How to Get Rid of Poison Ivy in Your Yard

close-up of poison ivy

Just the thought of poison ivy in your yard can make your skin crawl. And it will make it itch. But you can get rid of poison ivy by cutting it, pulling it. smothering it or using organic sprays or herbicides.

What is poison ivy?

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Poison ivy is a woody perennial weed typically found throughout North America. It grows as a vine or shrub and produces an oily, allergy-triggering resin called urushiol. When it comes into contact with the skin, urushiol can cause redness, swelling, itching, blistering, and in severe cases, a painful rash that may require medical attention.

Poison ivy grows in many parts of the U.S., except for Hawaii, Alaska, and parts of the West Coast. It thrives in wooded areas, grows along sidewalks, climbs up tool sheds, and pops up in bustling city parks. And, as you already know, your garden and backyard aren’t immune to it either.  

How to identify poison ivy

Poison ivy leaves grow in sets of three (Leaves of three, leave them be – sound familiar?). They have a shiny surface, smooth, slightly irregular edges, and colors ranging from vibrant greens in spring and summer to fiery oranges and reds in fall. If you’re at all familiar with poison ivy, you’ll recognize the leaves as oval or elliptical in shape, with pointed tips.

To identify the plant, look for a low ground cover, shrub, or climbing vine wrapped around your fence, trees, or other outdoor structures. In late summer or early fall, the plant may produce small, white, round berries that grow in clusters similar to grapes. The stems can be hairy or smooth, depending on the climate, location, and variety, and look like vines that give the plant a woody appearance.

6 ways to eliminate poison ivy from your yard

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If you’re ready to say goodbye to the itch and pain associated with poison ivy, you’ll be happy to know that there are ways to get rid of this pesky plant.

Option 1: Cut the poison ivy plant

Cutting poison ivy down to ground level is a straightforward and effective control method, but you’ll need to be persistent. It can take years of cutting back the plant before you can successfully kill it. Poison ivy has a complex root system, so a snip now and then isn’t going to stop it from regrowing. 

To do it:

  • Put on heavy-duty gloves and long-sleeved clothing (including eye protection).
  • Gather some garden shears or a pruner and cut down every poison ivy vine or shrub to the crown. 
  • Place the plants into plastic bags without touching your clothes, seal the bags, and place them in the trash bin immediately after removal. Do not compost them, as the urushiol can persist and continue to cause problems in your yard.
  • Apply herbicide to the remaining stumps to kill the roots. You also can use pure white vinegar as an organic herbicide alternative.
  • Check the stumps periodically, and diligently cut back new growth. Reapply the herbicide or vinegar each time.
  • Disinfect your tools after each use and wash your clothes and gloves. Don’t touch your face or other areas of your body while doing this.

Option 2: Try hand-pulling poison ivy

Hand-pulling is an effective control method for small patches of poison ivy, but it requires you to touch the weed.

To do it:

  • Put on heavy-duty gloves and long-sleeved clothing (including eye protection).
  • Using your gloved hands, grasp the base of the plant and pull it gently but firmly from the ground. Yanking the plant out, roots included, can help you get rid of it for good. If you’re trying to uproot a large patch of poison ivy, use a shovel to help you do it effectively. 
  • As above, bag and seal the bags to prevent further contact with the plant.
  • Disinfect your tools after each use with soap and water, followed by some rubbing alcohol. Wash your clothes and gloves. Don’t touch your face or other areas of your body while doing this.

Pro tip: One helpful technique is to grab a sturdy garbage bag, turn it inside out, place your arm inside, pull out the plant, pull the bag up over your arm, and seal it.

Option 3: Apply herbicides to poison ivy

When it comes to herbicides, post-emergents can help you get rid of existing poison ivy plants. They involve minimal exposure to the plant and can be a fast solution to your problem.

To do it:

  • Select a calm, dry, clear day for application, with no rain in the forecast for at least a day after application. It’s also a good idea to avoid windy conditions to prevent herbicide drift.
  • If you’re applying a liquid herbicide, prepare it according to the instructions. To get the plant under control, choose a product containing glyphosate, triclopyr, and 2,4-D. Some excellent options include:
  • If you’re applying a granular herbicide, calibrate your spreader to ensure even distribution and adjust the settings to the recommended application rate.
  • Put on heavy-duty gloves and long-sleeved clothing (including eye protection).
  • Fill your spreader with the granules, and begin walking across the target area at a steady pace. Overlap each pass slightly to avoid missing spots.
  • After application, water the granules to activate them (if required). Follow the instructions on the product label.
  • Disinfect your tools after each use with soap and water, followed by some rubbing alcohol. Wash your clothes and gloves. Don’t touch your face or other areas of your body while doing this.
  • Monitor the area and repeat the process as many times as necessary until the poison ivy plant is gone.

For best results, apply the herbicide at the right time of year. Use the following tips from the Clemson Cooperative Extension as a guideline: 

  • Glyphosate is most effective when applied two weeks before and two weeks after the plant’s full bloom in early summer. 
  • Apply triclopyr after the leaves fully expand in the spring and before leaf color changes in autumn. 
  • 2,4-D offers the best control in late spring or early summer during the plant’s active growth season.

Pro tip: Choose a selective herbicide for your yard to prevent harm to non-target plants. 

Option 4: Try smothering poison ivy

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Some homeowners resort to smothering the poison ivy plant in their yards. If you’re environmentally conscious and prefer more natural ways to eliminate unwanted plants, this can be the way to go. Smothering prevents the plant from growing and spreading by cutting off its access to water and nutrients.

Bear in mind that successfully smothering poison ivy may take several months. The exact timeframe depends on the weather conditions, the thickness of the covering you’re using, and the plant’s resilience.

To do it:

  • Put on heavy-duty gloves and long-sleeved clothing (including eye protection).
  • Gather a plastic, rubber, or cardboard covering and place it over the poison ivy. 
  • Come in with several inches’ worth of mulch to really seal the plant in.
  • Pay close attention to small runners (roots) that can still sneak past the covering and continue sprouting.
  • Disinfect your tools after each use with soap and water, followed by some rubbing alcohol. Wash your clothes and gloves. Don’t touch your face or other areas of your body while doing this.

Option 5: Use hot water on poison ivy

Another effective way to get rid of poison ivy is to pour boiling water over it. Although this approach may test your patience, the payoff is worth it in the end. That said, some plants may prove highly resistant. In such cases, more aggressive elimination methods may be necessary.

To do it:

  • Boil water in a kettle, calculating a rough amount for the poison ivy in your yard.
  • Before handling the plant, put on heavy-duty gloves and long-sleeved clothing (including eye protection).
  • Repeat the process as many times as needed to kill the roots and prevent new growth. Most poison ivy roots will die after being drenched three or four times.

Option 6: Make an organic spray to kill poison ivy

If you haven’t had much luck with other poison ivy removal methods, you can use an organic poison ivy killer spray. 

To do it:

  • Mix 1 gallon of vinegar, 1 cup of salt, and 7 or 8 drops of dish soap, pouring the mixture into a sprayer. 
  • Put on heavy-duty gloves and long-sleeved clothing (including eye protection).
  • Spray the poison ivy in your yard, thoroughly saturating the troublesome weed. Try to avoid spraying other non-target plants as much as possible.
  • Repeat the process until the poison ivy is gone. This method typically requires several applications over multiple weeks to kill the weed. Other influencing factors include the weather conditions, the weed killer’s strength, and the poison ivy’s growth stage.

FAQ about getting rid of poison ivy

What should I do if I touch poison ivy?

Despite wearing long sleeves, you’ll quickly discover how difficult it can be to avoid contact with poison ivy as you attempt to control it. If the urushiol gets on your skin, gently wash your skin with soap and cool water as soon as possible. 

Remember to wash your hands after cleaning the affected areas, including underneath your fingernails. You also can use rubbing alcohol instead of soap. 

What does a poison ivy rash look like?

Signs and symptoms of a poison ivy rash include:

  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Blisters
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty breathing (if you inhaled the smoke of burning poison ivy)

A poison ivy rash will typically appear as a straight line because that’s how the plant will likely rub against you. But if you wear a piece of clothing or touch fur with oil on it, the rash may appear more spread out. A poison ivy rash usually develops 12 to 48 hours after exposure and lasts two to three weeks.

How do I treat a poison ivy rash?

A poison ivy rash will eventually go away after two to three weeks. But sometimes, the itching can feel unbearable, making treatment necessary. The Mayo Clinic recommends the following home remedies to help relieve itchiness

  • Apply calamine lotion or creams containing menthol.
  • Apply an over-the-counter cortisone cream or ointment (Cortizone 10) for the first few days.
  • Soak the affected area in a cool-water bath that has a half-cup (100 grams) of baking soda or an oatmeal-based bath product in it.
  • Take oral antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or loratadine (Alavert, Claritin, and others).
  • Place cool, wet compresses on the affected area for 15 to 30 minutes. Repeat the compressions several times a day.

Contact your primary care provider if:

  • Your rash covers a large area, becomes infected, or persists for more than a few weeks
  • Your skin continues to swell
  • The rash affects your mouth, eyes, or genitals
  • You develop a fever higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit
  • The blisters ooze pus

Are poison ivy rashes contagious?

Poison ivy rashes can’t be spread to other people. A person can only get the rash if they come in direct or indirect contact with urushiol. Indirect contact happens when urushiol is transferred to clothing, pets, or gardening tools that can touch human skin.

Will a poison ivy rash spread if I scratch it?

It’s not uncommon for a poison ivy rash to grow in size, but scratching the rash does not cause it to spread (unless you have the urushiol oil under your fingernails). 

A poison ivy rash will only occur where the urushiol oil has touched the skin. If the blisters happen to burst, the rash will still not spread because they don’t contain the urushiol oil. 

Here are some reasons why your poison ivy rash may be spreading: 

  • Different parts of your body may be absorbing the oil at different rates. 
  • You may be experiencing repeated exposure to contaminated objects, such as clothes or tools. 
  • Oil may still be trapped underneath your fingernails. As you continue to itch areas of your body, the nails will consequently spread the oil. 

Let the pros handle your poison ivy

Poison ivy is a stubborn weed. Controlling it takes patience and persistence, and you risk exposing yourself to the oil along the way. Why go through all that trouble when you can hire professional weed control

After all, the pros have the proper equipment, safety gear, and commercial herbicides to address the problem. They can get cozy with the plant while you stay far, far away.

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Main Photo Credit: James St. John | FLickr | CC BY 2.0

Andie Ioó

In my free time, I enjoy traveling with my husband, sports, trying out new recipes, reading, and watching reruns of '90s TV shows. As a way to relax and decompress, I enjoy landscaping around my little yard and DIY home projects.