can be used as a barrier plant where you don't want traffic in the landscape. Virtually nobody steps into or crosses this plant.

There may be no other plant that incorporates all of these ornamental characteristics in a single plant.

Would you like to have one?

Probably not.

It happens to be Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy).

If you still don't like it

If you already have it in your landscape but don't really enjoy its virtues, there are ways to get rid of it.

Most people who are highly allergic to poison ivy wisely choose not to hand-remove it. Many people resort to herbicides to control the plant. A number of products will provide control, including some that homeowners can buy:

  • Imazapyr ("Arsenal" and others).

  • Clopyralid and triclopyr ("Confront").

  • 2,4-D (various brand names).

  • Glufosinate ("Finale").

  • Glyphosate ("Roundup" and others).

  • Triclopyr ("Brush-B-Gone" and others).

All of these herbicides work best when applied to actively growing plants. All can be applied to foliage, but triclopyr, glyphosate and imazapyr can also be applied to cut stems.

For example, if the plant is creeping up a wall or tree, it's in your best interest to cut a 12-inch section of the stem and remove it. Everything above the cut should die, but the plant below the cut could resprout.

To prevent resprouting, spray or paint the stems immediately after you cut them. When you're making this cut-stem application, most herbicide manufacturers recommend using the herbicide at full or 50-percent strength. Refer to the product label for the correct directions.

Best time to spray

It's best to apply these three herbicides in late summer or early fall.

Imazapyr, glufosinate and glyphosate are nonselective herbicides, so take care to prevent spray drift from contacting desirable plants.

Clopyralid, triclopyr and 2,4-D are safe to use in turf grasses, but take care to prevent spray drift from contacting plants sensitive to these herbicides. Always refer to herbicide labels for application information.

Check treated plants periodically to make sure you get complete control. You may need to reapply.

(Mark Czarnota is an extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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