For most homeowners, the sight of poison ivy is enough to make them drop everything and prepare to remove it. Their fears are well-founded. All parts of the plant Rhus radicans contain urushiol, from the reddish-gray berries produced in fall to the tough, rhizomatous roots. To top it off, it is hard to get rid of this stubborn vine, but natural methods of removing poison ivy do exist, enabling you to avoid using synthetic sprays.
It's hard to imagine, but poison ivy does have a place and purpose in the environment. It's a food source for birds and other wildlife. In fact, seeds dropped by birds are usually responsible for the plant's spread. With the exception of primates, other animals show no sensitivity to poison ivy. Your pup may not have any problems, but she can carry the oil on her coat and urushiol can remain active for as long as ten years. Poison ivy's twisting, clinging roots make it difficult to eradicate by pulling it out. This characteristic, though, provides a measure of erosion control.
When poison ivy takes root in your yard the best option is to remove it quickly to avoid accidental contact and spread. If left uncontrolled, it can even grow to the size of a small shrub, although this is a more common form for poison oak (Rhus toxicodendron). Unfortunately it often shows up in places where synthetic herbicides may not be the best option. If you find poison ivy in your prize rose bed or along walkways and other high-traffic areas, it's helpful to know about natural ways to kill it (i.e., ways that don't involve store-bought herbicides).
Here are seven methods to get rid of poison ivy naturally. Some are more practical than others but options include at least one or two that will work for everyone.
Remove Poison Ivy Safely
Always wear protective clothing when working around poison ivy. Long sleeves and pants, boots, water-proof gloves and eye protection are recommended. Wash your hands, gloves and clothing if you think you may have contacted the plant.
Never use fire to kill poison ivy. The smoke and fumes can carry urushiol into the air over long distances which can be harmful to health.
01 of 07
Dig Out the Plant and Roots
Ivy plants, in general, have a stubborn spreading root system, some more so than others. Poison ivy is one that falls into the "more-so" category. Pulling it out even when the plants are small is unlikely to capture all the tiny fibrous roots. Pulling it also requires fairly close contact with the plant. Digging is safer and much more effective.
- If the vine is climbing or has run out along the ground, begin by using snippers to cut back to the crown.
- Use a shovel or garden trowel to dig out of circle of soil at least 8 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep around the crown.
- Carefully lift the soil and plant with the shovel or your gloved hands.
- If roots remain attached to the ground, dig out another two to three inches of soil until the roots come completely free.
- It's okay to shake off excess soil but do this in a traffic-free area where pets and children aren't likely to come into contact with any residual urushiol.
- Bag the poison ivy plant and dispose of it. Do not compost or burn.
- Clean any tools used with isopropyl alcohol to remove urushiol residue.
02 of 07
Deploy Boiling Water
While burning is hazardous and can release poison ivy's irritant into the air, you can safely pour boiling water over the plant. This method will require several applications but eventually you will see wilting and dieback.
- Use a tea kettle or another heat-proof vessel with a spout.
- Fill it with water and bring it to boil.
- Pour the boiling water over the crown of the plant.
- Repeat applications every few days until the poison ivy dies back and disappears.
03 of 07
In the absence of air, water and light most plants cannot survive. Although poison ivy tends to grow in shaded spots, it does need filtered light to thrive. Starving it of air and light is an effective removal method. It also enables you to avoid touching any part of the plant with gloved hands.
- Cover the poison ivy with a piece of heavy cardboard.
- Weight the cardboard down firmly with wood chips, or another heavy material.
- Poison Ivy creeps so it's important to make sure the plant is covered and well-weighted down at soil level.
- Leave the cardboard in place for six to eight weeks or until it begins to break down.
04 of 07
Use Salt, Soap and Water
Here is a simple spray using common household ingredients.
Continue to 5 of 7 below.
- Dissolve 3 pounds of salt in a gallon of water.
- Add 1/4 cup of dish soap.
- Fill a garden sprayer with the solution and spray the leaves thoroughly.
- Repeat until dieback occurs.
05 of 07
Spray White Vinegar
White vinegar contains acids which can alter soil pH and damage other plants so practice care when using this solution.
- Fill a garden sprayer with undiluted white vinegar.
- Spray the poison ivy leaves and crown.
- Try to avoid overspray into surrounding soil.
- Repeat every few days until dieback occurs.
06 of 07
Cut Back and Repeat
This method requires diligence and will take longer but it will eventually starve the ivy of nutrients and cause it to die.
- Use a snipper or hand pruner to cut the vines back to the crown.
- Watch for new growth and cut that back to the crown each time it appears.
- Be sure to clean your tools after each cutting,
07 of 07
Get Help From a Goat
This is impractical for most homeowners and not the most effective removal method. It is true, however, that goats will eat just about anything, including poison ivy. The problem is that while the leaves and vines may be safely eaten by a goat, the roots remain leaving you with the problem of poison ivy that continues to grow back year after year.
A Poison Ivy Primer. Smithsonian.
Poison Oak: More Than Just Scratching The Surface. Palomar College.