Poison ivy is no fun. Here is an eco-friendly, 5-step approach rooted in permaculture principles, for getting rid of poison ivy.
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A Poison Ivy…Community Garden?
For five years, I managed a community garden that was surrounded by woods on three sides. Poison ivy formed a barrier at the edge of the forest and caused more than a few irritating itches. It constricted child’s play, delayed garden development, and keeping it at bay was beginning to be a losing battle.
We needed a solution that would allow us to build an edible garden instead of spending our volunteer days risking exposure to poison ivy.
Several people on forums stated that they eat the young leaves in the springtime to build up an immunity. I don’t think I’ll be trying that one!!! 🙂
I developed a five-step removal system based on my understanding of the principles and ethics of permaculture. Permaculture is a design science that helps us solve problems in the landscape by working with nature. You can read more about it in my article What is Permaculture? Designing a Resilient Garden.
Before we take a look at my poison ivy eradication plan, it’s important to learn about poison ivy’s role in the ecosystem. It is a native plant that actually fills a special niche!
Poison Ivy’s Niche in the Ecosystem
This native plant fills two important ecological roles: (1) It provides food for wildlife, and (2) It helps protect the edges of forest.
#1: Poison Ivy Berries are for the Birds
We might see the poisonous berries of the poison ivy plant and think, “Danger!”. But to songbirds — most notably bluebirds, goldfinches, warblers and woodpeckers — these grayish-white berries are an important food source.
#2: Poison Ivy Protects the Forest
The edge of forest is an especially vulnerable place. It’s where wind can drift in with seeds of potentially dubious plants that could alter the makeup of the forest. The hot sun can threaten to “bake” the soil and change its soil composition to make it less viable for forest.
As such, a healthy forest relies on having a healthy thicket at its edge to capture and buffer threats from the outside.
A healthy forest edge can also make way for forest expansion, which doesn’t happen very often in modern times where humans see forests as commodities with development potential.
In general, poison ivy thrives on the edge of the forest: It loves the full sun in front of it, yet it also loves the moist ground from the forest shade behind it.
Thickets, i.e. the edges of the forest, are usually full of brambles and their thorns, too. So brambles and poison ivy are the protectors of the forest — they form a thick wall as if to say, ‘This is a healing forest area: Keep out’.
Poison ivy deters entrance to an area and as a ground cover, it protects the soil to retain nutrients and minimize erosion.
When we eradicate poison ivy, we are both removing a wildlife food source and removing one of nature’s solutions for forest conservation.
Would you like to yield delicious harvests while partnering with nature? Check out my mini guide, The Permaculture Inspired Vegetable Garden.
The Poison Ivy 5-Step Eradication Plan
Step 1: Define the area afflicted by poison ivy and decide if eradication is necessary.
Look at where the poison ivy is growing and determine if eradication is actually necessary and worthwhile. Since eradicating it takes quite a bit of effort, trying to remove it from a large area is not realistic. If it’s in a forested area, can it be left there?
Stick to the areas that humans frequently use.
Is it getting in your way? Only seek to eradicate that which is directly encroaching on a walking path or other well-used area.
If you’re looking to start a new garden and notice poison ivy, ask whether the proposed garden space can be placed elsewhere.
It may take some time to remove the urushiol oil, poison ivy’s rash-causing oil, from the area. The oil can remain long after the plant has been eradicated, so growing food crops might not be a wise choice, at least right away.
If the poison ivy is in an already established garden or tended yard area in which humans definitely come into contact with it, then it’s wise to eradicate it.
Step 2: Eradicating Poison Ivy
Although I literally do not use chemical herbicide for any other purpose, I do encourage using it on poison ivy that is posing a human threat. That’s because other poison ivy removal strategies aren’t very effective. They require frequent exposure to the plant to keep it at bay. More exposure = greater chance of developing the miserable rash!
Apply the chemical herbicide (such as glyphosate) directly to the foliage at the highest ‘safe concentration’ directed on the container. This maximizes its effectiveness while minimizing repeat applications.
Learn more about persistent herbicides that can poison gardens and damage crops, and avoid using them.
Do this on a still, dry day. Do not broadcast spray an area or spray on a windy or rainy day.
A one-time strong application is less detrimental on the ecosystem than many light applications over time. The tendency is to be fearful of over-applying, so you apply lightly, the plant doesn’t die back totally, so you hit it again, and again… but this also affects the local flora and fauna.
You want to quickly get rid of poison ivy and get on with the rest of the steps below to restore an area.
If using a chemical herbicide makes you uncomfortable, there are certainly other alternatives. See more of my thoughts on these methods below under the heading, “On Using Chemical Herbicides”.
In permaculture, we seek the most permanent solution that requires the least maintenance and has the largest, long-term positive impact.
Step 3: Sheet Mulch
Sheet mulching after step 2 is a fail-proof way to ensure that the poison ivy doesn’t return. It also improves the soil and prepares it to be planted with something of your choosing.
Sheet mulching consists of covering an area with a couple layers of cardboard, then topping it with one to two feet of wood chips. Let it sit for a season. This method uses the sun to smother and solarize any remaining live poison ivy roots.
The deep layer of wood chips serves a dual purpose:
It helps to smother the poison ivy, as well as to rejuvenate the soil after the application of herbicide (chemical or natural) in preparation for planting something desirable.
Wood chips neutralize chemicals and heavy metals, improve soil fungal biomass, reduce erosion, and are thirsty absorbers of water, which means that wood chips replace poison ivy’s role of protecting the soil.
Keeping the area deep in fresh wood chips lessens the possibility of the poison ivy returning. Be sure you have reliable access to wood chips!
If you chose not to use a chemical herbicide, a thicker “sheet” other than cardboard provides more assurance that the poison ivy does not return.Try laying a piece of plywood or black plastic over the area until you’re sure it is eradicated.
You’ll need something impenetrable, since the plants are probably not dead.
After a year, you can remove the barrier and begin restoring the area. Don’t plant in the area before a year has passed, especially if it’s something you intend to eat, because the poisonous urushiol oil or herbicide may still be active.
Tired of generic permaculture design advice that you can’t apply to your specific goals? If so, check out my Permaculture Design Program and get the tools and support needed to create and implement your own permaculture design.
Step 4: Place Physical Barriers
If poison ivy creeps into your living spaces from a forest edge, installing a physical barrier between the two ensures that the poison ivy doesn’t creep back in.
In Edible Forest Gardens, Dave Jacke lists some barrier ideas: Try a pond, section of pavement, or a constant mowed area between the encroaching poison ivy and your yard/garden. Or consider burying a rhizome weed barrier.
Jacke prefers solutions that permanently or semi-permanently get the job done without the need for constant management. After all, the goal in permaculture is to be smart about the work you create for yourself.
For this reason he doesn’t love the mowing option because life happens, and sometimes the mowing doesn’t get done.
Mullein, Sunflowers, Daffodils
It has been suggested that any of these would form a thick root barrier to prevent poison ivy from creeping through. Try this with caution — I didn’t see any definitive examples of it working.
Step 5: Replace Poison Ivy with other plants
Once you’re sure that the poison ivy is dead and that you won’t have to treat the area again, it’s time to replace the poison ivy with more desirable plants.
Remember that poison ivy fills two ecological niches that we know of: Feeding songbirds with fall berries and protecting the soil as a ground cover.
Seek out plants that fill these niches.
Identify what you want to plant, whether that’s berry-producing trees and shrubs or a ground cover, or both. You’ll keep the rest of the area thick in wood chips. The wood chips are important!
Once established, the new plants should protect the area and keep poison ivy from creeping back in.
Berry-Production for Songbirds
Toby Hemenway gives a nice list of plants in Gaia’s Garden for wildlife fall berry production. Many of these berries are also edible for humans, so you decide how much to share! You’ll have to research whether these plants grow in your area. Here’s is a short list to give you some examples. It isn’t a complete list of all options.
- American cranberry
- Brambles (Here’s how to grow black raspberries)
- Cherry (See how I created a mini-ecosystem with my cherry trees.)
- Mulberry (try a dwarf variety)
Keep the soil covered with one of the following ground covers so the poison ivy doesn’t return.
Creeping Ground Covers
It’s been suggested that since poison ivy is a creeper, it should be replaced by one. Examples are:
- Jewelweed (an antidote to poison ivy)
- Virginia creeper (though native, it is aggressive)
- Wild native grape
- Native wisteria
Perennial Ground Cover
A perennial ground cover such as white clover might provide just as much soil coverage without the risk of aggressive spreading from a creeping ground cover. Clover reduces erosion, fixes nitrogen in the soil, and attracts pollinators.
How to install plants
Dig a hole in the wood chips, fill with compost soil, and plant. Water well until established.
On Using Chemical Herbicides
You might be surprised that I support the use of chemical herbicide for poison ivy removal. The reason I do is because it’s part of a larger restoration plan. I wouldn’t support its use otherwise.
Without the five-step plan, you risk a dependence on herbicide as a management tool and the ongoing addition of chemicals to the soil.
I have always been irritated by the use of herbicides by land conservationists. That’s because I don’t believe it’s possible to micro-manage a large tract of land as if it were a backyard garden.
Without an army of volunteers helping to hold back invasive species and a larger plan beyond the chemical application, the use of herbicides in conservation becomes “institutionalized and chronic” in the words of Dave Jacke.
I don’t have a problem with chemical herbicides existing, but rather, I have a problem with how they’re generally used. Carpet bombing thousands of acres of Round-Up Ready fields of corn and soybeans is a recipe for ecosystem collapse.
The spot treatment of a few poison ivy plants (with a non-persistent herbicide) in a backyard is not cause for concern.
Want to grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs in your front yard landscape without sacrificing curb appeal? Check out my mini guide, The Permaculture Inspired Edible Landscape.
Appropriate Use of Technology
Prior to my community garden project, I would’ve thought natural remedies would work in all settings, regardless of the site. After all, I have standards, and they don’t include using chemicals!
However, a principal component of permaculture design is discerning when an appropriate use of technology (in this case, chemical herbicide) can catapult the design forward rather than hinder land restoration.
However, if you want to get rid of poison ivy, long-term, in your garden, there’s more to the plan than a one-time fix with herbicide. Restoring soil life and planting alternative plants that fill the same niches in the ecosystem are an essential part of the solution.
Alternatives to Chemical Herbicide
If the use of chemical herbicide still makes you uncomfortable, here are some alternatives:
- Dig it up, or hit it with boiling water, vinegar, or soap solutions.
- Graze goats, chickens, or pigs on poison ivy. (They won’t get rid of poison ivy roots, so it may regrow.)
- Cut it back and then sheet mulch, as in Step 3 above (skipping steps 1 and 2).
Repeatedly pull, mow, graze, spray, and cut it back until the roots are exhausted and die back.
Dig it up by hand
If you’re brave enough to try this method of poison ivy removal, wear gloves, long sleeves, long pants, and maybe even a handkerchief over your face. Bag it up for garbage if you don’t have a lot of land to throw it somewhere out of the way.
Any roots left in the ground will regrow, so constant vigilance is your best bet with this method.
Boiling Water, Vinegar, Soap and Water Solution
These solutions are frequently mentioned as natural solutions for poison ivy removal. Experiment with them on a small spot before trying them on a large area. Keep in mind that these are all herbicides — they’re just natural versions.
They WILL affect the local ecosystem. Natural herbicides also have the potential to damage soil food webs, mycorrhizal fungi, affect soil pH, and neighboring plants.
Spot treat to reduce their effects on the surrounding environment.
Boiling water can send up poison ivy vapors that would be toxic to breathe. Cut back the foliage and only apply boiling water to the root crown. Wearing a respirator is a good idea.
Vinegar and soap solutions are fantastic for drying out foliage and can get rid of the shallow roots of poison ivy. However, poison ivy roots are deep and intricate, and are rarely killed by the application. Frequent applications are necessary to be fully effective.
This five-step plan is a thoughtful and sustainable way to remove poison ivy, keep it from returning, and replace it with desired and useful plants.
This strategy replaces other solutions that rely solely on chemical herbicides, as well as those solutions that risk exposure to the plant or require an extended eradication time.
Have you transitioned from aggressive or threatening plants to a biologically diverse and productive landscape? If so, what tips can you share?
- 6 Maps to Draw for Creating Your Own Permaculture Site Design
- How to Source Herbicide-Free Soil (even Organic-approved soil can include herbicides)
- Inviting Birds To Your Food Garden
Pam Ladds says
Having lived in Pennsylvania and New York, buried in poison ivy before moving to the far north of VT I have learned a lot about the weed. Nothing gets rid of it permanently and most of us adjust to constantly having small amounts of it displayed on our skin. And occasionally large amounts. The most fun, and effective, murder tool was urine. Sending male visitors to go pee on the large plants was entertaining and got rid of those particular plants. Of course others were soon seeded thanks to the birds …. Spraying with vinegar, salt and dish detergent has been useful too. But bottom line is learn to co-exist!
Ah, coexisting sounds fine until PI extends to being the dominant ground cover everywhere. This year seems worse than years past. Thanks, Amy, for your attention to this persistent problem/opportunity.
I must say, I did a little happy dance when you began this post with the role poison ivy plays in the ecosystem. 🙂
Just because we don’t like it, doesn’t make it bad!
Victoria Terfehr says
How is it that rinsing with lots of water can remove poison ivy sap but lots of rain doesn’t?
Because when you rinse skin to remove sap, you vigorously concentrate the flow of water on a specific area. Rain is not as targeted. It will eventually erode away poison ivy sap, but not a meaningful time scale. But try it and see!
Poison ivy pops up at my place even in undisturbed (for 20+ years) soil well covered by periwinkle, English ivy, and brambles, all at the edge of tree cover. So I’m not sure anyone should hold out much hope for using ground covers as a way to combat it. Not a lot crops up, but some. I’m not allergic to it so I just yank it out when I see it. Left to its own devices, it can cover and eventually kill a tree so I get rid of it when I can.
Hey! so i’m not the only one who isn’t allergic and just yanks it out
my grandfather was one who just yanked it out. I truly dont know how to battle it. My yard is being taken over by creeping charlie and now I am discovering posion ivy. I just want a nice yard for wildlife my grandkids can be safe too.
I used to do the same thing, but you should be aware that each time you expose yourself to poison ivy you are mounting an immune response and eventually with enough exposure you will react. I learned this the hard way, and it’s very unpleasant!! Use gloves!
Patricia Lotts Michaels says
I have English Ivy that is growing in a moderate growth ground cover and poison ivy is still able to invade it, but not over whelm it. My neighbor has no ground cover and it is really happy in her bed at our property line.
Rose Langlitz says
Do you remember when my son Curtis was covered in poison ivy from the garden and his face was so swollen that it jiggled when he walked? I’m glad that poison ivy has a place in the ecosystem but, if it was in my yard and persistent with no natural methods controlling it, I would not hesitate to use an herbicide on it. My sister, a former landscaper, said that all it takes is a drop or two if you nick the plant and apply directly to the nick. I am not a fan of herbicide in general and I do try to be mindful and respectful to the living things around me..but there definitely comes a point where I will put the well-being of my family before the poison ivy.
All great comments so far! Poison ivy is indeed persistent, and because of this many folks relegate themselves to coexisting with it in their tended living spaces. Nature doesn’t mind turning our gardens back to forest, so if you enjoy that constant work (and itch!), go for it.
It’s important to point out that while the birds do enjoy the berries, they are not specifically dependent on them (to my knowledge). Give them a mulberry tree and they’ll be just as happy.
For those who don’t wish to garden in poison ivy, following the steps outlined above will help remove it. Step #4 – the physical barrier – is probably the most important. Without it, the underground networks of poison ivy roots will continue to shoot up new sprouts in the defined area.
Once we’ve removed poison ivy from our living areas and installed a physical barrier, if we get any new sprouts, they will not be connected to a larger underground network of roots. Rather, they will likely be due to a berry dropped from a bird. These little sprouts will be easy to pull up and get all of the tiny roots.
In permaculture, the solution may take more work and thought to put it in place, but the end result will be less work than constantly spraying and pulling and avoiding over time.
Sydney Baxter says
My yard is very much like the hillside garden with the exception that the hill faces NNW. I look forward to learning from your experience as well as my own.
Thank you for the reminder that there is no such thing as unemployment in nature–every living thing has a job to do and purpose to fulfill. It would appear that I am not allergic to PI, having never gotten it in my half century of existence. However, my next door neighbor is very sensitive, so I try to keep it under control along our shared property line. I will definitely put these suggestions to use, and am considering the judicious use of herbicide–something I have not used for several years. It is a stubborn plant!
As for the ground covers, I was a bit surprised to see English ivy and wild grape on the list. There is an overabundance of wild grape on and around my property. It has taken over a stand of tress almost as completely as kudzu does in the southern states, and nothing seems to perturb it. The former owners of my home planted English Ivy around the deck and foundation and it is also seemingly unstoppable. It grows remarkably well in the near dark under the deck then takes off at the edges. It gets under the clapboards of the house and has even detached a few of them in places that are difficult to see and access. I have pulled and dug, scraped it off the house and used a much maligned herbicide with only temporary results. Every year it’s the same battle.
The Ohio DNR considers these to be noxious weeds, along with Chinese mustard and purple loosestrife, both of which are growing like crazy in a once shaded area that is now in full sun thanks to the emerald ash borer. This brings me back to the role they might play in this particular environment and the big question–Should I try to eliminate them or do they have any sort of beneficial role here? The Chinese mustard in particular is so aggressive, nothing around it has a chance…I welcome any insight and suggestions, thank you!
Congratulations on being one of the few who are not affected by poison ivy 😉 Great question about the vines.
While vines have a purpose in healing ecosystems, their use should certainly be well thought out in our living spaces because of their prolific nature. A section of our front yard is covered in English ivy from the previous owners. Twice a year, I pull up and cut back the edges to keep it confined to the space.
In the 8 years I’ve lived here, I’ve been able to keep the ivy from climbing up the hawthorn tree that it surrounds, as well as a few nearby bushes. The ground it covers is sloped, and while I wouldn’t have chosen the ivy myself, it is great at keeping the soil in place and is fantastic habitat for spiders and other beneficial insects.
The other benefit is that the area covered in ivy has pavement on two sides, so we can keep it trimmed on those sides just by using the weed eater. So as mentioned in Step #4 above, pavement as a barrier is effective.
Like any plant, I suppose there is an appropriate use for the ivy. I don’t think I would want it growing under my deck like you’ve described!
As for replacing the poison ivy with a potentially aggressive vine: in most circumstances, I would personally not use it in an urban or suburban design, precisely because of the risk of it not getting the twice-yearly pruning that it would require to keep it contained. Perhaps the jewelweed would be easiest to whack at!
Vines, of course, at some point want to climb, so in this case, I would go for something productive, like a cultivated grape vine. Mark Shepard in “Restoration Agriculture” describes his system of using apple trees to trellis grape vines. Rather than growing them separately, he designed a pruning system that allows them to grow together and both produce abundant harvests. I highly recommend the book if this sounds interesting!
Purple loosestrife is nature’s first choice for filtering pollution out of water and is also popular with pollinators. Is that
once-shaded area you mentioned a low spot that collects water? It is my understanding that loosestrife will diminish over time in hot, sunny, and dry conditions, so the solution may be to change how water drains in the area (search for “water catchment” on Tenth Acre Farm).
We had a small amount of loosestrife in our backyard from the previous owners, and again we were lucky with it having pavement on two sides. We sheet mulched it with cardboard and several feet of compost soil, and planted a serviceberry bush in it. That was several years ago and the loosestrife hasn’t returned.
Good luck 😉
I stumbled on the easiest way to rid an area of poison ivy. Turn the chickens loose on it! I turned a flock of about a dozen hens into a yard full of trash and this noxious weed. By the end of summer, the poison ivy was gone (and never came back) and the hens had uncovered piles of bricks, tires, 2x4s and other junk. Clean-up was easy at that point and we never got the dreaded rash.
That is so great! Thanks for sharing!
Goats are even better at it than chickens. They eat it before other leafy options and are completely unaffected by it. (Just be careful touching their fur immediately after exposure!) we got three baby goats for this express purpose on our 1.5 acre lot that is surrounded by woods in three sides, woods invading with brush and PI. The goats take care of it all!
teresa richmond says
I like that idea….but who can resist petting baby goats?
“Round-Up Ready fields of corn and soybeans, which is the principal instigator in groundwater toxicity, cancer rates, toxicity in fish and animals, and the spread of superweeds”….and now they are linking it to autism.
Christine @ Once Upon a Time in a Bed of Wildflowers says
That was really fascinating! I grew up in an apple orchard — another favorite spot of poison ivy, for reasons which now make perfect sense to me — so remembering not to touch it was just a natural part of my childhood. I never gave any though as to *what* it was doing there until just now! 🙂
I love connecting the dots like this! Learning this stuff has continued to surprise me 🙂
ana flores says
This is all very interesting and encouraging as I contemplate my terrace garden and its invasion with poison ivy. The first snow blizzard is coming down and I’m going through the steps of how to regain my terrace for other plants. I just look at PI and I get it. It’s reign will be challenged this spring using some of your suggestions.
I hope it works for you. Please report back and tell us how it goes!
Enid Adams says
Rhus Tox is a homeopathic sugar pill poison ivy remedy that is dissolved under the tongue. It can be taken as a prophylactic dose when you know you may be exposed to poison ivy in the next few days. (ie. garden clean up or hiking) or after you have come in contact with poison ivy. It can make you photo sensitive, but doesn’t cause itching, in fact, relieves it within 20 minutes. Dawn dish soap, first rubbed on dry skin and then well rinsed, is very effective at removing the urishol oils that cause the breakout. Full strength glyphosphate, painted on the cut stem of a poison ivy plant, can effectively kill the roots with a minimum impact to surrounding soil. This approach allows a minimum of contact with the plant. Recycle plastic grocery bags and newspapers by using them to first grab, then wrap the vine while avoiding contact with skin, then disose of it in recycled cat food bags. Virginia creeper, English Ivy, and wild grape will pull down your trees and should not be a recommended groundcover! But having some jewel weed nearby in a waste space or field seems like a good idea.(far enough away from cultivate beds so as not to reach them with spewing their seeds).
homeopathic and sugar pill don’t exactly make me believe it works.
Steve Ash says
I had great results with SALT based herbicide on my terrain. My recipe: 120gr per liter of water. I have learn it on that website: http://poison-ivy-oak-sumac.com/fight-them/salt-vinegar-bleach-herbicide/
Bryan Milne says
Glyphosphate is a toxic and persistant chemical! NOT PERMACULTURE!
Permaculture definitely does not condone or support whatsoever any use of toxic synthetic poisons from a fascist terrorist corporation such as Monsanto! Not Now, Not Ever!
It is heretical paradox and disinformation for any self identified permaculturist to advertise and promote support for Monsanto or Roundup!
Please correct this otherwise amazingly well done blog posting!
I appreciate Bryan’s sentiment here… I came to this article and liked your introduction of asking if it even needs to be controlled and reminding folks of the value it provides to an ecosystem… Then you suggest a link to AMAZON for Monsanto Round-up as the first suggested control method… Pretty gross. You give a nod to other sprays like vinegar/soapy water/etc but they are an afterthought, distant to the suggestion that roundup is OK here.
It does feel like if you want to call this a permaculture approach to poison ivy you absolutely need to rethink suggesting people buy a bottle of poison to apply on the landscape. This is craziness to be honest!
Working at a home cutting some trees the home owner came out and grabbed a pile of poison ivy taking it to the trash can. I quickly told her and suggested she use alcohol to wash away the oil. Did not work. I should have suggested dawn soap. This year the entire back yard is filled along the woods with healthy beautiful ivy plants. Almost as if farming it. Thank you for article. It is good to know what is ahead in trying to fix or live with the issue. Such a beautiful big green leaf.
This wouldn’t work for a large area. But I got rid of some by my back door by digging down to the root below the ground. Then on the spot where the root broke off I painted it with clove essential oil. It grew back a couple times the first year but after that I haven’t had any problems with it. It’s been several years. For immunity to poison ivy you can drink the milk from goats that have eaten poison ivy.
I just pull it up with my bare hands and throw it out. I wouldn’t even do that if my husband and my daughter weren’t so allergic. I’m not allergic at all.
Integritygirl (@_integritygirl) says
Your picture in the beginning of the article is NOT poison Ivy. You should post a good identifying pic that is.
It is a picture of poison ivy. I’m well aware of what it looks like. People can Google it and see what it looks like. The older more mature leaves are dark green and the newly sprouted leaves are light green. The picture is clearly poison ivy.
Paula B. Weiss says
Yes, I’m so allergic to PI that I get itchy looking at photos of it. The photo is definitely poison ivy!
I keep developing poison ivy rash from working in my tiny backyard.. I have checked all plants and had others verify that we cannot see any leaves that look like poison ivy. I’m wondering if some of the roots I have been digging up are from formerly overgrown poison ivy… Is the oil only from the leaves? Or do you think contact with the roots could do it too? Either way, I feel like my only option is to douse this entire 4×12 foot area with poison ivy round up because I just can’t take it anymore! ? Very frustrated, but found this article extremely helpful. Thanks for posting!
Is it possible that it’s an allergic reaction other than poison ivy? My husband was getting this crazy poison-ivy-like rash, but it turned out to be eczema. Are you growing parsnips or carrots? It could be parsnip burn, due to contact with the plant juices.
Good article, however I was hoping to read a little more info on using non chemical insecticides Maybe some recipes & for me just getting near Poison Ivy seems to give me a serve reaction to it.. I have to be extremely careful wear total body coverage. I will be looking up some recipes for killing poison ivy.
You get rid of it by sheet mulching the area as I have described above, or by using one of the many other natural remedies I’ve listed. Touching the plants isn’t necessary.
I learned the hard way that just because one isn’t affected by poison ivy, doesn’t mean that a reaction can develop. Until I was in my 30’s, I had no problem with poison ivy rash. I avoided it – just because – but once, a small itchy patch showed up on my neck. From then on, a really bad problem developed. My children would get it on their clothes and when I picked them up to wash, I’d break out.
I’d suggest avoiding it, allergic or not.
The negative connotations regarding chemical expulsion of poison ivy are ridiculous . I hate the idea of chemicals being applied to soil , but to suggest that there is any eco issue with removing poison ivy in small residential areas via chemicals defies logic and fails to consider the torture some experience upon contact , imagine a young child covered in a severe outbreak , are you kidding? , get the freakin’ chemicals out .
We lived an hour away from our land with the poison ivy. To ward off breaking out with a rash we left rubbing alcohol in the shed on the property to wipe off our shoes and skin that came in contact with the poison ivy before we headed home. We didn’t have water for washing and it evaporated nicely from our shoes. Of course we washed the clothing as soon as we got home. Happy to say it works.
I am very allergic to poison ivy, although, from what I’ve read, the longer you manage to stay away from it, the less troublesome it is. I was almost to the point where I didn’t get it unless I had significant contact. Unfortunately, I decided to plant a few plants at the edge of my treeline (early spring, before the poison ivy had appeared) and got a horrible case. The roots are much more potent than the leaves, as it turns out. (I did not touch any roots, just stuck my shovel in, opened a little space, and shoved in the bare stalk of what I was planting. (Forsythia, which is pretty much a weed, in and of itself. I just cut off stalks and stuck them in the ground).
My legs were covered a couple of days later. Zantec worked as well as anything I’ve ever tried in getting rid of the poison ivy once I’d gotten it. I wash with Fels Naptha soap if I’ve been near it.
I do spray with vinegar (landscaper grade, which is stronger,) with a little dish detergent and orange oil, and it knocks it back. Hot dry sunny days work best.
I also wear gloves and use a plastic bag to pull small plants (much like picking up dog poo.) Just cover your hand with the bag, pull the plant, reverse the bag and tie it shut.
We had goats as a kid and I got a horrible case from a goat once. She’d been in it and passed the oil off to me. My husband would do the same. He wouldn’t get it, be around it, and I’d get it from him touching me.
It’s very interesting to see the natural correlation on the edge of a lot we own, to the plants listed that grow well together. We bought a lot a year ago and (it’s 1.5 hrs away) mowed it once a week all summer. A neighboring lot is wooded, and not knowing our exact property line, we allowed quite a bit of brush/scrub to grow at the edge of the wood line. By June, the black raspberries were ripening! But in addition to those, there were a few blackberries, some poison ivy, there is a giant grapevine climbing in the black walnut trees…. So many of these plants are what I see both in this article and others about permaculture that grow well together. (Some of the other plants/weeds listed, I’m not familiar with identifying, so they may already be there as well) It’s cool to see it happening naturally.
I’d love any suggestions on managing the blk raspberries in place while mowing down other weeds. Maybe sheet mulching around them in spring? Or should I do it now in fall?
I would absolutely sheet mulch around the black raspberries this fall to disadvantage the poison ivy. As long as you have poison ivy growing in the edge, you won’t be able to harvest the edibles. Once the sheet mulching is in place, pruning the black raspberries will help tidy things up so you can identify more clearly what all you’re working with.
Scott Prive says
My parent’s old farmhouse plot was infested with poison ivy. It was thick along the road, driveway, adjoining trees, paths into the woods, and covering a shed. The stuff took advantage of uneven border terrain that couldn’t be mowed.
What worked for me was taking it section by section, and replacing the space: weed barrier, mulch, lots of flat slate rock native to the area for a rock garden, and planting Cascade hops (competitive rhizomes). The 200sf of sloping rock garden still has almost no poison ivy some 10 years after completing that project. The hops now grow wild, and while the poison ivy crept in, the hops fight for their space with no human help.
I don’t recommend not using chemicals, as that’s what I tried and from experience it was LOTS more work. The only reason I was successful chemical-free: I pulled the roots up. You need a good pick, strong metal rake, and wear LAYERS of good supply of disposable gloves. Eventually the oil eats through your outer gloves, change them. When picking up the pulled roots, use the trash bag as a giant glove over your gloves – this’ll protect your arms, and your gloves will last longer. Use the pick to LOOSEN soil – don’t tear up the roots else you’ll leave behind small pieces. You should be able to remove roots in sections of several feet at a time.
And if it’s a big project, section it off and don’t move onto the next section until the first one is defended by barriers and new plants.
Sherry Malone says
Thank you for the information. I bought a place on a lake and one side of my house is inundated with poison ivy!? Was trimming that area ( was full of overgrown plants ) and Caught the rash!!! Turns out I was allergic to it so it was a horrible summer…I appreciate your concern for the environment as I have pet bunnies that romp around the yard and I wouldn’t want to poison them. Will try the natural methods first and if unsuccessful will try the chemical herbacide treatment with the sheet mulching.
Several FEET of wood mulch? Inches maybe?
In my opinion, several inches of mulch will not kill poison ivy nor keep weeds/poison ivy from quickly repopulating the space. Yes, I have used FEET of mulch to accomplish my goal, and this is a sure-fire way to reduce ongoing maintenance. A good compromise is “as much mulch as you can possibly get your hands on”. 🙂
Nothing was mentioned about the detriment to the tree its freeloaing off of. I have three big fat furry vines on the same tree and on another tree right beside it, 10-20 smaller vines. Both crops grow from the ground at the base of both trees. I clipped the smaller vines and the top shriveled but I know more will replace them So, I cant be worrying what the birds eat, I prefer to save my tree via herbaside.
I thought that poison ivy had 3 leaves. Is that true?
Glyphosate is a great herbicide. I never spray it, I use chemical protection gloves and whetting fingers just wipe on HEALTHY leaves on healthy photosynthesizing leaves. This chemical changes composition as soon as it touches plant material. It doesn’t leach. It works by disrupting a vital amino acid process and the only way it should be used is to be applied to vigorously growing plant material.
You do not have to soak a plant or the soil with glyphosate. Just simply wiping on a FEW leaves of a plant will do the trick.
Chemistry is everything. To imagine chemicals are all bad is to say you as a bag of chemistry is bad. Nuts. This chemical thing is going off on a bad tangent. These new trends; No till, No Fertilizer, Permaculture, Hugelkulture…are only fads that do not make sense and will not last. They get a few ideas correct and then become religious and go overboard.
I would get to know my nearest Cooperative Extension Service! They teach the plant world very well to create Master Gardeners and Master Composters and Master Food Preservers…also Master Pruners. Free to cheap cheap cheap and they know YOUR area, your plants.
I am a Commercial Pesticide Applicator. Have been licensed for 3 decades at least. They teach one how to never NEED to use pesticides! Pesticides are BANDAIDS on problems we humans need to learn to prevent. Glyphosate is what I would use for poison ivy, Japanese Knotweed, Purple Loosestrife (not in wet lands or near bodies of water that is a specialty application I refused to do). Glyphosate, despite the dumb media, works well for these types of problem weeds. Works great in large areas of gravel. Doesn’t leach.
I have poison ivy growing between my fence and my neighbor’s fence (they’re about 8 inches apart), so I can’t dig out the roots, can’t cover with cardboard, etc. I plan to buy the concentrate that’s meant to be diluted, and use it full strength, on just the few leaves I can reach, applied with a paintbrush I can toss. Will that do the trick?
Diane Jackson says
I have an area that has Asiatic Jasmine ground cover but, now PI has taken over. I don’t want to kill the ground cover bc it is at least a 30×40 sq. ft. area and I cant afford to put wood chips over the whole area or it would kill the ground cover. So how do I get rid of the PI? I tried the vinegar and dawn and it worked a little but didn’t get rid of the problem. The PI is out of control. I am very allergic and disparate for help.
Can PI grown like a tree trunk? in new rental house there are 2 cut down 2-3 in stumps with lots of suckers coming up that look like PI. Could it be? or is it always only a vine? There is also lots of other PI plants throughout edges of the back yard, which your article will be helpful in treating. thanks.
I’m wondering what the danger is in planting food crops where PI has been. Is it that you might encounter leftover roots, plant bits in the soil when gardening, or does the toxic oil somehow contaminate the food? I’ve got a large PI plant getting going on my garden fence adjacent to an area I planned to grow in next year.
All of the above… Once you’ve eradicated the poison ivy, I would wait at least a year before planting food crops.
My problem is not PI (thank goodness) but rather trumpet vine from a nearby creek. It is similarly persistent and has made it’s way across a 100′ city walking park, under the sidewalk and into my yard (hopefully, soon to be my permaculture garden). I have tried applying Glyphosate with a paint brush but it just pops up somewhere else, kind of like the gopher arcade game. I have tried digging it up but the thick intertwined roots broke off about a foot down in my almost 100% clay soil. Arrrrgh! Any suggestions?
I wouldn’t reapply the glyphosate in this instance since it hasn’t solved the problem. If it were me, I would put in the rhizome barrier I mention above in Step 4 – Physical Barriers to keep any more from creeping in. I would follow this by growing a cover crop that is meant to overtake weeds in the area where it’s popped up. I’ve had good luck with a summer blend of sorghum sudangrass and pearl millet. These are annuals that die back over the winter, so you can plant a garden afterwards.
Thanks for this helpful article. I’ve removed much of the poison ivy from the overgrown property we moved to 2 years ago, but other weeds have taken its place. Thanks for the suggestions on what to plant instead. We will likely try the plywood idea as well.
Ryn Hayes says
I agree with everything u said EXCEPT USING GLYPHOSATE AKA ROUNDUP because it is driving FROGS TO EXTINCTION. The greater good cannot be achieved by sacrificing frogs and toads. The vinegar, soap, salt mixtures do work if u start n spring when poison ivy is new and tender. I then cover it with many layers of cardboard to eradicate root system. Planting back the wildlife supporting plants u suggested is awesome. Thank you!
Lauren Phillis says
What about removing poison ivy from a tree? Can I brush the leaves and vines with herbicide without killing the tree? And how can I safely remove the vine once it’s dead? Also, what about the poison ivy that’s coming through the fence from my neighbors yard? Thanks for this article!
Megan McAnany says
My husband is highly allergic to poison ivy.
It does as little to me as a bug bite.
We recently moved and found an abundance of it growing in bushes, to boot, it’s on the line of our property with our neighbors.
I don’t have the option to dig it up, because it’s growing with quite lovely bushes.
If I treat it, burn my clothes, clean the tools, and take a very long shower, is there any way he can contract it?
Karen M says
One fact I haven’t seen in either your essay, Amy, or the comments, is that jewelweed is frequently found growing with poison ivy. It’s a juicy plant, and if you are exposed to the oils from the poison ivy, snapping off a stem of jewelweed and applying the sap to the infected portion of the skin can stop the rash altogether. Old farmer’s trick!
corinne brandenberger says
Question for anyone on here
I had a neighbor come remove some plants from my yard for me. He left the clipping on the grass and I noticed it was poison ivy! He picked the clippings up the next day but my question is did the poison ivy that was cut off and laying there contaminate the grass in the area?
I know this is an old post, so I don’t know if you’ll reply. I recently moved into a house that had a ridiculous amount of poison Ivy in the back yard. I took down a bunch of trees, added irrigation, and sodded a good amount of the yard. That got rid of the poison ivy where the sod is. I left trees all around the fence & added pine tags where there isn’t sod. It’s a large area. I was in the yard with my dogs & noticed hairy vines growing up a bunch of trees, so I googled it. Poison ivy! There were also stems of poison Ivy growing through the pine tags everywhere. A landscape company came & just ripped all the vines off the trees & out of the ground. They didn’t dig them up like you suggested, just ripped them out. Does that spread urushiol oil everywhere? My dogs run all through there. Although, I’m not letting them in the backyard until I figure this out. Should I remove all the pine tags & use mulch instead? Also, thoughts on biodegradable weed barriers under mulch or new pine straw? Would that help since I can’t add a foot of mulch bc it’s such a large area? I don’t know what to do & I feel like the poison Ivy will never be gone.
Take the year to see if any of it grows back, and if you spot any, call the landscaping company asap to remove it. You may need them to make multiple visits, but it is possible to eventually be free of it. Just be vigilant. In the meantime, I probably would put up some type of barrier to prevent the dogs from running through there, at least for a season.