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10 Ways To Kill Poison Ivy (Without Killing Other Plants)

10 Ways To Kill Poison Ivy (Without Killing Other Plants)

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Poison ivy is the notorious culprit behind red, itchy, blistering rashes. It’s a hardy, toxic plant common throughout most of the continental United States.

Besides that, poison ivy tends to grow in wild, untouched areas but often thrives alongside roads and trails or on the edges of plots of land. So how can we get rid of this ill-famed menace?

Well, lucky for you, I’ve got the answer. 

The most effective method to kill poison ivy without killing other plants is to get rid of the plant by hand. You need to ensure you remove the roots to prevent regrowth. Other less effective solutions include boiling water, smothering the plant, vinegar, homemade solutions, or herbicides.

However, before you go berserk and frantically pull at the poison ivy by hand, let’s first take a look at how to identify poison ivy, the necessary safety precautions, and the most popular methods to get rid of poison ivy. Let’s get going!

How to Identify Poison Ivy

Right off the bat, it’s crucial that you learn how to identify poison ivy. Thankfully, the process is exceptionally simple. 

You’ll find the plant growing in forests and wetlands, along streams, on beaches, and in urban settings like roadsides, parks, and even backyards.

On top of that, poison ivy prefers partial sunlight, so you’ll frequently notice it growing where land has been disturbed. For example, the plant is common along trail edges, landscapes, and fields.

Eastern and Western Poison Ivy

There are two general types of poison ivy—eastern and western—which look strikingly similar but have somewhat different geographic ranges. In addition, eastern and western poison ivy occasionally interbreed in areas where their ranges overlap.

Both variants of the plant stretch along the ground, but the eastern variety tends to climb and trail along trees, shrubs, walls, and fences, clinging to structures with its hairy rootlets.

How to Identify Poison Ivy Leaves?

Poison Ivy With Three Leaves

Ever heard the phrase “leaves of three, let it be. Berries of white, best take flight.”? This is the golden rule when it comes to identifying poison ivy. 

Each leaflet has a little stem at its base, attaching the leaf to the stalk or branch that secures it to the main vine. You should also note that the middle leaflet of the threesome generally has a longer stem than the two accompanying leaflets on its sides.

Plus, poison ivy leaves tend to be unsymmetrical with pointy tips, smooth edges, or serrated teeth. On top of that, they’re approximately twice as long as they are wide and generally between 2 to 5 inches tall.

Aside from that, poison ivy leaves can look quite different during the four seasons. So, here is an overview of how to identify poison ivy leaves during each season.

What Does Poison Ivy Look Like in the Spring?

Poison ivy grows new leaves in the spring after losing them during the winter. Young leaflets initially sprout as dark mahogany or crimson-red shiny leaves. 

They later gradually turn green and lose their sheen over time.

Although mature poison ivy leaves mostly have a pointed tip, beware that the new leaves can initially have a rounded tip.

Besides the new leaflets, the poison ivy plant may grow fluorescent green, or white flower buds and berries as soon as the first leaves come out.

What Does Poison Ivy Look Like in the Summer?

As the weather warms up, most poison ivy leaves will turn green, but there may be a couple of leaflets left with a reddish hue during early summer.

To top it all off, poison ivy vines won’t hesitate to carpet and raid an entire area by weaving themselves into grasses and plants. They can even create a wall of foliage alongside fences, walls, or buildings.

Because of that, you need to be especially careful during hot summer days while walking through grass fields and trails in shorts and short sleeves.

What Does Poison Ivy Look Like in the Fall?

Poison ivy is one of the first plants that go through color changes during the fall. The leaves are set ablaze in vivid red, orange, and yellow shades.

While the fiery leaflets may be beautiful, they’re still dangerous and can give you an ugly rash. So, don’t forget to practice caution when dealing with these plants. 

What Does Poison Ivy Look Like in the Winter?

As I mentioned, poison ivy loses all of its leaves in the winter, leaving a display of hairy vines on tree trunks or walls. These common hairs are rootlets that attach the plant to its host.

Plus, the vines can be around six inches thick, with horizontal branches sticking out from the main stem. Note that poison ivy can still give you a nasty rash if you touch the hairy vines, despite losing all of their leaves.

Other Characteristics of Poison Ivy

Poison Oak
Poison Oak

As it turns out, various other plants may resemble poison ivy. For instance, poison oak, skunkbush, boxelder, and Virginia creeper all have similar leaflets. 

Sadly, this can make identifying poison ivy a little challenging. Fortunately, there are a few helpful tips you can rely on.

  • Poison oak is a low shrub, and its leaves aren’t as pointed as poison ivy. Plus, poison oak is only habitual in the West and South-eastern United States.
  • Poison ivy has alternate leaves, whereas box elder has opposite leaves.
  • Poison ivy only has three leaflets, while the Virginia creeper has five leaves. 
  • Boxelder plants can display three leaves during early spring but will ‌have five to seven later, accompanied by “helicopter” seeds.
  • Poison ivy spouts white or yellowish berries, whereas the Virginia creeper has blue-black fruit and the skunkbush has dark red berries.
  • Poison ivy has thick, hairy vines, and the Virginia creeper has thick vines covered in fair-colored tendrils.
  • Poison ivy takes on versatile shapes like shrubs, ground cover, thick green vines covering walls, or a single plant.

Overall, be extra cautious while spending time in urban areas or disturbed places, as poison ivy thrives in these locations.

So, if you aren’t sure whether the plant is poison ivy or not, it’s best to leave it alone altogether. Instead, consider using a plant app to help you identify it, or put on a pair of heavy-duty garden gloves and take a cutting to your local nursery.

Lastly, consider calling poison ivy removal services to help you with the issue.

How to Kill Poison Ivy Without Killing My Other Plants?

Poison ivy is a pest that none of us want growing in our backyards since it can affect the growth of our other plants. So, here are some practical approaches to get rid of the menace without killing your other beloved flowers.

1. Remove Poison Ivy Manually

Garden Gloves And A Trowel

There’s one strategy that guarantees the success and safety of your other plants, and that’s manually removing poison ivy. You’ll need to ensure that you get rid of the whole plant (especially the roots) to prevent it from regrowing.

Here’s how:

First up, grab all the necessary tools. You’ll most likely need a sharp trowel, a high-quality shovel, and a pair of garden shears.

Once that’s ready, ensure you wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, heavy-duty garden gloves, and gumboots. Your goal is to completely cover your skin to avoid any contact with the poison ivy. 

As an extra precaution, consider tucking your sleeves and pants in and use duct tape to secure the cuffs.

Moving on, you have to assess the weather conditions. Digging out poison ivy during windy or rainy weather can be dangerous as the urushiol spreads into the air.

However, digging up the plant after the rain is ideal as the soil will be soft and easy to displace.

So, when the weather conditions are ideal, dig about three to six inches into the ground until you hit the roots of the poison ivy plant. Try to remove the entire network, leaving no traces behind.

As soon as you successfully remove the whole plant, carefully bag it up for garbage. Be sure to double-bag the poison ivy to prevent garbage collectors from getting a rash in the case of an accidental tear.

Warning: DO NOT burn poison ivy plants; the flames are toxic if inhaled, causing inflammation and dangerous respiratory problems.

Although you’re wearing gloves, never use your hands to tear poison ivy leaves. This may disperse the plant’s resin (urushiol) into the air and ultimately affect those in the vicinity. 

Finally, wash your clothes and tools immediately after using them. The oily resin can stay active for years if it remains on your clothes. 

For that reason, wash your clothes at least twice to ensure there are no traces of urushiol resin.

Notwithstanding, chances are you may overlook several small poison ivy roots. So, you’ll have to keep an eye out for new growth and remove the new plant as soon as possible.

If you aren’t up for the job (no one can blame you), consider paying the poison ivy removal services to do it for you.

2. Use the Cut and Repeat Method

If digging out poison ivy roots sounds like too much of a chore, there’s an easier solution. Instead of completely removing the roots from the soil, you can prune the leaves and stems. 

All you’ll need for this strategy is a pair of gardening shears. Then, snip the poison ivy vines down to the crown. 

Next, watch the area and keep an eye out for new growth. As soon as you see any leaves or stems poking out, it’s time for another pruning session. 

It’s important that you clean your gardening shears after every use. This will prevent any cross-contamination between the poison ivy and other plants. 

Without the leaves, the poison ivy plant won’t be able to carry out photosynthesis or produce food. Because of that, it’ll struggle to survive and fade away over time. 

Even though this method will work, it can take weeks of constant pruning. 

3. Use Boiling Water to Kill Poison Ivy Plants

Pot Of Boiling Water

Another effective solution to kill poison ivy is to pour boiling water straight from the kettle onto the plant. This method works best if it’s growing next to the driveway or in a crack in your backyard garden path.

If you choose this strategy, it’s crucial to remember that boiling water kills or hurts anything it touches, so be careful if you have other plants nearby.

Plus, pouring boiling water over poison ivy plants won’t kill them immediately; their hardy underground roots will survive the initial dousing. 

New growth will quickly emerge after the scorched leaves and stems fade away.

Because of that, as soon as you notice new growth emerging, pour another dose of boiling water onto the plant. The poison ivy will weaken over time, and the new growth rate will slow down, eventually killing the plant.

4. Smother the Poison Ivy Plant to Kill It

You can smother poison ivy by placing a sheet of heavy cardboard or plastic tarp on top to kill the plant. This strategy is not only practical, but it also prevents other plants from being harmed in the process–a win-win situation, if you ask me!

Even though smothering may be effective, you still have to check for “runner” shoots. Runners are underground roots that grow beyond the jurisdiction of the cardboard or tarp. 

In time, they may send up shoots, producing new poison ivy plants. So, you’ll need to get rid of them.

Another simple alternative to smothering is to cover the plant with a 12-inch-thick layer of coarse wood chips. Yet, it can take up to three months for this method to take effect.

5. Use Vinegar to Kill Poison Ivy

Spraying White Vinegar

The active ingredient in vinegar is acetic acid. It’s an organic compound that draws out the moisture of the unwanted plant’s leaves.

Just like the boiling water method, vinegar only kills the top growth of the poison ivy plant, which means it only destroys the stem and leaves. Unfortunately, the plant’s root system remains firmly intact.

For that reason, although vinegar is an effective solution, it’s only short-term and less effective if the poison ivy is a mature plant with a developed root system. 

Sad to say, the pest will return the following year if you do not eradicate the roots.

All household vinegar varieties can effectively eliminate poison ivy in the short term. Yet, more substantial vinegar concentrations (horticulture vinegar) are available at garden centers that may be more effective due to their higher concentrations.

However, you should remember that horticulture vinegar contains more acetic acid. Because of that, it’s more toxic when it gets in your eye or if you accidentally ingest it. 

So, be extra careful by wearing protective eye gear and ensure you don’t mix horticulture vinegar up with kitchen vinegar!

In addition to the health of your other plants, acetic acid will ultimately influence the pH balance of your soil, making it more acidic. 

This effect can be good or bad depending on the type of plants you like to grow, but luckily it only lasts a few days to weeks depending on the concentration.

It’s a good idea to practice caution when spraying the poison ivy. Be sure not to spray on windy days as the vinegar can blow onto the leaves of other plants, damaging them too.

6. Spray a Non-Toxic Homemade Solution to Kill Poison Ivy

If horticulture vinegar sounds too harsh, you can create a non-toxic homemade spray to get rid of those unwanted poison ivy plants.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Spray bottle
  • 1 gallon of white vinegar
  • 8 drops of dishwashing liquid
  • 1 cup of salt

Start by adding the white vinegar and salt into a large pot and heat the mixture until the salt dissolves. Next, take the solution off the heat and allow it to cool. 

Once the mixture reaches room temperature, add the dishwashing liquid and stir well.

The soap will increase the spread of vinegar and salt, which should enhance the absorption of the mixture as it breaks down the waxy surface that protects the leaves.

It’s crucial that you cover all your desirable plants before spraying the poison ivy, as the mixture can be toxic to nearby florae if the wind blows the solution onto their leaves and stems. 

After that, spray the homemade pesticide directly onto the poison ivy plant.

7. Use a Household Remedy to Kill Poison Ivy

Spraying Poison Ivy

If you are looking for another strategy to eliminate nasty poison ivy from your backyard, you can use household products to do the trick.

You’ll need the following:

  • Spray bottle
  • 2 cups of bleach
  • ½ cup hydrogen peroxide
  • ½ cup of salt

Begin by combining all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Then, cover all your desirable plants, and lastly, generously apply the mixture to the poison ivy plant.

While this method may be incredibly effective, bleach and salt will alter your soil’s pH. This can have adverse effects on your other plants if you use large concentrations.

8. Use Herbicides to Kill Poison Ivy Plants

Typically, it’s best if you can get rid of poison ivy using natural treatments, but herbicides are more efficient. That’s because the solutions contain glyphosate and triclopyr.

These chemicals are exceptionally effective at eliminating poison ivy, but they’re unhealthy and carcinogenic. So, it’s crucial that you only use herbicides when you need a speedy solution.

Unlike the more natural home remedies (vinegar or salt) which are topical, glyphosate is systemic. This means the florae will absorb the chemical, and it’ll travel through the whole poison ivy plant, including its roots.

Moving on, ensure that you spray the poison ivy on a dry day with no wind to prevent the herbicide from blowing onto you and your other plants. The best season to get rid of poison ivy is spring when the plants are easy to spot. 

However, my advice to you is to remove the plant as soon as you see it.

Here’s a quick look at what you’ll need:

  • Rubber gloves
  • Long pants and a long-sleeve shirt
  • Rubber boots
  • Goggles
  • Breathing mast
  • Pruning shears
  • Shovel
  • Herbicide
  • Garbage bags
  • Rubbing alcohol

Start by removing the visible poison ivy stems with your pruning shears and place them in a garbage bag (consider using two garbage bags for extra precaution). Remember not to rip the leaves or stem of the plant, as this will disperse the resin into the air.

Once that’s out of the way, spray the remaining stems and roots with your chemical herbicide. Don’t forget to wear your mask and goggles while doing that, and take extra care when spraying the herbicide. 

Warning: Due to glyphosate being systemic, even a drop may kill a desirable plant compared to vinegar, which only causes some browning if it accidentally touches your other plants.

Lastly, wash your clothes and equipment thoroughly with warm water.

This strategy will get rid of most poison ivy plants, but it’s a hardy and tenacious pest. For that reason, to stay on the safe side, frequently inspect the treated area to ensure that no regrowth has occurred.

9. Deploy Landscape Fabric

If you’re a gardening enthusiast, you’ve likely heard about landscape fabric. This is a geotextile made of polyester that can help you control the growth of poison ivy. 

Simply use the fabric to cover the area you want to keep pest-free. It’ll act as a protective layer that blocks the sun from reaching the surface of the soil. 

This will prevent weeds like poison ivy from growing, but won’t affect any other taller plants. However, the main issue with this method is that you’ll need to use landscape fabric before you plant your garden. 

So, if you already have a flourishing flower bed, this strategy may not be ideal.

10. Eliminate Poison Ivy Naturally

Putting Down Grass Seed

This last suggestion is not to remove or kill poison ivy, but rather to prevent the growth of the pest. The best way is to fight nature with nature.

Poison ivy ceases to grow in locations with full grass lawns (it’s not clear why). Regardless of the reason, you can use this to your advantage. 

So, if you aren’t up for the hassle of killing poison ivy manually or making home remedies to get rid of the pest, consider planting grass to prevent further growth of the hardy poison ivy plant. The grass seeds will eventually take over the area and inhibit the poison ivy.

Planting grass is a natural, lovely possible solution, but it requires a whole lot of patience. It can take up to eight weeks for the grass blades to sprout and cover the area you’re trying to protect. 

Call Professional Poison Ivy Plant Removers to Help

If you have a poison ivy infestation that has taken over your backyard for years, it’s best to hand the job over to experts.

Professional poison ivy removers will know precisely how to kill and eliminate the plants without unwanted injuries.

Besides that, you can call for professional help if you don’t feel comfortable removing a small invasion yourself. Plus, if your DIY solutions and attempts fail, call in the experts instead of further risking injuries.

Even though the professional services may be slightly costly, they’ll save you a lifetime of inconvenience and potential rashes.

Final Thoughts

All in all, there are countless methods you can rely on to get rid of poison ivy without killing other plants. It boils down to whether you’d like to follow an environmentally safe strategy or if time is of the essence and you’d rather cut straight to the chase with a herbicide.

Remember that even though herbicides effectively kill poison ivy, as little as a drop can severely damage or destroy your preferred plants. Because of that, cover up your plants before spraying the poison ivy and protect your eyes and mouth to keep them out of harm’s way.

For a safer route, try home remedies or horticulture vinegar.

Lastly, manually removing poison ivy is the most effective solution to get rid of the pest and prevent your other plants from fading away.

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Marlene B

Tuesday 9th of May 2023

I found your article interesting, but there is inaccurate information. You state "As it turns out, various other plants also have three leaves; for example, the poison oak, skunkbush, boxelder, or Virginia creeper. These plants are often mistaken for poison ivy due to their similar leaves." However, Virginia Creepr is a FIVE leave plant that does cause similar skin reactions as Poison Ivy, but for different reasons and te Boxelder has three to seven leaves.

You also stated that "Remember that even though herbicides effectively kill poison ivy, as little as a drop can severely damage or destroy your preferable plants." As a child growing up on a farm in Upstate New York (with TONS of Poison Ivy, Sumac and Oak) then as an adult having it on my own property the herbicides are NOT EFFECTIVE; the ONLY true way to get rid of these evasive plants are to remove them by their root systems and ensure you are property covered (gloves, long sleeved shirt and long pants).

Myron Smith

Friday 19th of August 2022