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) have some kind of reaction after contact with this perennial vine, which can range from simple skin irritation to life-threatening allergic response. The villain is an oily residue in the plant's leaves, stems, and roots, known as urushiol, which is also found in poison oak and poison sumac.
The saying goes, "Leaflets three, let them be," but most people won't want to let this plant "be" in their garden. Removal of poison ivy is not technically difficult, but you need to be tenacious and patient in your efforts if you want to fully eradicate this stubborn, troublesome weed.
When to Remove Poison Ivy
A dry day with no wind is the safest time to work at removing poison ivy, especially if you will be using a 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 be addressed as soon as you identify it.
Before Getting Started
The time required to eradicate poison ivy depends on the level of infestation, and it can take months, or even years, of repeated efforts to completely eradicate a major infestation. 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.
Don't hurry during your working sessions: This is a toxic plant that should be handled slowly and carefully.
Don't take poison ivy lightly, and don't assume you won't have a major reaction if you jump in to eradication efforts. Some people who have never before reacted to poison ivy can develop serious reactions after a long session of removal work—even if the work is done carefully. And some people find that an initial reaction, even if it is minor, can make them extremely sensitive in the future. Individuals who are highly sensitive can develop a painful rash just by being in the general area where poison ivy is growing.
Under no circumstances should you ever burn poison ivy as a technique for disposal. The toxic urushiol can travel in the smoke for miles, causing very serious breathing problems in individuals with sensitivity.
Equipment / Tools
- Rubber gloves
- Long-sleeve shirt and pants
- Long socks
- Washable shoes
- Particle mask
- Eye protection
- Sharp pruning shears or a hand pruner
- Sharp-edged shovel
- Chemical sprayer
- Thick garbage bags and ties
- Herbicide suitable for poison ivy
- Rubbing alcohol
Identify the Plant
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 the 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 plant's small fruits are dull yellow.
Dress for the Removal
All parts of the plant contain a toxic oily resin. 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. Eye protection and a particle mask are also recommended.
Cut Off the Plant 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 appropriate 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.