I've been itching to tell you something. I've got a rash. With that comment, about half the people who started reading this column just tossed away this paper and rushed off to wash their hands. To those who have remained, let me explain. The rash is from poison ivy, and it is likely that if you spend any significant time outdoors this summer, you will come in contact with poison ivy.

Poison ivy has several growth forms: erect shrub, climbing vine, and spreading ground cover. Hence, you need to look down, straight ahead and up to avoid the plant. Poison ivy can be found in woodlands, along roadsides and co-mingling with plants in your gardens, where it can be easily overlooked.

The component of poison which causes the rash is a chemical called urushiol. All parts of the poison ivy plant contain urushiol, even the dormant stems in winter. Urushiol is an oily substance that remains on your skin, clothing, tools and family pets, Fido and Fifi, when these come in contact with poison ivy. Limited space here doesn't allow an inventory of all the remedies for poison ivy, but do become familiar with this plant and take precautions to avoid contact with it.

If you do contact the plant or objects which have been tainted with the oil, wash immediately with soap and water or apply a poison ivy wash, such as Tecnu or Zanfel. The longer the oil remains on your skin, the greater the chance of it penetrating the skin and causing a rash.


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Get the itch to do some gardening

• Keep planting. At this time of year, many gardeners turn their full attention to such fun activities as weeding, watering and fertilizing. That's too bad because this is still a great time to be planting container-grown trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, annual flowers and vegetables.

• Sow seeds of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and collards for fall harvest. Start these in small pots or a seedling bed in the garden. Transplant the seedlings in mid-July to areas of the garden where peas and other early crops were harvested. Directly sow seeds of carrots, turnips, and rutabaga where they will grow undisturbed.

• Incorporate vegetables that have ornamental features into flower beds or in container plantings. Veggies that work well in a flower bed are: leafy greens, such as kale (especially the lacinato type) and chard (varieties with colorful stems), eggplant, okra, chives and ornamental hot peppers. Herbs can be used as edging plants and also work well with annuals in hanging baskets and containers. Grow purple runner beans or cucumbers on a trellis in the flower garden.

• Cut off the scapes from garlic plants. A scape is the leafless upright stalk that arises from the center of the garlic plant. Harvest scapes while they are still tender and before they curl tightly. Garlic scapes are edible and can be chopped and used as you would a garlic clove.

• Move houseplants outdoors for their summer vacation, but place them in a partially shaded area protected from wind and intense sun. After a week of acclimation, move plants that prefer sun to a sunny location. Even though on vacation, houseplants don't like to be ignored. Water them as needed and apply a dose of fertilizer monthly or as directed on the fertilizer label.

• Remember, next Sunday is Father's Day. A garden tool, a shrub, or a gardening book makes a nice gift. However, if dad is an avid gardener with little time on his hands, an offer to lend him a hand in the garden for the day may be the most appreciated gift of all.