- Know the enemy. Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is a native North American plant that takes several forms. On most of the continent, it's a climbing or trailing perennial vine. In Western states, it's a shrubby bush that grows to about 3 feet. The leaves, which grow on alternate sides of each stem, come in sets of 3 glossy-green leaflets that can be pointed, smooth-sided, lobed or saw-toothed. Early in spring the leaves are red, and in fall they turn a bright scarlet-orange. The 1/4-inch fruits are dull yellow. For an in-depth identification of poison ivy and its imposters, see these pictures of poison ivy.
- Dress for battle. All parts of the plant contain a toxic resin that causes a blistering rash on any part of your body it touches. So when removing poison ivy, always wear rubber gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, long pants tucked into socks and boots or shoes that can be hosed off later. Goggles and a breathing mask are also recommended when removing poison ivy.
- Time your attack. A dry day with no wind is the safest time for removing poison ivy, especially if you will be using an herbicide spray (you don't want the herbicide blowing back at you, nor do you want it blowing on landscape plants).
- Cut plants to ground level. With shears or pruners, remove all the stems you can see and dispose of them in plastic garbage bags. Don't tear or rip the vines as this may disperse the resin into the air.
- Dig out roots if you can. If there are only a few plants to remove, use the shovel to remove the roots. Bag these also for removal.
- Destroy what's left. If you have many plants spread over a large area, cut as much of the top growth as you can, and then spray the remaining roots, stems and stubs with a chemical weed killer containing glyphosate (such as Roundup) or triclopyr (such as Ortho's Brush-B-Gon). For thick, shrubby stems, spray directly onto the cuts you've made. 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.
- Dispose of properly. Do not compost, shred or burn poison ivy. Inhaling the smoke can cause serious injury to your lungs. Put the plant parts in heavy plastic bags, tie the bags securely and put them in the trash. If you used rubber gloves, discard these as well.
- Disinfect your clothes and your tools. Tools used for removing poison ivy must be disinfected. Rinse your pruners and shovel, including the handles, with rubbing alcohol. Let them dry and then oil the parts to prevent rust. Likewise, the clothes you have on while removing poison ivy must be cleaned. Wash your clothing separately and clean your boots or shoes with cold, soapy water and a hose.
- Poison ivy is a perennial plant that grows back from the roots and often spreads by means of underground runners. Removing poison ivy -- if it's a vigorous stand -- may take three or four tries.
If your skin comes into contact with the weed while you're removing poison ivy, wash the affected area with a strong soap, using cold water only (hot water opens your pores and allows the toxin to seep in). Hardware stores and drugstores have specialty soaps that can remove the poison sap. Treat a rash with a drying lotion (such as calamine) or one recommended specifically for poison ivy rash.
Back to > Poison Ivy: Just the Facts
What You Need
- Rubber gloves
- Washable, tightly woven long-sleeve shirt and pants
- Long socks
- Shoes or boots that can be washed or hosed off
- Goggles and breathing mask
- Sharp pruning shears or a hand pruner
- Sharp-edged shovel
- Heavy black plastic garbage bags and ties
- Herbicide containing glyphosate or triclopyr (e.g., Roundup, Ortho Brush-B-Gon)
- Rubbing alcohol