Controlling Poison Ivy
Tips to help you control this dangerous weed
When we first moved into our home in 2001, there was a lovely vine growing up an old ash tree in our yard. It had five leaves, so I knew it was Virginia Creeper. There was also some wild grape vines growing up the tree and the birds seemed to love it. This tree was also right next to the new shade garden I developed in 2002, so I watered it when I watered the shade garden and the vine grew and grew and turned a lovely red color in the fall. Spectacular.
Then one year, I got a rash on my face. Doctor said it was poison ivy. What? I don't have poison ivy anywhere near my yard. I had been to a nursery the day before and had been exposed to some poisonous tropicals there. That must have been it, because we don't have poison ivy in our yard. Guess again.
I took a closer look at that vine I had been watering for five years. The stem was huge at this point and hairy. That was a bad sign. I looked closer at the leaves, which were huge and lush. They were all three leafed. I could find nothing left of the Virginia Creeper or the wild grapes I had seen in the past. We did indeed have poison ivy.
Now what should I do? First I researched the heck out of it online and found a helpful site called Posion-Ivy.org. I had no idea that poison ivy could look so different. This vine had smooth leaves, but there are also varieties with notched edges. Mine all seems to have a smooth edge. Newer leaves can appear to be shiny, while older leaves are duller. As the vine gets older, the stem gets “hairy" a tell-tale sign that it's poison ivy. Young plants look very similar to clematis and Virginia creeper, so it's always safer to wear gloves when in an area that has had poison ivy in the past.
Poison Ivy can grow as a vine or as a shrub and can creep along the ground and never even cling to a tree that is nearby. It often grows at the edge of fields or lawns where it may not be mowed often but gets enough sun to thrive.
Researchers are telling us that poison ivy will only increase and get worse with the increase of carbon dioxide in the air. This sort of creates a super poison ivy that can cause harsher rashes. I'm not an expert on these types of things, but it certainly seems to be affecting some plants.
So what can you do to get rid of it? I am a big advocate when it comes to not using chemical herbicides and pesticides in the garden, but when it comes to poison ivy, I do use an herbicide especially made for controlling poison ivy. I use it sparingly and according to the manufacturer's instructions, so as to cause as little damage to the environment as possible.
Here are some tips I've learned along the way to help get rid of poison ivy.
Get all the tools you will need out ahead of time, including any products designed to clean your tools and your skin. You don't want to be fumbling trying to find something with contaminated hands. I suggest having the following items on hand to start.
- Pruning shears
- Garden knife
- Latex or nitrile gloves, 2 pair
- Rubber kitchen gloves or garden gloves with a rubber coating
- Plastic bags, at least two
- Log sleeved shirt and long pants
- Wear shoes that can be washed in the washing machine
- Rubbing alcohol
- Skin wash especially for removing poison ivy oil
- Face mask and protective goggles
- Have a helper available
If it's summer time when you discover and begin to remove the poison ivy, pick a cool, dry day with no wind. You need to cover yourself from head to toe, wearing long sleeves, long pants, long socks and gloves that reach beyond the cuff of your shirt. If you have long hair, pull it back so as not to accidentally touch the vine with your hair. You can pass the oils of the plant from your hair to other parts of your body. When wearing gloves, make sure they have a plastic or rubber coating as the oils can soak into the cloth. I like to wear two pair of latex or nitrile gloves underneath my gardening gloves or yellow rubber gloves. You'll see why later.
You may also feel better wearing protective goggles and a face mask so as not to breathe in any fumes that may come from broken vines. Eye protection is important in case the vine should snap and hit you in the face.
Once you are covered from head to toe, you can now begin to pull up the vines as best as you can. Water the ground around the vine well the night before to make this task a little easier. I tend to go slow, so as not to accidentally touch the vine to my face. Try to pull up the vine by the roots. Dig down with a garden knife or shovel to make sure you've removed all the roots. Dispose of the vines in a plastic bag, which will be disposed of in the trash. You do not want to burn or compost poison ivy as the smoke can severely harm your lungs and the oils in the vine can remain active for years, even into dormancy and after the vine is dead.
Whatever you do, don't weed whack a poison ivy vine. All you will do is throw vine debris all over. Some may get on you and some may get on the surrounding area and get on you at a later date. When you cut it, cut it by hand with a sharp garden knife or pruning shears that can be cleaned thoroughly after you are done.