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There are many poisonous plants in our gardens and yards that can cause an allergic reaction and irritate your skin. Protecting your outdoor space against vines like poison ivy is important and requires focus to remove it entirely.
Poison ivy plants can be difficult to eliminate because this invasive vine spreads by seed and also by rhizomes in the soil. Take care to properly identify poison ivy and then remove it from your landscape.
The irritant in poison ivy, urushiol, is spread through an oil that you can’t see or feel. It is often believed that a poison ivy rash is spread by scratching, but the spreading happens before the rash appears, when urushiol is accidentally transferred around the body or on tools and other surfaces. For example, if you get it on your hands then touch your face, you will transfer the oil to your face and spread the irritant. Urushiol can also transfer from clothing and tools to your skin and cause a reaction.
This guide offers different methods for successfully killing poison ivy with the tools and supplies like weed and grass killers, and also several organic options.
Safety Tip: Always protect your eyes and skin when removing and disposing of poison ivy plants. Wear long sleeves, long pants, socks and work boots. Protect your hands with work gloves. The Home Depot has the tools and supplies to keep you safe from exposure.
Identify and Remove Poison Ivy
Above, left to right: poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac.
When you’re in a woody landscape, be on the lookout for poison ivy. It’s a sneaky plant and you may pick up the urushiol without realizing that you’ve touched it. Be aware that poison ivy can appear small and inconspicuous, but it grows into a large, woody vine several inches in diameter.
Identify poison ivy and a similar plant, poison oak, by the memorable rhyme "leaves of three, let it be." Poison ivy is found in wooded areas. You can come into contact with it while exploring the outdoors, or when clearing brush and weeds around your home. All parts of the plant contain urushiol, an oily compound that causes an itchy reaction when you come into contact with it.
Sensitivity to urushiol varies, but if you're sensitive to it, the itchy rash can be unbearable. Poison ivy plants are spread by birds and deer that ingest the plant (animals are not allergic) and drop the seeds. In shade, poison ivy behaves like a vine, twisting its hairy ropes into trees. In sun, poison ivy grows into a shrub form.
Poison ivy is distinguished by compound leaves, meaning each leaf is composed of three leaflets. The middle leaflet will have a longer stem than the two side leaflets, and the two side leaflets are always opposite each other.
Poison oak is not as common as poison ivy, and while it usually has leaves of three, its compound leaves can have five leaflets. Additionally, the leaflets are lobed, like oak tree leaves, and the leaves and stems are coated with fine hair. Poison oak is a shrub that grows in full sun.
Avoid poison ivy exposure by being proactive when you're in heavy woods and by wearing protective clothing, including gardening gloves. Remember, animal fur, tools, clothes and shoes can all transfer urushiol to your skin.
Recognize poison sumac by the seven to 13 leaflets on each stem. The leaflets have smooth surfaces and pointed tips, and red stems in fall. Poison sumac grows in swampy wooded areas, mostly in the South.
Poison ivy propagates through both seeds and rhizomes, so it is important to eliminate root systems that run just beneath the soil. If the plant is large, you can be sure that it has a strong root system, and more plants will grow in the future. Eliminating an extensive patch of poison ivy can be a multi-year task.
Tip: When preparing to remove poison ivy, use caution and wear protective clothes and shoes, like long sleeves, long pants, gloves and boots. Protect your eyes with protective eyewear to prevent the spread of urushiol.
If you use chemical products in your yard or garden, systemic herbicides or weed killers are a quick solution for poison ivy. Repeat applications may be necessary because, while herbicides will suppress poison ivy in an instant, the plant may still grow again from the roots.
- This is the fastest solution to kill poison ivy.
- Select products formulated for poison ivy and woody plants.
- Always follow label directions for best results and do not use products around pets or children.
- Review the area periodically for new growth in case you need to consider a more permanent remedy.
There are several natural or organic options for killing poison ivy.
- Roots method: Pulling the plant out by the roots is an effective way to remove poison ivy. Pulling is a quicker technique for small ivy plants versus larger roots that may require digging. Before tackling this job, be sure to outfit yourself in protective gear. See tips below on wiping down tools and washing your work clothes.
- Homemade weed killer: Add 1 cup of salt, 1 tablespoon of dish soap and 1 tablespoon of vinegar into a gallon of water for a DIY weed killer spray that can kill poison ivy over time.
- Water method: Boil water in a kettle and carefully pour water over the plants to drown the roots. Repeat often to kill the roots over time.
- Smother method: This is a good tactic for small ivy growing areas. Place a plastic tarp or cardboard over the affected area after pulling the poison ivy out of the ground. Secure the tarp or cardboard to smother the plants. Note: The poison ivy plant may still sprout and become ground cover underneath these items. If this happens, try one of the other removal methods listed above.
Tip: Urushiol is always present on all parts of poison ivy, whether the plant is healthy and green or just a withered vine. Be extremely careful when in direct contact with it.
No matter how you choose to kill poison ivy, it still requires proper disposal. In good gardening safety practice, you will need to thoroughly clean your work clothes and tools.
- DO remove all gardening clothes and gloves, using a hot setting wash with a strong degreasing detergent. Hose down eyewear and shoes with hot water and strong dish soap. The urushiol toxin can remain active for up to five years after contact, even with a dead poison ivy plant or poison ivy sap.
- DON’T burn or compost the pile of poison ivy you just picked. The smoke will carry urushiol into the air and can cause health problems.
- DO bag the pile of poison ivy carefully into a heavy-duty trash bag for secure disposal.
Safety Tip: If at any point you believe your skin or eyes have been exposed to poison ivy, it is recommended you wash immediately with warm water, an oil-cutting soap and a washcloth. Use rubbing alcohol on a poison ivy rash and calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream for relief from itch and blisters. It can take up to two weeks for the rash to heal. For severe cases of rash or fluid-filled blisters, immediately contact a doctor.
Getting rid of poison ivy plants in your yard can be a big job, and you will need the right tools and safety equipment to get the job done properly. The Home Depot delivers online orders when and where you need them.