The presence of poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) on your property is no laughing matter. A few lucky people suffer no ill effects, but most people (and animals) react to skin contact with this perennial vine by developing an itchy, painful rash. For those with pronounced allergies, the effects can even be life-threatening. The saying goes, "Leaflets three, let them be," but most people won't want to let this plant be in their garden. The time required to eradicate poison ivy depends on the level of infestation. Avoid rushing the process; this is a toxic plant that should be handled slowly and carefully.
Equipment / Tools
- Rubber gloves
- Tightly woven long-sleeve shirt and pants
- Long socks
- Shoes that can be washed or hosed off
- Goggles and a breathing mask
- Sharp pruning shears or a hand pruner
- Sharp-edged shovel
- Thick garbage bags and ties
- Herbicide suitable for poison ivy
- Rubbing alcohol
Identify the Poison Ivy
Poison ivy is a native North American plant that takes several forms. On most of the continent, it is a climbing or trailing perennial vine. In Western states, it is a shrubby bush that grows to around 3 feet tall. The leaves, which grow on alternate sides of each stem, come in sets of three glossy, green leaflets that can be pointed, smooth-sided, lobed, or saw-toothed. The plant changes appearance throughout the seasons. In early spring the leaves are red, and in fall they can turn yellow or a bright scarlet-orange. The quarter-inch fruits are dull yellow.
Dress for the Removal
All parts of the plant contain a toxic oily resin that can cause a blistering rash on any part of your body that it touches. So when removing poison ivy, always wear rubber gloves, a long-sleeve shirt, long pants tucked into high socks, and boots or shoes that can be hosed off later. Goggles and a breathing mask are also recommended. People who are highly sensitive to the resin of poison ivy might experience severe health issues just from breathing the surrounding air.
Cut Off the Poison Ivy at Ground Level
With shears or pruners, remove all the poison ivy stems you see, and place them in plastic garbage bags. Secure the bags with ties as soon as they are full. Do not tear or rip at the vines, as this can disperse the toxic resin into the air.
Dig Out the Roots
If there are only a few plants to remove, use a shovel to dig out the roots. Immediately bag these for disposal.
Destroy What's Left
If you have many plants spread over a large area, cut as much of the top growth as possible. Then, spray the remaining roots, stems, and stubs with a chemical weed killer that's intended for poison ivy. For thick, shrubby stems, spray directly onto the cuts you have made. Remember to use extreme care when handling herbicide, as the spray will kill other garden plants it touches. Always follow the label directions, and don't touch or breathe the product.
Using a chemical weed killer is not mandatory. Poison ivy can be removed by being diligent about digging out the roots. However, this approach will take more time and regular inspection of the area.
Dispose of the Debris
Never compost poison ivy. Instead, put the plant parts in heavy plastic bags, tie the bags securely, and put them in the trash or haul them to an approved lawn-waste disposal facility. It's best to discard the rubber gloves you used, as well.
Thoroughly Clean Your Clothes and Tools
Tools used for removing poison ivy must be meticulously cleaned. Rinse your pruners and shovel, including the handles, with rubbing alcohol. Let them dry, and then oil the parts to prevent rust. Likewise, wash your clothing separately from your other laundry, and clean your shoes with cold, soapy water and a garden hose.
Inspect the Area
Carefully following this process should largely rid your property of poison ivy. But this is a very tenacious plant. So inspect the area frequently, and don't be surprised if you need to treat the problem again. Immediate attention to any stragglers should leave your property entirely free of poison ivy after around a year.
When to Remove Poison Ivy
A dry day with no wind is the safest time for removing poison ivy, especially if you will be using an herbicide spray. You do not want the herbicide blowing back at you or onto your other plants, nor do you want parts of the poison ivy scattering around your area.
The best season to remove poison ivy is in the springtime when the leaves are red and easy to spot. However, the plant should typically be addressed as soon as you see it.
Do not burn poison ivy as a disposal method. Inhaling the smoke can cause serious injury to your lungs, as burning releases the plant's toxic oils. The smoke also can travel for miles and create health problems for anyone in the area.
Poison Ivy Removal Tips
Poison ivy is a perennial plant that grows back from the roots and often spreads by underground runners. Removing poison ivy completely might take three or four tries. And it's important to remember that dealing with a toxic plant is inherently risky. No matter how careful you are, there is always the possibility that something can go wrong.
If your skin comes in contact with poison ivy, wash the affected area with a strong soap. Only use cold water, as hot water opens your pores and allows more of the toxin to seep in. Many hardware stores and drugstores have specialty soaps meant to remove the poison sap. Treat a rash with a drying lotion (such as calamine) or one recommended specifically for the poison ivy rash.