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Don’t Let Poison Ivy Win: 10 Strategies to Eliminate It Without Harming Your Garden

Don’t Let Poison Ivy Win: 10 Strategies to Eliminate It Without Harming Your Garden

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Poison ivy is a pesky plant to eradicate from any yard. You want it gone, but at the same time, you don’t want to kill all the desirable plants around it.

Here are ten ways to get rid of poison ivy without killing other plants:

  1. Wipe herbicide on the leaves
  2. Dig it up
  3. Cut it back
  4. Cut vine and treat the stump
  5. Cover desirable plants and spray
  6. Smother it
  7. Get farm animals
  8. Boiling water
  9. Apply neat bleach
  10. Plant grass

The enemy may seem formidable, but with persistence, it is possible to eradicate poison ivy without killing everything around it.

How to Eradicate Poison Ivy Without Killing Other Plants

Poison ivy occurs in 48 of the southern states. It is an indigenous plant commonly found along forest edges and areas of moderate sunlight.

One of the challenges with trying to eradicate poison ivy is that it is a hardy plant that propagates quickly from seeds spread by birds and animals or by underground rhizomes. It can therefore spring up in a landscape quite unexpectedly.

Eradicating poison ivy from an area can be difficult. This noxious plant tends to intertwine with other plants or creep up trees, making singling it out to destroy really challenging.

Most people are highly sensitive to the chemical urushiol, an oily resin found on the plant. This sticky substance quickly attaches to skin, clothes, and tools, so it is vital to avoid all contact with the plant.

It is not only direct contact with poison ivy that can cause an allergic response. Touching contaminated objects like your shoes or tools will result in the same skin reaction.

The urushiol resin in poison ivy has an annoying way of clinging to things for years. So it is essential to carefully remove and wash your clothes and shoes, decontaminate your tools and carefully discard all parts of the plant you remove.

Never be tempted to burn poison ivy, even after it is dry. Even the smoke can be harmful and can damage your lungs or nasal passages.

Avoid adding any parts of poison ivy plants to your compost. The oily allergy-causing poison remains active for years, and you can still get a reaction even after the plant has decomposed.

The only way to safely discard poison ivy plants or pieces you remove is to carefully place them inside a plastic bag, seal it, and put it in the trash.

Before you embark on full-scale warfare to eradicate poison ivy from an area, first be sure that you have identified it correctly. Several harmless plants closely resemble poison ivy. You can find a handy list to check here:

The method you choose to combat the poison ivy in your yard will depend on the extent of the problem and the resources you have available. One factor that must be kept foremost in any operation is to avoid contact with the plant and anything that has had contact with the plant.

Prepare yourself for chemical warfare and err on the side of caution as the urushiol sap from the poison ivy plant is likely to cause a painful skin reaction. Ensure that all parts of your skin are adequately covered, and you are ready before tackling the task.

Protective clothing is essential when tackling poison ivy in the yard. Wear thick long sleeves, long pants, socks, and heavy gloves. Boots work well for this task because they are easier to wipe down when you are finished.

The toxic sap spreads quickly from one surface to another. Be cautious never to touch any part of your face or rub your eyes while working with this plant. If you are removing a lot of poison ivy, it helps to wear goggles in case you forget.

One tried and tested tip when working with poison ivy is to cover your gloved hands with plastic bags. The type that bread or newspapers come in works well.

Use rubber bands to secure the bags around your wrists to keep them in place while you are working. The plastic forms a disposable shield against the poison ivy.

At the end of the task, carefully pull the bags over your hands so that they are inside out. Then discard them immediately. Any poisonous sap will therefore be safely on the inside of the bag.

When you are finished working with the poison ivy and are undressing, first remove your boots and wipe them down while still wearing gloves. Then carefully undress in front of the washing machine so that none of the clothes you are wearing touches any other laundry items.

Wash all the clothing that you were wearing on a hot wash immediately. Then go and shower or bath. If you have any concerns that the poison ivy might have contacted your skin, adding some Epsom salts to the bathwater can help to soothe a slight itch.

Remember to clean off all the tools you were using with rubbing alcohol to neutralize the urushiol on the blades or handles. You can still get an allergic reaction to traces of the sap even months after clearing the poison ivy plants.

Now that we have the essential safety measures covered, let’s get started on methods to get rid of the poison ivy that won’t kill all the surrounding plants.

1 – Wipe Herbicide on the Leaves

You have probably avoided using non-selective herbicides because you don’t want to kill everything around the offending poison ivy. The trick with using this plant poison is ensuring that it only goes onto the poison ivy.

Instead of spraying it onto the foliage using a spray bottle or backpack sprayer, when targeting a specific plant, you can wipe it onto the leaves of a particular plant. This process is called hand wicking.

A handy tip is to add some food coloring to your herbicide mix so you can ensure that you haven’t missed any leaves.

There are several ways of safely wiping herbicide onto the poison ivy leaves. If you have a small patch, you can use a soft paintbrush. You can use a flat saw to hold under each leaf as you paint the poison onto each leaf.

Remember to thoroughly wash any tools that may have come into contact with the plant when you are done.

If you have a larger patch of poison ivy to cover, you may consider using a handheld weed wiping tool. These handy gadgets ensure that poison is spread over weeds while not drifting onto desirable plants.

Applying herbicide onto the leaves of poison ivy is sure to kill the visible part of the plants pretty quickly. However, no matter what herbicide you use, new growth is sure to spring up again from the roots, so you will need to keep reapplying as soon as you notice new leaves.

Although applying a chemical herbicide that contains glyphosate or triclopyr will be the fastest way to kill poison ivy, it is a non-selective chemical herbicide, so any runoff from rain may damage the plants below the leaves you are treating.

If you are into a more eco-friendly herbicide, you can make your own solution using kitchen ingredients. Here’s what you will need:

  • 1 gallon of vinegar
  • 1 cup of salt
  • 8 drops of liquid dish soap

Heat the vinegar until just before boiling. Remove the vinegar from the heat and then add the salt. Stir until it is completely dissolved. Let it cool, and add the dish soap.

Adding the dishwashing liquid is an important step as it ensures that the mixture sticks to the leaves and doesn’t evaporate.

Use this homemade mixture in the same way as the chemical solution. Remember that it can also kill other plants, so be cautious to only wipe or paint it onto the poison ivy that you want to eradicate.

As soon as you notice dead, withered leaves, carefully remove them wearing gloves and seal them into plastic garbage bags. Do not be tempted to clear them out by hand as the toxic oil is still active even on dry leaves.

2 – Dig Poison Ivy Plants Up to Kill Them

Manually removing poison ivy can be tedious, but it is by far the most effective method to entirely eradicate the plants from a particular spot.

Before starting the task, keep in mind that you should have receptacles ready to dispose of the plants immediately. Every part of a poison ivy plant can cause skin irritation, including the root, so don’t drop your guard just because it is not the leaves.

Trying to open a plastic trash bag with plastic-bag-covered hands can be tricky, so line a large bin with a thick refuse bag and keep it close by. Be sure to pull it down to cover the top of the bin, so none of the plants make contact with the actual bin on the way in.

The best time to remove poison ivy manually is after a good rain. The ground is soft, and the rhizome roots will be much easier to remove.

3 – Keep Cutting Poison Ivy Back

If you only have a light infestation of poison ivy, you can effectively control the plant by persistently cutting it back.

To do this, you need to cut the plant down to ground level. The cutting method works best if you start early in the spring. Inspect the plant weekly and each time new shoots or leaves emerge, cut them off again.

Although the plant will spring back several times, it will eventually starve to death if you keep cutting it down before it gains momentum.

4 – Cut Vine and Treat Stump

Poison ivy often gets out of hand and entwines other shrubs, trees, or fences. This makes applying a solution to individual leaves more difficult.

The solution is to kill the plant at the base. For thinner vines, you can use a long-handled cutter to safely reach the stems you want to cut.

If the poison ivy has thick, established roots, you will need to pry the roots off any support they may be clinging to and then cut them. You might need a crowbar and a hammer to pull large chunks of the plant free from a surface before cutting it.

This cutting action disconnects the roots and the rest of the plant, so the top will die very quickly. The next step is to poison the roots.

Use a chemical herbicide to paint onto the cut portion of the stumps. The root will absorb the poison, and even if it doesn’t kill the plant immediately, it will be significantly weakened.

Make regular checks and each time you see any new growth, immediately cut it off or poison it again until the poison ivy plant dies.

5 – Cover Desirable Plants and Spray

If the poison ivy on your property is against a fence or some other structure where the other plants are not too close by, it is possible to shield the desirable plants while spraying.

Note that this method is never possible when the poison ivy is clinging to another tree, as it would be impossible to shield the tree’s bark from a spray completely.

Choose a sunny, dry day when there is no wind to spray. Use plastic bags or sheets to cover any plants that may be exposed to spray or drift while spraying herbicide onto poison ivy plants.

Once you have shielded all the bark and foliage of surrounding desirable plants, spray the herbicide onto all parts of the poison ivy. Even though you have covered other plants, try to keep the nozzle directed specifically at the problem plant.

Allow the poison ivy to dry slightly before removing the coverings from surrounding plants. This will protect them from any drips.

Remember that rain may wash the chemical into the soil below or onto surrounding plants. Therefore, it is always recommended to use a less toxic method before resorting to spraying herbicides.

6 – Smother It

If you have cut the poison ivy vine close to the ground, but you aren’t confident that you will be able to keep it in check, smothering the plant works well.

Like all rhizomes, poison ivy will continually be trying to send up new shoots. This is one of the reasons that it is so difficult to eradicate.

Use a sheet of rubber, plastic, or even thick cardboard to cover the soil and any remnants of the poison ivy plant above the roots. Place rocks or bricks on the edges to keep them down.

In time, the lack of light will kill all plant parts, including the root. You will then be able to remove the covering, although it’s always a good idea to add a layer of mulch to maintain the effect for longer.

7 – Get Farm Animals

Poison ivy is peculiar because although most humans have an allergic reaction to the plant, many animals thrive on it. This indigenous plant is a source of food for turkeys, quail, deer, raccoons, and even bears.

While it is unlikely you have a tame black bear that you can enlist to assist in your backyard, it may be possible to borrow a few goats if you live in a rural area. These cute little rascals will quickly demolish all visible traces of poison ivy that they can reach.

Chickens also enjoy poison ivy but don’t really wipe it out with the same speed and vigor as a couple of goats who can each consume several pounds of the thick leafy plant per day. Cattle are also immune to the effects of poison ivy and will eat it, but they prefer pasture grazing.

Goats are quite non-selective eaters, so if you have any vulnerable plants in the vicinity, keep them covered during the visit. Once the poison ivy is manageable after the goats have been through, continuously cut off any new shoots you observe above the ground. They eventually run out of energy and perish.

8 – Boiling Water

If you notice poison ivy growing on a path or some other area where you could douse the plant in boiling water without affecting surrounding vegetation, this method does have some merit.

Keep in mind that you must not breathe in any vapor released from the poison ivy as its effects are much the same as the smoke from burning the plant. Toxic fumes can irritate the nasal passages and lungs.

You will need to repeat this process of pouring boiling water onto the roots of the poison ivy plant for a few consecutive days to kill the plant. This method works well if there are no precious plants with nearby roots as it is only the temperature of the water that is having the effect. Any runoff onto other plants will probably have cooled and therefore be quite safe.

9 – Use Bleach to Kill Poison Ivy

Use neat bleach to lightly wipe onto all visible parts of the poison ivy plant, including the stem. Avoid getting the bleach onto other plants around the poison ivy.

If it is a windless day and you use a directed spray, lightly coat the poison ivy leaves without spreading it about. Bleach prevents the plant from photosynthesizing, and the leaves will quickly become brown and die.

Keep the bleach handy, and if you notice any new shoots emerging from the root, immediately wipe on or lightly spray with neat bleach.

10 – Plant Grass to Keep Poison Ivy Down

One of the challenges when manually removing poison ivy is that if you miss any part of the root, the entire plant seems to bounce back and continue to thrive. When removing the roots, add grass seed to the area.

Growing a lawn may take time, but grass chokes out poison ivy plants. So if you have a yard where there are kids and pets, planting a lawn in the area they use is one of the best long-term solutions to keeping poison ivy at bay.

What to Do if Poison Ivy Touches Your Skin

The rash and pain from contact with poison ivy are an allergic reaction to the chemical urushiol, which is present in all plant parts. If you make contact with the substance, the faster you can wash it off your skin, the lower the likelihood that you will develop a rash.

If you are unlucky enough to have been exposed to poison ivy, the severity of the reaction will need to be monitored. A light itch can be treated with soothing creams or bathing the affected skin in an Epson salt solution. However, if it is on a sensitive area or severe, it is best to consult with a doctor as besides being painful, blisters can become infected.

If you do have a lot of poison ivy where you live, it is recommended to keep a specially formulated poison ivy treatment handy. That way, you can clean any urushiol off your skin as soon as possible. Tecnu Original Outdoor Skin Cleanser is a highly recommended product that can be used without water, so keep it with you if you are working outside to neutralize any toxin that touches your skin.

Some of the symptoms of poison ivy rash are itching, redness, swelling, blisters, or, when plants have been burnt, difficulty breathing. The fumes from burning this toxic plant can cause serious complications, and any shortness of breath needs to be checked out immediately.

Final Thoughts

Getting rid of poison ivy in an area can be difficult at the best of times. Removing it without killing other plants around it can make things even more challenging.

Some methods have been used successfully, although poison ivy tends to be quite persistent, so unless you opt to dig the plants out manually, you will need to repeat each method a few times until you win the war and eradicate the plants.


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