- Poison ivy, oak, and sumac: How to treat the rash
- A Poison Ivy…Community Garden?
- Poison Ivy’s Niche in the Ecosystem
- The Poison Ivy 5-Step Eradication Plan
- On Using Chemical Herbicides
- Alternatives to Chemical Herbicide
- Need more ideas for growing a permaculture garden?
- Poison Ivy Control: How To Get Rid Of Poison Ivy
- How to Get Rid of Poison Ivy
- Poison Ivy
- Pick Your Poison
- Natural Born Killers
- Chemical Warfare
- Dispose of the Body
- Ten best home remedies for poison ivy
- 8 Tips for Getting Rid of Poison Ivy on Your Property
- 1. Know the Enemy
- 2. Shoot for Ideal Removal Conditions
- 3. Assemble Your Tools
- 4. Dress Appropriately
- 5. Attack Thoroughly but Carefully
- 6. Choose the Right Herbicide
- 7. Bag It
- Poison Ivy Problems? Pulling is the way to go
Poison ivy, oak, and sumac: How to treat the rash
Tips for treating poison ivy
A rash from poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac is caused by an oil found in these plants called urushiol. When this oil touches your skin, it often causes an itchy, blistering rash. Most people can safely treat the rash at home.
If you have any of the following, go to the emergency room immediately:
Difficulty breathing or swallowing
A rash around one or both eyes, your mouth, or on your genitals
Swelling on your face, especially if an eye swells shut
Itching that worsens or makes it impossible to sleep
Rashes on most of your body
These are signs of a severe reaction that require immediate medical care.
You can treat the rash at home if you:
Have a mild rash
Developed a rash on a small section of skin
Are certain that the rash is due to poison ivy, oak, or sumac
To treat a mild rash and help stop the itch, dermatologists recommend the following:
To treat the rash
Immediately rinse your skin with lukewarm, soapy water. If you can rinse your skin immediately after touching poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, you may be able to rinse off some of the oil. If not washed off, the oil can spread from person to person and to other areas of your body.
Wash your clothing. Thoroughly wash all of the clothes you were wearing when you came into contact with the poisonous plant. The oil can stick to clothing, and if it touches your skin, it can cause another rash.
To avoid getting oil from the plant on your skin, wear gloves while touching your clothes, even when taking off your clothes.
Wash everything that may have the oil on its surface. Besides clothing, the oil from poison ivy, oak, and sumac can stick to many surfaces, including gardening tools, golf clubs, leashes and even a pet’s fur. Be sure to rinse your pet’s fur, and wash tools and other objects with warm, soapy water.
To avoid getting any oil from the plant on your skin, wear gloves while touching or washing anything that may have oil on it. This includes your pet. If you need to wash your pet, wear gloves.
Do not scratch, as scratching can cause an infection.
Leave blisters alone. If blisters open, do not remove the overlying skin, as the skin can protect the raw wound underneath and prevent infection.
What can relieve the itch?
Take short, lukewarm baths. To ease the itch, take short, lukewarm baths in a colloidal oatmeal preparation, which you can buy at your local drugstore. You can also draw a bath and add one cup of baking soda to the running water. Taking short, cool showers may also help.
Use calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream. Calamine lotion can reduce the itch. If you have a mild case, a hydrocortisone cream or lotion is another treatment that can alleviate the itch.
Apply cool compresses to the itchy skin. You can make a cool compress by wetting a clean washcloth with cold water and wringing it out so that it does not drip. Then, apply the cool cloth to the itchy skin.
Consider taking antihistamine pills. These pills can help reduce itching. You should not apply an antihistamine to your skin, as doing so can worsen the rash and the itch.
If your rash is not improving after 7 to 10 days, or you think your rash may be infected, see a board-certified dermatologist. A dermatologist can treat your rash and any infection and help relieve the itch.
Dermatologists emphasize that you only treat the rash if you’re absolutely certain that poison ivy, oak, or sumac caused it. If you’ve never had a poison ivy rash, see a doctor for a diagnosis.
You’ll find pictures of what the rash can look like at: Poison ivy, oak, or sumac: What does the rash looks like?
Poison ivy is no fun. If you’re wondering how to get rid of poison ivy, this article outlines an eco-friendly, 5-step process for eradicating it.
This article may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.
A Poison Ivy…Community Garden?
For five years, I managed a community garden that was surrounded by woods on three sides. Poison ivy formed a barrier at the edge of the forest and caused more than a few irritating itches. It constricted child’s play, delayed garden development, and keeping it at bay was beginning to be a losing battle.
We needed a solution that would allow us to build an edible garden instead of spending our volunteer days risking exposure to poison ivy.
Several people on forums stated that they eat the young leaves in the springtime to build up an immunity. I don’t think I’ll be trying that one!!! 🙂
I developed a five-step removal system based on my understanding of the principles and ethics of permaculture. Permaculture is a design science that helps us solve problems in the landscape by working with nature. You can read more about it in my article What is Permaculture?.
Before we take a look at my poison ivy eradication plan, it’s important to learn about poison ivy’s role in the ecosystem. It is a native plant that actually fills a special niche!
Poison Ivy’s Niche in the Ecosystem
This native plant fills two important ecological roles: (1) It provides food for wildlife, and (2) It helps protect the edges of forest.
#1: Poison Ivy Berries are for the Birds
We might see the poisonous berries of the poison ivy plant and think, “Danger!”. But to songbirds — most notably bluebirds, goldfinches, warblers and woodpeckers — these grayish-white berries are an important food source.
A downy woodpecker eats poison ivy berries.
Photo by Tim Lenz via Flickr
#2: Poison Ivy Protects the Forest
The edge of forest is an especially vulnerable place. It’s where wind can drift in with seeds of potentially dubious plants that could alter the makeup of the forest. The hot sun can threaten to “bake” the soil and change its soil composition to make it less viable for forest.
As such, a healthy forest relies on having a healthy thicket at its edge to capture and buffer threats from the outside.
A healthy forest edge can also make way for forest expansion, which doesn’t happen very often in modern times where humans see forests as commodities and development potential.
In general, poison ivy thrives on the edge of the forest: It loves the full sun in front of it, yet it also loves the moist ground from the forest shade behind it. Thickets, i.e. the edges of the forest, are usually full of brambles and their thorns, too. So brambles and poison ivy are the protectors of the forest — they form a thick wall as if to say, ‘This is a healing forest area: Keep out’.
Poison ivy deters entrance to an area and as a ground cover, it protects the soil to retain nutrients and minimize erosion.
When we eradicate poison ivy, we are both removing a wildlife food source and removing one of nature’s solutions for forest conservation.
The Poison Ivy 5-Step Eradication Plan
Step 1: Define the area afflicted by poison ivy and decide if eradication is necessary.
Look at where the poison ivy is growing and determine if eradication is actually necessary and worthwhile. Since eradicating it will take quite a bit of effort, trying to remove it from a large area is not realistic. If it’s in a forested area, can it be left there?
Stick to the areas that are frequently used by humans.
Is it getting in your way? Only seek to eradicate that which is directly encroaching on a walking path or other well-used area.
If you’re looking to start a new garden and notice poison ivy, ask whether the proposed garden space can be placed elsewhere.
It may take some time to remove the urushiol oil, poison ivy’s rash-causing oil, from the area. The oil can remain long after the plant has been eradicated, so growing food crops might not be a wise choice, at least right away.
If the poison ivy is in an already established garden or tended yard area in which humans will definitely come into contact with it, then it will be wise to eradicate it.
Photo by Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr
Step 2: Eradicating Poison Ivy
Although I literally do not use chemical herbicide for any other purpose, I do encourage using it on poison ivy that is posing a human threat. That’s because other poison ivy removal strategies aren’t very effective. They require frequent exposure to the plant to keep it at bay. More exposure = greater chance of developing the miserable rash!.
Apply the chemical herbicide (such as glyphosate) directly to the foliage at the highest ‘safe concentration’ directed on the container. This will maximize its effectiveness while minimizing repeat applications.
Do this on a still, dry day. Do not broadcast spray an area or spray on a windy or rainy day.
A one-time strong application is less detrimental on the ecosystem than many light applications over time. The tendency is to be fearful of over-applying, so you apply lightly, the plant doesn’t die back totally, so you hit it again, and again… but this also affects the local flora and fauna.
You want to quickly get rid of poison ivy and get on with the rest of the steps below to restore an area.
If using a chemical herbicide makes you uncomfortable, there are certainly other alternatives. See more of my thoughts on these methods below under the heading, “On Using Chemical Herbicides”.
In permaculture, we seek the most permanent solution that requires the least maintenance and has the largest, long-term positive impact.
You can learn more about permaculture and strategies for ecological food production in my award-winning book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
Step 3: Sheet Mulch
Sheet mulching after step 2 is a fail-proof way to ensure that the poison ivy doesn’t return. It will also improve the soil and prepare it to be planted with something of our choosing.
Sheet mulching consists of covering an area with a couple layers of cardboard, then topping it with one to two feet of wood chips. Let it sit for a season. This method uses the sun to smother and solarize any remaining live poison ivy roots.
The deep layer of wood chips serves a dual purpose: It helps to smother the poison ivy, but it also helps to rejuvenate the soil after the application of herbicide (chemical or natural) in preparation for planting something desirable.
Wood chips neutralize chemicals and heavy metals, improve soil fungal biomass, reduce erosion, and are thirsty absorbers of water, which means that wood chips replace poison ivy’s role of protecting the soil.
Keeping the area deep in fresh wood chips lessens the possibility of the poison ivy returning. Be sure you have reliable access to wood chips!
If you chose not to use a chemical herbicide, a thicker “sheet” other than cardboard will give you more assurance that the poison ivy will not return.Try laying a piece of plywood or black plastic over the area until you’re sure it is eradicated.
You’ll need something impenetrable, since the plants are probably not dead.
After a year, you can remove the barrier and begin restoring the area. It’s no use planting anything in the area before a year has passed, especially if it’s something you intend to eat, because the poisonous urushiol oil or herbicide may still be active.
Wood chips aid ecological restoration. There is more than one benefit of having a pile of wood chips around the garden. 🙂
Step 4: Place Physical Barriers
If poison ivy creeps into your living spaces from a forest edge, installing a physical barrier between the two will ensure that the poison ivy doesn’t creep back in.
In Edible Forest Gardens, Dave Jacke lists some barrier ideas: Try a pond, section of pavement, or a constant mowed area between the encroaching poison ivy and your yard/garden. Or consider burying a rhizome weed barrier.
Jacke prefers solutions that permanently or semi-permanently get the job done without the need for constant management. After all, the goal in permaculture is to be smart about the work you create for yourself.
For this reason he doesn’t love the mowing option because life happens, and sometimes the mowing doesn’t get done.
Mullein, Sunflowers, Daffodils
It has been suggested that any of these would form a thick root barrier to prevent poison ivy from creeping through. Try this with caution — I didn’t see any definitive examples of it working.
Step 5: Replace Poison Ivy with other plants
Once you’re sure that the poison ivy is dead and that you won’t have to treat the area again, it’s time to replace the poison ivy with more desirable plants.
Remember that poison ivy fills two ecological niches that we know of: Feeding songbirds with fall berries and protecting the soil as a ground cover. We’ll seek out plants that fill these niches.
Identify what you want to plant, whether that’s berry-producing trees and shrubs or a ground cover, or both. You’ll keep the rest of the area thick in wood chips. The wood chips are important!
Once established, the new plants should protect the area and keep poison ivy from creeping back in.
Mulberry Tree. Replace poison ivy (native berries for wildlife) with other berry-producing plants for wildlife.
Photo by Archie via Flickr
Berry-Production for Songbirds
Toby Hemenway gives a nice list of plants in Gaia’s Garden for wildlife fall berry production. Many of these berries are also edible for humans, so you decide how much to share! You’ll have to research whether these plants grow in your area. Here’s is a short list to give you some examples. It isn’t a complete list of all options.
- American cranberry
- Blackberry or raspberry canes
- Cherry (See how I created a mini-ecosystem with my cherry trees.)
- Mulberry (try a dwarf variety)
Keep the soil covered with one of the following ground covers so the poison ivy doesn’t return.
Creeping Ground Covers
It’s been suggested that since poison ivy is a creeper, it should be replaced by one. Examples would be:
- Jewelweed (an antidote to poison ivy)
- Virginia creeper (though native, it is aggressive)
- Wild native grape
- Native wisteria
Perennial Ground Cover
A perennial ground cover such as white clover might provide just as much soil coverage without the risk of aggressive spreading from a creeping ground cover. Clover will reduce erosion, fix nitrogen in the soil, and attract pollinators.
How to install plants
Dig a hole in the wood chips, fill with compost soil, and plant. Water well until established.
On Using Chemical Herbicides
You might be surprised that I support the use of chemical herbicide for poison ivy removal. The reason I do is because it’s part of this larger restoration plan. I wouldn’t support its use otherwise.
Without the five-step plan, you risk a dependence on herbicide as a management tool and the ongoing addition of chemicals to the soil.
I have always been irritated by the use of herbicides by land conservationists. That’s because I don’t believe it’s possible to micro-manage a large tract of land as if it were a backyard garden.
Without an army of volunteers helping to hold back invasive species and a larger plan beyond the chemical application, the use of herbicides becomes “institutionalized and chronic” in the words of Dave Jacke.
I don’t have a problem with chemical herbicides existing, but rather, I have a problem with how they’re generally used. Carpet bombing thousands of acres of Round-Up Ready fields of corn and soybeans is a recipe for ecosystem collapse.
The spot treatment of a few poison ivy plants in a backyard is not cause for concern.
Appropriate Use of Technology
Prior to my community garden project, I would’ve thought natural remedies would work in all settings, regardless of the site. After all, I have standards, and they don’t include using chemicals!
However, a principal component of permaculture design is discerning when an appropriate use of technology (in this case, chemical herbicide) can catapult the design forward rather than hinder land restoration.
It’s true that if we want poison ivy gone forever from our gardens, there’s more to the plan than a one-time fix with herbicide. Restoring soil life and alternative plants that fill the same niches in the ecosystem are an essential part of the solution.
The forest edge looms behind us at the community garden.
Alternatives to Chemical Herbicide
If the use of chemical herbicide still makes you uncomfortable, I’ve provided some suggestions on the best way to safely use alternative solutions.
You can dig it up, or hit it with boiling water, vinegar, or soap solutions. Goats, chickens, or pigs will graze on poison ivy if you have them. The trouble is that they won’t actually get rid of poison ivy roots.
You’ll have to repeatedly pull, mow, graze, spray, and cut it back until the roots are exhausted and die back.
Another solution is to simply cut it back and then sheet mulch, as in Step 3 above (skipping steps 1 and 2).
Dig it up by hand
If you’re brave enough to try this method of poison ivy removal, wear gloves, long sleeves, long pants, and maybe even a handkerchief over your face. Bag it up for garbage if you don’t have a lot of land to throw it somewhere out of the way.
Be aware that any roots left in the ground will regrow, so constant vigilance will be your best bet with this method.
Boiling Water, Vinegar, Soap and Water Solution
These solutions are frequently mentioned as natural solutions for poison ivy removal. Experiment with them on a small spot before trying them on a large area. Keep in mind that these are all herbicides — they’re just natural versions.
They WILL affect the local ecosystem. They will damage soil food webs, mycorrhizal fungi, affect soil pH, and neighboring plants, just like chemical herbicides (just in different ways).
Spot treat to reduce their effects on the surrounding environment.
Boiling water can send up poison ivy vapors that would be toxic to breathe. Cut back the foliage and only apply boiling water to the root crown. Wearing a respirator is a good idea.
Vinegar and soap solutions are fantastic for drying out foliage and can get rid of the shallow roots of poison ivy. However, poison ivy roots are deep and intricate, and are rarely killed by the application. Frequent applications would be necessary to be sure all was killed.
This five-step plan is a thoughtful and sustainable way to remove poison ivy, keep it from returning, and replace it with desired and useful plants.
This strategy replaces other solutions that rely solely on chemical herbicides, as well as those solutions that risk exposure to the plant or require an extended eradication time.
Need more ideas for growing a permaculture garden?
- 6 Maps for the Permaculture Farm Design
- How to Develop the Permaculture Homestead in Phases
- How to Build a Fruit Tree Guild
Have you transitioned from aggressive or threatening plants to a biologically diverse and productive landscape? If so, what tips can you share?
Poison Ivy Control: How To Get Rid Of Poison Ivy
If ever there was a bane to the home gardener, it would be poison ivy. This highly allergenic plant can cause itchy rashes, painful blisters and uncomfortable burning on the skin. Poison ivy can easily make a previously pleasant shade garden into a garden nightmare. This leads many gardeners to wonder about how to get rid of poison ivy. Let’s take a look at how to kill poison ivy and keep it from coming back into your garden.
How to Get Rid of Poison Ivy
If poison ivy has already made a home in your garden, you are probably looking for an effective poison ivy killer. Unfortunately, killing poison ivy is not any easy task, but it can be done if you know how to do it.
The first thing you must decide is if you wish to use organic or chemical poison ivy control. Both methods of killing poison ivy are effective, but chemical poison ivy control will be quicker.
Note: Chemical control should only be used as a last resort, as organic approaches are more environmentally friendly.
Organic Poison Ivy Control
The most difficult thing about how to get rid of poison ivy is that the whole plant must be eliminated. If any of the root survives, the poison ivy plant will come back. Killing poison ivy organically means that you will need to pull the plant out of the ground, roots and all.
The best time to do this will be right after a good rain. The ground will be soft and the poison ivy roots will come out more easily when you pull the plant out. When using this method for poison ivy control, make sure that you wear heavy gloves, long sleeve clothing and wash thoroughly afterwards to prevent getting a poison ivy rash.
Also, do not touch bare skin with anything that has touched the poison ivy. The poison ivy contains oils that are easily transferred from objects, like gloves to skin. For this reason, even organic gardeners may want to forgo organic methods and use chemicals to avoid the possibility of painful rashes. It can be very easy to forget and rub one’s face while pulling out poison ivy.
Even with the most careful weeding, some of the poison ivy roots will remain. At the first sign of regrowth, pull the poison ivy plants again. This will, over time, sap the strength of the plant so it cannot regrow.
Boiling water is also an effective poison ivy killer. If the area where you will be killing poison ivy has no other plants you wish to keep, pour boiling water over the poison ivy plant. Boiling water will kill any part of a plant that it comes in contact with, so be careful using this around desirable plants.
Chemical Poison Ivy Control
Killing poison ivy with chemical herbicides is faster than organic pulling, but even the strongest herbicides must be applied several times before being able to fully eradicate poison ivy.
Both glyphosate and triclopyr herbicides are both good poison ivy killers. The best way in how to get rid of poison ivy with these herbicides is to apply the herbicide to the leaves of the poison ivy plant.
Like pulling, the poison ivy will regrow, as even the most powerful herbicide will not kill all of the roots. But as the poison ivy plant regrows, spray the herbicide on any new growth. A few applications on new growth will deplete the poison ivy plant’s ability to regrow and the plant will die back completely.
Eastern poison ivy foliage exhibiting smooth leaf margins.
Joey Williamson, ©2010 HGIC, Clemson Extension
Eastern poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is a woody, perennial vine or small shrub that can be found in fields, pastures, woodlands, farms and home landscapes. As a vine, it attaches itself to trees or other structures with hairy, aerial roots borne along the stem.
Poison ivy has compound leaves that occur in threes (trifoliate or three leaflets). The edges of the leaflets can be smooth, wavy, lobed or toothed. Some leaves may resemble oak leaves. Atlantic poison oak (T. pubescens) looks similar to poison ivy, but it generally grows more upright and has hairs on both upper and lower leaf surfaces. Most mature poison ivy plants will flower and produce clusters of white, waxy fruit.
The entire plant is poisonous because all parts contain the irritating oil urushiol. Urushiol is a colorless or slightly yellow oil found in the leaves, stems and roots. The oil can remain active for months on objects. It can be picked up on tools,clothing and the fur of pets. Therefore, anything that may carry the oil should be carefully washed. Even dead plants or roots may cause allergic reactions for a couple of years.
Some people are more sensitive than others to the effects of poison ivy. Sensitive people often develop a severe skin rash within hours after contact. Highly allergic people may develop a rash if they inhale smoke when burning poison ivy in brush piles, or if they contact pets with the toxin on their fur. However, sensitivity can change from time to time so that someone who was not affected by it at one time can have a reaction at another time.
“The poison ivy vines become “hairy” in appearance as they are covered in anchoring rootlets that aid in attachment to the tree. A rash can also occur from contact with the vines.”
Joey Williamson, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension
The plants are most dangerous in spring and summer when oil content is highest. For those sensitive to the oil, a linear rash, resembling small insect bites, will appear within 12 to 48 hours, but a reaction can take up to two weeks to occur. This rash develops into a more severe rash and blisters.
Washing with running water is recommended. Washing with soaps that contain oils, such as complexion soaps, can actually spread the irritating oil and make the rash more widespread. Unless the oil is removed from the skin within 10 minutes of exposure, a reaction is inevitable in extremely sensitive individuals. Less sensitive people may have up to four hours to wash it off, although it is generally accepted that the oil binds to the skin in 30 minutes. Thereafter, it is extremely difficult to remove with water. Rubbing alcohol is a better solvent for the oil than is water.
There are specially prepared cleansing agents (such as Tecnu Skin Cleanser, Tecnu Extreme Medicated Poison Ivy Scrub, and Zanfel) that remove much of the rash-causing oil if applied to the skin within 4 to 8 hours of contact.
Another treatment to help prevent a rash following exposure is with a manganese sulfate solution. A manganese sulfate solution has been shown to be effective both to inactivate urushiol on the skin, to relieve itching, and probably acts as a chelating agent for detoxification of urushiol. Dr. West’s Poison Ivy, Oak, Sumac Cleanser is the most common manganese sulfate solution available for treatment of poison ivy rashes.
Ivy Shield, Ivy Block Lotion, and Ivy X Poison Oak Lotion are protective agents for sensitive individuals to reduce the risk of a rash when spending time in areas with these plants.
Fall color of Eastern poison ivy.
Joey Williamson, ©2007 HGIC, Clemson Extension
“Once the poison ivy vines mature, flowers are produced. The resulting white fruit are spread by birds.”
Joey Williamson, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension
Eastern poison ivy foliage exhibiting serrate (toothed) leaf margins
Joey Williamson, ©2010 HGIC, Clemson Extension
Eastern poison ivy foliage exhibiting lobed leaf margins
Joey Williamson, ©2010 HGIC, Clemson Extension
Poison ivy grows fairly quickly and propagates itself by underground rhizomes and seeds. Seeds are quickly spread by birds and other animals that eat the small fruits. Poison ivy can get started in the landscape from a seed dropped by a bird and may quickly become a widespread problem. It often grows in shrubs and groundcovers making it difficult to control.
Don’t confuse poison ivy with Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), which also grows as both a groundcover and climbs trees as a vine. However, Virginia creeper plants have compound leaves with five leaflets rather than three.
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) has leaves in groups of five.
Joey Williamson, ©2014 HGIC, Clemson Extension
For light infestations, dig up small plants. You can also repeatedly cut back the plants to ground level. Eventually they starve to death. Start cutting early in the spring, about the time leaves unfold. When new growth appears, cut again. Inspect the plants every week or two. Whenever you see green growth, cut the shoots back to the ground.
If you choose to eradicate poison oak or poison ivy by cutting back the plants, you should protect your hands and arms. Always wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. Use protective gloves. Launder the clothing separately from the family laundry. Instead of disposable gloves, consider using plastic bags, the long kind that newspapers and bread loaves come in. Slip each hand into a bag and keep the bags secured to your arms with rubber bands. When you have finished cutting, remove the bags by turning them inside out. Then be sure to discard them, because the bags will now be contaminated with urushiol, the oil that causes the allergic skin reaction.
To eradicate poison oak and poison ivy chemically, use an herbicide that contains glyphosate, triclopyr, or a 3-way herbicide that contains 2,4-D amine, dicamba, and mecoprop. See Table 1 for products containing these active ingredients. These herbicides can kill desirable plants, so be careful. If the poison ivy or poison oak is growing among plants you want to save, you can cut back the poison ivy or poison oak and spray or paint the herbicide only on the freshly cut stems or stump. If there are no desirable plants nearby, you can spray or paint poison ivy and poison oak without cutting them back first. Read and follow label directions whenever using any herbicides.
The herbicides glyphosate, 2,4-D amine, dicamba, mecoprop, and triclopyr are translocated from the leaves and cut stems to the rest of the plant, eventually killing the shoots and roots. Repeated applications may be necessary. Depending on weather and other factors, it may take one to several weeks before you discover whether you have successfully eradicated the plant, so be patient.
Herbicides work better when you spray at the right time. Poison ivy and poison oak are most sensitive to 2,4-D amine and dicamba treatments in late spring or early summer when the plants are actively growing rapidly. Triclopyr offers the best control after the leaves fully expand in the spring and before leaf color changes in the fall. Glyphosate offers the best control when applied between 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after full bloom (early summer) and should be mixed to a 2% solution.
In lawns, many of the 3-way herbicides may be applied to tall fescue, bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, St. Augustinegrass and centipedegrass for poison ivy control. Be sure to read the label for safe use on each turfgrass species and for the amount of product to use per gallon of spray. Applications may be repeated. Triclopyr may be safely applied to tall fescue lawns, and zoysiagrass although some products are not labeled for use on residential lawns. See Table 1 for products.
If triclopyr or 2,4-D containing products are applied to lawns for weed control, do not use the clippings for mulch in vegetable gardens or around ornamentals as plant injury or death may result.
There are also products that are mixes of 2,4-D, dicamba, and triclopyr that should give enhanced control of poison ivy in lawns and areas that are not near desirable plants.
When herbicides are applied to beds intended for future planting of ornamentals, care must be taken as various herbicides may injure the plants to be installed. For planned beds, glyphosate has far less soil activity (a few days) as compared with the 3-way herbicides (a few weeks) and triclopyr (several months). Glyphosate is the safest choice for spray application in existing flower and shrub beds, so long as care is taken to prevent drift to non-target plants. Glyphosate applications are much less apt to move through the soil, be absorbed by roots, and injure existing woody ornamental shrubs. See Table 1 for brands and products.
Care must be taken to not allow any of these of these products to touch the foliage, stems or trunks of desirable plants. If the bark is thin, many herbicides can move through the bark and into the plant’s food and water transport system (the phloem and xylem elements), and result in severe plant injury or death.
Table 1. Examples of Post-emergence Spray Herbicides for Control of Poison Ivy.
|Brands & Specific Products|| Post-emergence Herbicide
| % Active Ingredient
|Labeled for Use on Listed Turfgrass Species|
|Ortho Max Poison Ivy & Tough Brush Killer Concentrate; & RTU2||Triclopyr||8.0||None|
|Ferti-lome Brush Killer Stump Killer Concentrate
Southern AG Brush Killer
|Ortho Weed B Gon Chickweed, Clover & Oxalis Killer for Lawns Concentrate; & RTS1||Triclopyr||8.0||Tall Fescue
|Hi-Yield Triclopyr Ester
Herbicide Concentrate Monterey Turflon Ester
|Bayer BioAdvanced Southern Weed Killer for Lawns Concentrate; & RTS1||2,4-D
(use at lower label rate)
(use at lower label rate)
|Ferti-lome Weed-Out Lawn Weed Killer Concentrate||2,4-D
|Southern Ag Lawn Weed Killer with Trimec Concentrate||2,4-D
|Spectracide Weed Stop For Lawns RTU2||2,4-D
|Ortho Weed B Gon Max for Southern Lawns Concentrate; & RTS1; & RTU2||2,4-D
|Spectracide Weed Stop for Lawns Concentrate; & RTS1||2,4-D
|Roundup Original Concentrate,
Roundup Pro Herbicide,
Martin’s Eraser Systemic Weed & Grass Killer,
Quick Kill Grass & Weed Killer
Bonide Kleenup Weed & Grass Killer 41% Super Concentrate
Hi-Yield Super Concentrate
Maxide Super Concentrate 41% Weed & Grass Killer
Super Concentrate Killzall Weed & Grass Killer
Tiger Brand Quick Kill Concentrate
Ultra Kill Weed & Grass Killer Concentrate
Gordon’s Groundwork Concentrate 50% Super Weed & Grass Killer
Zep Enforcer Weed Defeat III
Eliminator Weed & Grass Killer Super Concentrate
Monterey Remuda Full Strength 41% Glyphosate
Knock Out Weed & Grass Killer Super Concentrate
Southern States Grass & Weed Killer Concentrate II
Total Kill Pro Weed & Grass Killer Herbicide
Ace Concentrate Weed & Grass Killer
|Glyphosate||41 – 50%||None|
| 1RTS: Ready-to-Spray (hose-end sprayer)
2RTU: Ready-to-Use (pre-mixed spray bottle for spot spraying)
Caution: Pollinating insects, such as honey bees and bumblebees, can be adversely affected by the use of pesticides. Avoid the use of spray pesticides (both insecticides and fungicides), as well as soil-applied, systemic insecticides unless absolutely necessary. If spraying is required, always spray late in the evening to reduce the direct impact on pollinating insects. Always try less toxic alternative sprays first for the control of insect pests and diseases. For example, sprays with insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, neem oil extract, spinosad, Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.), or botanical oils can help control many small insect pests and mites that affect garden and landscape plants. Neem oil extract or botanical oil sprays may also reduce plant damage by repelling many insect pests. Practice cultural techniques to prevent or reduce the incidence of plant diseases, including pre-plant soil improvement, proper plant spacing, crop rotation, applying mulch, applying lime and fertilizer based on soil test results, and avoiding over-head irrigation and frequent watering of established plants. Additionally, there are less toxic spray fungicides that contain sulfur or copper soap, and biological control sprays for plant diseases that contain Bacillus subtilis. However, it is very important to always read and follow the label directions on each product. For more information, contact the Clemson Extension Home & Garden Information Center.
Pick Your Poison
You have two choices when it comes to killing poison ivy: a natural method or a chemical poison. Both will work, but chemicals may work faster. For more on the pros and cons of a DIY natural weed killer versus a chemical herbicide such as Roundup, see Landscaping 101: Homemade Weed Killer.
Natural Born Killers
If you want to avoid chemicals, you have a few choices:
Manual Labor: Put on long sleeves and pants, tape your pants and shirt cuffs to prevent skin exposure, pull on a pair of heavy gloves, and dig out as much poison ivy as you can. The trick is to get the roots, which means digging down a few inches—at least six—beneath roots and then reaching in to pull them out. This job is easier if the ground is soft; try it after a rainy spell. Be warned that you inevitably will overlook a few little roots. Watch for new growth and pull it out as soon as possible to weaken the plant, or at least to try to break its spirit.
Boiling Water: I am a big fan of pouring a kettle of boiling water onto weeds to kill them. This works best if the plant you want to kill is growing in a crack in a path or next to the driveway or somewhere other than a garden bed full of desirable plants. Boiling water will kill anything it touches. Caveat: When it comes to poison ivy, the underground roots will survive a dousing. After the boiled leaves and stems die back, new growth will emerge. As soon as you see it, pour on more boiling water. Over time, the rate of new growth will slow.
Above: Photograph byEsculapiovia Wikimedia.
Smothering: You can cover a patch of poison ivy with a plastic tarp or big piece of cardboard to kill it. Afterward, check the perimeter of the treated area for new growth; underground roots that were outside the jurisdiction of the tarp may send up shoots.
Potions: The main ingredients in DIY homemade weed killer are salt, vinegar, water, and dish soap (which helps to broadcast the spray farther). Justine investigated the pros and cons of homemade weed killers—some of which are not as “natural” as you might think—and offers a comprehensive report at Gardening 101: Pros and Cons of Homemade Weed Killers.
The two most commonly used chemical herbicides in the war against poison ivy are Roundup and Brush-B-Gone, whose respective active ingredients are glyphosate or triclopyr. These are chemicals I don’t use in my garden, but if I had a backyard overrun by poison ivy and small children tromping through it, I might want a speedy solution to the problem. If you spray chemical herbicides on poison ivy, it will die fast. As with other methods, watch for new growth and spray again immediately.
Above: Photograph by Katya Schulz via Flickr.
Dispose of the Body
After you cut, pull out, or dig up poison ivy, do not put it in your compost pile. Do not touch it with bare hands. Do not burn it (it can release harmful, irritating fumes). Instead, bag it in plastic and dispose of it as trash (unless you live in a municipality that offers an alternate plan).
After you finish killing poison ivy, strip off your gardening clothes—gloves too—and put them into the clothes washer on a hot setting. Hose down or clean off your shoes or boots before wearing them again (urushiol can remain active on the surface of clothing and shoes for as long as five years).
Weed warriors, unite. For more suggestions, see:
- 5 Favorites: Digging Tools.
- 10 Easy Pieces: Garden Gloves.
- The Claw: A Tool Weeds Will Fear.
Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various vines and climbers with our Vines & Climbers: A Field Guide.
Ten best home remedies for poison ivy
While poison ivy rash eventually clears up on its own, the itching associated with the rash can be difficult to bear, and can even impact on sleep.
The following poison ivy remedies may provide relief from symptoms:
1. Rubbing alcohol
Rubbing alcohol can remove the urushiol oil from the skin, helping to minimize discomfort.
People should do this as soon as possible after contact with poison ivy, particularly within the first 10 minutes of exposure. If going camping or hiking, it is a good idea to carry alcohol wipes at all times.
The U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advise that urushiol can remain on the surface of most items that come into contact with poison ivy, sometimes for years, unless treated with rubbing alcohol or water.
Rubbing alcohol is available for purchase online.
2. Shower or bathe
Thoroughly wash the skin, and under the fingernails, with plain soap and lukewarm water to remove plant oils. Water can be used instead of rubbing alcohol, although it is best to use alcohol first and then shower or bathe.
It’s believed that showering within 60 minutes of exposure may help limit the spread and severity of the rash.
Wash anything that comes into contact with the plant. People should wear rubber gloves when doing this.
3. Cold compress
Cool, wet compresses can help to reduce itching and inflammation.
To make a compress, run a clean washcloth under cold water. Wring off excess water. Apply to the skin for 15 to 30 minutes. Repeat this several times a day as needed.
Some people find relief by soaking the compress in an astringent liquid to further reduce swelling and itching. Examples of astringent liquids include aluminum acetate, apple cider vinegar, and chilled black tea.
4. Resist scratching the skin
Scratching the skin can lead to an infection. It may also cause blisters to burst, which may then become infected.
Blisters that do open should be left alone, as the skin covering the wound can provide protection and reduce the risk of infection.
Unscrubbed fingernails may also contain traces of urushiol, which can be transmitted to the skin through scratching. This can lead to further itching and a more severe poison ivy rash.
5. Topical lotions and creams
Share on PinterestOver-the-counter creams and lotions may help to relieve the symptoms of a poison ivy rash.
Several lotions that can help relieve the symptoms of a mild poison ivy rash are available without a prescription.
Hydrocortisone creams and calamine lotion are two products commonly used to reduce itching and swelling.
The FDA advise that products containing zinc acetate, zinc carbonate, and zinc oxide treat the oozing and weeping caused by poison ivy. Users should always apply these products as per the instructions on the label.
Aloe vera gel, taken from the aloe vera plant, is another soothing topical poison ivy remedy.
6. Oral antihistamines
Oral antihistamines lessen the severity of allergic reactions, thereby reducing itching and rash. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is one example that may also help some people sleep better through their symptoms.
It is not advisable to apply antihistamine cream to the rash, as it may make itching worse.
7. Oatmeal bath
According to research, oatmeal has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that benefit a variety of inflammatory skin conditions.
Adding oatmeal or an oatmeal-based product to a lukewarm bath is a simple poison ivy remedy. Soaking in the tub for up to 30 minutes may provide symptom relief.
8. Bentonite clay
Bentonite clay is a popular natural clay used in a variety of beauty and personal care products.
Some people report relief from poison ivy rash after applying a paste of bentonite clay and water to the affected area.
Research suggests that using a modified version of bentonite clay (quaternium-18 bentonite) effectively prevents or reduces the allergic contact dermatitis caused by poison ivy and poison oak.
9. Baking soda
Also known as sodium bicarbonate, baking soda is a salt that is mainly used in baking. However, it is also used as a natural cleaning agent and as a home remedy for various ailments.
Adding a cup of baking soda to the tub is recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology for relief from poison ivy rash.
In addition to natural and home-based poison ivy remedies, medications are available to offer symptom relief. Steroid drugs, such as prednisone, can be prescribed by a doctor to ease itching and inflammation.
These steroid medications come in a variety of forms including:
Antibiotics may sometimes be necessary if an infection develops due to scratching the skin or picking at blisters.
8 Tips for Getting Rid of Poison Ivy on Your Property
1. Know the Enemy
Poison ivy is a green (or often red) three-leafed plant that generally grows low to the ground, unless it is climbing a tree or other structure. The leaves may be either toothed or smooth-edged and either shiny or dull, and the middle leaflet is slightly longer than the other two. In spring the plant may have tiny buds or flowers, which become white or grayish berries later in the season.
The toxic resin that causes a poison ivy rash is called urushiol, and it is present in every part of the plant: the leaves, stems, flowers, berries, and roots.
In other words, no part of the plant is safe to touch.
2. Shoot for Ideal Removal Conditions
“Poison ivy is slightly easier to manage in the winter, when it’s leafless, though there are still irritants present in the stems and branches,” says Michael Cook, owner of TruGreen Midsouth, a lawn care company with offices in several Southern states. Windy days can also make it more difficult to remove poison ivy without brushing against it.
Also, if you’re using an herbicide, the wind can blow that onto your other plants — or onto you.
3. Assemble Your Tools
A sharp trowel or a shovel should work well for removing poison ivy roots. You can also use shears or pruners to remove the vines or branches first.
4. Dress Appropriately
This is critical and the only way to prevent your skin from coming in contact with the plant. Wear long pants, long sleeves, work boots, and heavy-duty rubber gloves. To be extra-safe, seal the space between your pants and boots with duct tape.
5. Attack Thoroughly but Carefully
Poison ivy has a complex root system, so if you remove the plants above ground but don’t get rid of the roots, it will continue to grow.
Use shears or pruners to remove the stems. (Do not tear or rip the vines, as this may disperse the urushiol into the air.) Then dig out the roots about eight inches below the plant.
“To make sure the roots are dead, you can douse them with boiling water, suffocate them with mulch, or spray them with a commercial herbicide,” says Cook.
6. Choose the Right Herbicide
If you are comfortable using an herbicide, use one containing glyphosate.
“Glyphosate will penetrate the ivy and kill it from the inside out,” says Gena Lorainne, a horticulturist and planting expert at Fantastic Services, in London. “You may have to use a higher concentration than usual.”
Cook explains that herbicides are typically sprayed on the leaves, which kills the plants from the top down. It’s less labor-intensive than pulling the plants out by hand, but it can also leave healthy roots behind in the soil, and there’s potential that your poison ivy will return.
You should not use an herbicide and then attempt to remove the poison ivy by hand, because then you’ll be at risk of skin contact with the poison ivy itself, as well as chemicals in the herbicide.
It’s also not advisable to remove the poison ivy by hand and then use herbicides on top of that to make sure you got the roots, because that introduces chemicals into healthy soil and can potentially impact other plants in the area.
Remember to use extreme care when handling these herbicides, as the spray will kill all other garden plants it touches. Always follow the directions on the label for safest use.
7. Bag It
Put all the poison ivy leaves and branches in heavy-duty plastic bags to dispose of it. Don’t burn it, as that will release urushiol into the air, potentially causing severe irritation to your eyes and lungs. It’s also risky to put poison ivy into your compost bin, says Cook, because you may end up tossing it back into your garden later.
Poison Ivy Problems? Pulling is the way to go
Poison Ivy Problems? Pulling is the way to go; Dangerous chemical herbicides are NOT!
Q. Dear Mike: I heard somewhere recently that Roundup kills frogs and toads. Is this true? I have poison ivy (or maybe it’s poison oak) on our property. If it’s just one little sprig I pull it out, but for a larger area I had been using Roundup, which I will stop using if it really does harm frogs and toads. But then what do I do?
—Gwen in Newtown, PA
What is the easiest and safest way to clear poison ivy plants from my yard? Should I try to do it myself or find a lawn care company to do it for me?
—Joanna in Sterling, VA
We’re building a house on a ten-acre tract. There is a LOT of poison ivy around. My wife is sensitive to the stuff and I’m *extremely* sensitive — a significant exposure can lead to a hospital trip. We also have two small children that love to explore in the woods. We’re teaching them how to identify poison ivy, but we’d still like to keep easily accessible areas clear of it. Can anything besides herbicides beat this stuff back?
—Kim at the University of Oklahoma Institute for Meteorological Studies (“All weather is divided into three parts: Yes, No, and Maybe. The greatest of these is Maybe”.)
Yes, Gwen—you heard right (and you probably heard it on our show!): Back in 2005, Dr. Rick Relyea, then of the University of Pittsburgh, found that over-the-counter preparations of Roundup (the exact mixtures in the bottles that people pick up from actual store shelves) was deadly to developing frogs, toads and other amphibians. Here’s a to that research as originally published in the journal Ecological Applications.
Dr. Relyea recently moved (in 2014) to continue his fine work at the beautiful Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Here’s a to his new website, which details his ongoing and published research on the important topic of amphibians in our environment.
And in March of last year (2015), The World Health Organization classified glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, as a probable human carcinogen. (If you search a bit, you’ll find lots of other scientific concerns about the safety of Roundup.) And the other most common weed killer in America (2,4-D) has also been linked to a common form of cancer.
And herbicides in general are essentially useless in poison ivy control, because the dead curled up remains of these dangerous plants will still give you a nasty rash after being ‘killed’ by the herbicide. All parts of the plant—roots, leaves, stalk and stems, dead or alive—contain the oil that triggers the reaction, even in winter and even after being sprayed. People often assume that herbicide-sprayed poison ivy is safe to handle, and get nailed with a bad rash after they clean up the ugly—and now doubly-toxic—’dead plants’.
Instead of herbicides, follow my surprisingly effective—and super safe—pulling plan. This isn’t ‘theory’; my property was covered with poison ivy when we bought it, and I developed the specialized technique I’m about to detail while clearing it. Follow these instructions and you’ll get rid of it all—without leaving any dead but still dangerous foliage behind, with no risk to yourself, in a surprisingly short period of time.
Note: if, like Kim in Oklahoma, contact with poison ivy can send you to the hospital, hire a professional to remove it. Umar Mycka, “the Poison Ivy Horticulturist”, has a company that performs physical removal in the greater Philadelphia area and he can guide professionals in other parts of the country through the process. His website has a very clever and pretty much unforgettable name: “I don’t want poison ivy dot com”.
OK—now here’s the plan.
Get yourself a helper, a big rolling trashcan with a plastic bag liner or a large plastic trash bag on a stand (so you don’t have to actually keep touching the final disposal bag), and get ready to do The Plastic Bag Dance. Wait until the ground is soaking wet (or drench it yourself), and gather up lots of heavy plastic mall shopping bags; not the thinner supermarket variety. Slip a bag over each hand, locate where each vine enters the soil and pull s-l-o-o-o-o-w-l-y with one of your bagged hands; the vine should come right up for you, root and all. If it resists, have your helper soak the soil around the base of the vine with a garden hose. Don’t YOU (the puller) touch ANYTHING but the inside of the bags. When it’s all out, fold the bag that’s been covering your other hand over the bagged hand holding the pulled ivy, and drop the vine and both bags into the bigger, heavy trash bag.
NEVER re-use any of your ‘hand bags’; start with fresh ones every time.
If the vine snaps with the root still in the soil, have your helper put a little stake into that spot to mark it, then come back the next day and drench the area with the strongest undiluted vinegar you can find to kill the root, or mulch it with several inches of something thick and impenetrable (like shredded radio show host) to smother it. If new growth appears anyway, attack it immediately with a non-toxic herbicide. Strong vinegar works well; but you must wear eye protection when spraying vinegar. Soap-based herbicides and the newer Iron-based herbicides are very effective with a lot less drama. Note: It’s easier to kill the root with such an attack when the above ground growth is stressed, small and attacked repeatedly. (Then bag up and dispose of any above-ground remains, of course.)
When you’re finished, have your helper open all doors for you. Go straight to the washer, put all your clothes in and have your helper run them thru a cold water cycle. Then you get in the shower, have your helper turn it on and wash yourself well with cool water. No soap; no washcloth. Cool water alone will remove all of the allergenic oil; soap and cloth can spread it to other, perhaps more sensitive, areas. (Yes, exactly the areas you’re thinking about right now!)
That’s cool water; NOT hot. Despite what you might read on some websites, do not wash in hot water; it will add to any inflammatory effect. (This is Basic Medicine 101.)
Warning: If you do this without a helper, you must take extra precautions. When you’re finished, put a last set of bags on your hands and use them to get to the washer and shower, otherwise you might get some of that nasty oil on a doorknob, faucet or other surface, where it will keep giving you—and lots of other people—a nasty rash for many months. (If you’d like to be extra extra cautious, wash down any surfaces you touched with a wet rag and throw that in the washer with your clothes.)
And don’t even think about trying this with gloves instead of bags. I guarantee your mind will wander at some point and you’ll scratch your nose or rub your eye, and then….well, you know. There’s a lot less chance you’ll do that with a plastic bag on your hand. (Bonus: You can scratch your nose in between bags!) If you do (foolishly) choose to try this with gloves: 1) don’t blame me; and 2) you must throw the gloves away when you’re done.
Dog warning: If you have a pet, isolate them during the pulling. A frequent cause of unexplained reoccurring rashes is poison ivy oil on a dog’s coat. Don’t you be the one that put it there when you absent-mindedly rubbed or petted a pooch while pulling.
Now: We realize that some people simply refuse to believe that cool water alone can rinse all of the dangerous oil off their skin, so they use Fell’s Naptha soap or jewelweed or some other home remedy, often with very painful results. One of the world’s leading experts on these rash-inducing plants, William Epstein, M. D., professor emeritus of dermatology at the University of California at San Francisco, has assured me that plain old water is all you need. The real issue is timing. You have about 20 minutes to wash the oil off your skin after you touch poison ivy to avoid triggering an allergic reaction.
Out in the wild, far away from reliable running water, hikers often depend on commercial products like Tecnu—a combination of soap and mineral spirits—to get the oil off their skin before a rash can appear. Dr. Epstein says that bottled water or ordinary rubbing alcohol does the same job. (Those of you who just can’t get yourselves to believe in the power of water alone can wash with rubbing alcohol and then rinse with cool water after a pulling party. Just be sure to wipe down the alcohol bottle afterwards.)
If you’re not exactly sure what poison ivy, oak and sumac look like, go to http://www.poison-ivy.org/ for great photos of the nasty stuff in all of its guises.
And finally, if your specific problem is poison ivy vines climbing up a tree, for our poison ivy advice that includes tips on handling this situation.