How to Remove Poison Sumac From Your Garden

Poison oak with its leaves of three and light-colored berries.

Joe DiTomaso / Design Pics / Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 - 2 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 - 3 days
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $0 to 40

Poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) grows in damp and swampy wooded areas in eastern North America. Also known as thunderwood or swamp sumac, the genus name translates to "poison tree" in Greek.

Poison sumac contains the same toxin, urushiol, that is found in poison ivy. All parts of the plant are toxic to humans and animals. If you find this plant on your property, you'll want to get rid of it.

What Is Poison Sumac?

Poison sumac is usually a small shrub or tree found at the base of a larger tree. On each stem, poison sumac has seven to 13 leaves, which are smooth around the edges. The plant's stems are red, and its leaves are green in the summer and yellow to red in the fall. It has green berries that turn white in the fall and grow in small clusters on individual stems.

When to Remove Poison Sumac From Your Garden

There is no totally safe time of year to eradicate poison sumac, so always wear protective clothing, tuck your pants into your socks, and tuck your sleeves into your gloves before proceeding.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Protective clothing
  • Rubber gloves
  • Boots
  • Pruning shears
  • Garden hose
  • Shovel
  • Pump sprayer


  • Trash bags
  • Flattened cardboard, newspaper, old carpeting, or tarps
  • Mulch
  • Herbicide


Removing Poison Sumac by the Roots

One organic method to get rid of poison sumac is to pull it out by the roots. The roots must be disposed of in the trash.


Never burn poison sumac clippings. The tiny particles can spread widely and cause serious breathing problems for anyone who inhales them.

  1. Pull the Plant Away from Growth and Structures

    Wearing protective clothing, including boots and rubber gloves, pull the plant away from any surrounding growth and structures. Trim it back to the ground with pruning shears. If the plant is mature, its limbs could be intertwined with foliage and structures nearby. Use your shears to free it, and then bag all the clippings.

  2. Spray the Area

    Spray the area with a hose to saturate the soil. Wait about 30 to 60 minutes to allow the water to soak in. This will make it easier to pull up the roots.

  3. Dig and Pull

    Using a shovel, dig around the root ball, prying it up from underneath. Then, with gloved hands, pull all the roots from the soil, and place them in a plastic garbage bag. Dispose of the bag properly.

Smothering Poison Sumac

Smothering entails cutting the sumac plant close to the ground and then placing newspaper, cardboard, old carpeting, or tarps on top. However, even after you kill the plant, it will remain toxic. So be careful when disposing of the plant and its roots after removing the smothering material.

  1. Trim the Plant

    Using pruning shears, trim the plant to the ground. Discard the trimmings in a plastic garbage bag.

  2. Cover the Ground

    Next, take cardboard, a tarp, or another smothering material, and cover the ground where the plant once lived. Take care to cover the surrounding area where roots could throw up new shoots. Spread mulch over the smothering material, and let it sit for at least one growing season.

  3. Dig Up the Roots

    After at least one growing season has passed, uncover the area and dig up the roots using the same precautions you would for a live poison sumac plant. Discard the roots in a plastic garbage bag.

Removing Poison Sumac Using Herbicide

As a last resort, you can use herbicide to effectively get rid of any poisonous plant.

  1. Choose a Sunny Day

    Herbicide eradication works best on sunny days with a temperature over 70 degrees Fahrenheit and little wind. Make sure there is no rain in the forecast that will wash off the chemical before it kills the plant. Don't spray if rain is predicted within 24 hours of treatment.

  2. Prepare the Herbicide

    Prepare your herbicide according to the package directions. Some products might need to be mixed with water inside a pump sprayer. Always wear protective clothing when you're handling herbicide.

  3. Spray the Plant

    It's ideal to spray the poison sumac when it's fully leafed out. This means going after it during the height of its growing season, which is generally late spring to mid-summer. If the sumac limbs have engulfed a tree, carefully apply the herbicide onto the leaves to avoid damaging the tree with overspray.

Poison Sumac Removal Tips

Once eradication is done, spray down your boots and gloves with a strong stream from the garden hose. Take off your clothing and place it directly into the washing machine, washing with hot water. Also, immediately shower to wash off any sap from your body and hair.

If you're using herbicide, understand that it might kill wanted garden plants. In addition, overspray near a vegetable or herb garden can make the food unsafe for consumption.

No matter what method is used, it might take more than one attempt to achieve complete success. Continue to keep an eye out for the plant in case it decides to return.