Gardens

How to get rid of poison ivy – and make your yard a safer place to be

Got a yard full of poison ivy? No need to panic, there are tried and trusted ways to deal with this obstinate weed

Poison ivy
(Image credit: James Whitney/Unsplash)

Poison ivy is one of those plants you definitely won’t want to find in the back yard. Of course, weeds are a fact of life for gardeners, and we sigh and pull out the worst culprits or learn to live with them – but poison ivy is another matter. Just touch it and a blistery rash can develop on your hands. 

Here, we take you through the steps you need to get rid of poison ivy, safely, and permanently. 

How to get rid of poison ivy

First, you need to identify poison ivy – and to understand why you don't want to come into contact with it – in case the name isn't enough of a clue. Then, you will need to know how to protect yourself from it before you even begin to consider touching it.

How do I recognise poison ivy?

You might not spot poison ivy at first, especially if it’s tucked in among other plants. Though it’s common in the USA, the UK is fortunate not to have it at all. Just like regular ivy, Eastern poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is a climber, happily scrambling over fences and up trees. Its relative, Western poison ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii) is a low-growing shrub. 

Don’t touch poison ivy, but take a look at the leaves, which are quite different to the usual ivy that decorates our gardens.

Poison ivy stems end in a compound leaf that is split into three leaflets, the longest in the middle. The pointed, glossy leaves change along with the seasons. New growth in spring has a red tinge, turning to green as leaves mature, then a flaming deep red in autumn. 

Look out for small white flowers in spring followed by off-white berries. Find more pointers to help identify poison ivy at Poison-Ivy.org.  

Poison oak can be mistaken for poison ivy, but the lobed leaves are rounded rather than pointed – it also contains urushiol oil, so beware.

Why is poison ivy dangerous?

The danger from poison ivy lies in the harmful urushiol oil it contains – simply brushing against the plant can cause your skin to become incredibly itchy within a few hours, which can then result in a blistery red rash. 

In some cases the allergic reaction might not start for a few days, but it can last for several weeks. If you happen to touch your face after coming into contact with the plant, you can end up with a rash there too, or it could transfer from your sleeve or anything you handle. 

Poison ivy can be a danger to pets, too, so getting rid of it is a must. If you come into contact with it, wash the affected area immediately. Over-the-counter lotions can soothe a mild rash, but if you have a serious allergic reaction, seek medical help urgently.

How can I protect myself when clearing poison ivy?

Once you’ve identified poison ivy, you’ll want to get out in the yard to kill it off as fast as possible, but it’s vital you to take a few precautionary measures first. Make sure children and pets are kept indoors then dress up in protective clothing. 

Put on a top with long sleeves tucked into thick gloves, wear long pants, goggles and a face mask, too. Tuck your hair out of the way. 

Once you’re done, carefully take off your protective clothing and put it in the washing machine on a very hot cycle or dispose of it carefully. Hose shoes down and take a shower.

Can you pull poison ivy with gloves?

Yes, you can, pull poison ivy with gloves, but we recommend you dress in fully protective gear, as described above. 

How to get rid of poison ivy fast

You’ll need a herbicide that specifically works for poison ivy such as Roundup® Ready-To-Use Poison Ivy Plus Tough Brush Killer

Apply it following the instructions on the label. Keep an eye on the area in case poison ivy starts to creep back, in which case you’ll have to repeat the procedure.

How to get rid of poison ivy without killing other plants

To get rid of poison ivy without killing other plants, first dress in fully protective clothing, then use secateurs or garden shears to cut the plant right back and a spade to dig out the roots. 

Tearing away the vines is a bad idea, as this can release and spread the dangerous oil they contain. 

Collect up every scrap of the plants into plastic bags and seal them before putting them in the trash (or seek advice on disposal from your local authority) and washing everything carefully. 

If you’re prepared to wait, smothering works for other weeds and it’s a pretty good way to get rid of poison ivy, too. After cutting the plants back to ground level, cover the entire area with cardboard (flattened boxes are ideal), so that no light can get in, securing it with bricks or any pieces of lumber that are to hand. Wait three weeks then dress up in your gear again and dig out the plants and their roots, putting them into plastic bags and sealing them. 

Clean tools well, using alcohol, vinegar or degreaser and follow the same steps for washing clothing as above. 

How to kill poison ivy with vinegar and salt

To make your own weed killer to get rid of poison ivy, you don’t need to buy any special ingredients. 

Put one cup of coarse salt into a pan with one gallon of white vinegar and heat it just enough to dissolve the salt. 

Next add eight to 10 drops of washing up liquid. When it’s cool enough that it won’t scald you, pour it into a spray bottle and use on the poison ivy. Take care not to get the solution on other plants. 

You’ll need to put on protective gear when you dig up the dead plants and dispose of the poison ivy in sealed bags.

Is it safe to burn poison ivy

It is definitely not safe to burn poison ivy. When the ivy burns it can release toxins from its oil into the atmosphere. Breathing them in can harm your nose, throat, lungs and even make breathing difficult. If you’ve accidentally burned some and notice any ill effects, get medical help straight away.