Out of all of the weeds you could have in your yard, poison ivy is one of the least desirable. Not only is it unpleasing to the eye, poison ivy can also leave you with an unbearably itchy rash if you’re unfortunate enough to come into contact with it.
You can get rid of poison ivy plants immediately by manually removing them by hand, with the help of some protective gear and a garden trowel. To kill poison ivy naturally, you can create and apply a natural DIY poison ivy killer spray. In extreme cases, the application of a store-bought chemical poison ivy killer will be necessary to kill poison ivy plants completely.
Read through our guide to learn how to identify poison ivy throughout the year, followed by step-by-step guides on how to get rid of poison ivy from your property using chemical and natural methods. We’ve also included some tips on how to counteract an allergic reaction if you get poison ivy on your skin.
What is Poison Ivy?
Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is an allergy-causing plant native to North America and Asia. Despite the name, poison ivy is not actually a true ivy, instead being a member of the cashew and pistachio family. Due to its toxicity and notorious status as an unwanted plant, most people consider poison ivy to be a weed.
After coming into contact with poison ivy, anyone who touches it will develop an itchy and sometimes painful rash. This allergic reaction is caused by a substance called urushiol, a faint-yellow oil produced by the leaves, stems, roots, flowers, and berries of the poison ivy plants. The urushiol binds to skin on contact, causing itching, inflammation, and red-colored bumps, before blistering. Reactions to poison ivy tend to be worse in individuals who come into contact with the plant repeatedly.
Where Does Poison Ivy Grow?
In the United States, poison ivy grows in every state except Alaska, Hawaii, and some parts of the west coast. It is most commonly found throughout the midwestern and eastern states. In the rest of the world, poison ivy grows on every continent, but it is most prevalent in the US.
Poison ivy thrives in moist areas with partial shade, growing most voraciously on the outskirts of woodlands, wetlands, and parks. It prefers areas of ‘disturbed ground’, i.e. along the edges of your yard, along walking trails and paths, and climbing up fences and trees. Poison ivy also tends to grow near bodies of water like lakes and rivers, or beaches.
How to Identify Poison Ivy
On close inspection, you can identify poison ivy by observing its leaves, vines, stems, roots, flowers, and berries. It may be difficult to spot the plant straight away, as it will blend into the surrounding environment, appearing as a groundcover plant, shrub, or climbing vine.
Identifying Poison Ivy Leaves
Poison ivy can be identified by its three broad, almond-shaped leaves growing at the end of each protruding stem. The leaves are smooth, and range in color from yellow, light green to dark green, and even bright orange to red. Younger leaves appear to be droopy, while mature leaves tend to be smooth and either glossy or dull. They typically grow to be between 2 and 4 inches long. The exact color and shape of the leaves may differ depending on your location, but there will always be three leaves in total.
Identifying Poison Ivy Vines, Stems, and Roots
The stems of the poison ivy plants are thornless and will take root along the ground wherever they make contact with it. In some cases, the stems may have a ‘fuzzy’ appearance if the plant is growing aerial roots.
Identifying Poison Ivy Flowers and Berries
Poison ivy plants produce small green buds that turn into white, off-white, or yellow flowers in the spring. As summer progresses, the flowers are replaced by the plant’s berries, which are white, light-green, or grey in color.
Pictures of Poison Ivy
Identifying Poison Ivy By Season
The appearance of poison ivy will evolve throughout the year as it progresses through each stage of its growth cycle.
Poison Ivy in Spring
In the spring, poison ivy plants start to blossom. Their leaves tend to be colored red or a red-green mixture at this time of year. The plants produce small green flower buds that open gradually over the season to reveal white or yellow flowers.
Poison Ivy in Summer
The poison ivy plants will continue to mature during the summer as the weather warms up. The plants’ older leaves will have turned entirely green at this stage, but new leaf growth will still appear red-colored. Looking closely, you will be able to spot the poison ivys’ small, off-white berries growing on the stems.
Poison Ivy in Fall
When fall comes around and temperatures start to drop, the poison ivy plants will change color again. The leaves will turn into bright shades of orange, red, or yellow.
Poison Ivy in Winter
Once temperatures are at their lowest in winter, the leaves will turn a deep red color before shriveling and falling off the poison ivy plant. Previously unexposed roots of the plant may become exposed at this time, appearing either bare or covered in hairs. The roots may continue to grow over winter and can still cause a rash if touched.
Types of Poison Ivy
There are two types of poison ivy found in North America: eastern poison ivy and western poison ivy. As the names suggest, they mainly differ in their growing locations; eastern poison ivy is more prevalent in the eastern states, while western tends to grow in the western states. With that said, both types have been known to grow in any zone across the US, as the species interbreed with each other.
Eastern Poison Ivy
Eastern poison ivy is typically found along the east coast and in the midwest of the US, also growing in parts of the southern and western states. In these states, it can be seen growing along nearly every path, roadside, stream, pond, and beach. It typically appears as a fuzzy, rope-like, root-covered vine, and either grows along the ground or climbing up tree trunks.
Western Poison Ivy
Western poison ivy is found mainly in the west of the US, but it has been known to grow all over the US. Compared to eastern poison ivy, it can be harder to find as it is the less prevalent type of poison ivy. The western type grows to appear as a small shrub of about 30 inches in height.
Poison Ivy vs Poison Oak and Poison Sumac
Actual poison ivy is often confused with two other very similar plants that look like poison ivy; poison oak and poison sumac. All three plants are found throughout the US, and all contain the same chemical (urushiol) that causes an allergic reaction on human skin.
Use our table below as a quick reference of the differences between poison ivy, oak, and sumac.
|Poison Ivy||Poison Oak||Poison Sumac|
|Leaf Appearance||Almost always has 3 broad leaves. Leaves are broad and spoon-shaped.||Usually has 3 leaves but can have up to 7 per leaf stem. Leaves appear similar to oak leaves.||Has 7 to 13 leaves per leaf stem. Leaves have smooth edges and pointed tips.|
|How it Grows||Grows as a climbing vine, a low, spreading groundcover, or a shrub.||Grows as either a vine or a shrub.||Grows as either a shrub or small tree.|
|Where it Grows||Thrives in moist areas with partial shade.||Thrives in moist areas with partial shade.||Thrives in wet, swamp-like areas.|
|Where it Grows in the US||Found throughout the US, excepting Alaska, Hawaii, and California. Most common in the eastern and midwestern states.||Most commonly found in the western states, and occasionally in the eastern states. Rarely seen in the midwestern states.||Much less common than poison ivy or poison oak. Found in Florida and parts of other southeastern states. Also seen in wet, wooded parts of the northern states.|
How to Get Rid of Poison Ivy Plants
There are a few different methods you can use to get rid of poison ivy plants from your property. Natural methods of poison ivy control include either manual removal by hand or with the use of a natural, DIY herbicide. To get rid of poison ivy fast, an alternative method of removal is to apply a chemical poison ivy killer.
How to Get Rid of Poison Ivy Plants by Hand
The most direct way to get rid of poison ivy is to remove it manually by hand, with the aid of a garden trowel. While this is an effective way to get rid of poison ivy plants fast, you must take care to remove every last fragment of the plant; any material left behind may root and grow into a new plant. This is the best way to get rid of poison ivy without killing other plants.
1. Collect Tools
Collect the tool/s that you will be using to get rid of the poison ivy. A sharp garden trowel or shovel is the best option to remove the extent of the plants’ roots. You can also make use of a pair of shears or pruners to remove the poison ivy’s branches and/or vines.
2. Put on Protective Clothing
Before handling the poison ivy, put on full protective clothing to avoid getting a nasty rash on any part of your body. Wear heavy-duty rubber gloves, long sleeves, and long-legged pants tucked into thick work boots. Further your protection by using a strip of duct tape to seal the cuffs of your pants and sleeves.
3. Dig Up Poison Ivy at Roots
Once you have equipped yourself with your protective clothing and the appropriate tools, you can begin to remove the poison ivy. First, use your shears or pruners to cut and remove the poison ivy stems. Avoid tearing or ripping the stems, as this can cause the plant to release the toxin that causes allergic reactions. After removing the stems, use your trowel or shovel to dig about eight inches deep beneath the plant. Remove the entirety of the root system leaving no trace of the poison ivy behind.
4. Dispose of Poison Ivy
Place the leftover poison ivy plant material into a heavy-duty plastic bag, then dispose of it appropriately. Due to its toxicity, you should never place poison ivy onto a compost heap. Neither should you burn the poison ivy, as the smoke may carry the plants’ toxins into the air. Also, take note that dead poison ivy plants can remain toxic for up to five years after removal; keep your protective clothing on until you have completely disposed of the plant materials. Once you’ve completed the job, remove your clothes taking off the gloves last, and throw them all into a hot wash.
Note: Never attempt to apply herbicides to the soil after you have removed the plants manually. This may seem like an effective way to kill any leftover poison ivy roots, however, it can cause damage to the otherwise healthy surrounding soil and plant life.
How to Kill Poison Ivy
There are two methods you can use to kill poison ivy; you can kill poison ivy naturally using a DIY herbicide or kill it using chemicals with a store-bought ivy killer spray.
How to Kill Poison Ivy Naturally
A natural method to kill poison ivy is to use an organic herbicide, which you can make yourself at home. If the poison ivy is growing near other plants that you don’t wish to harm, you will need to take extra care to only target the poison ivy when applying your herbicide.
1. Create Your DIY Poison Ivy Killer Spray
Create your DIY poison ivy killer by mixing 3 pounds of salt and a ¼ -cup of dish soap into 1 gallon of water. The salt will dry out and kill the poison ivy plants, while the dish soap helps to broadcast the mixture. You can also add a ¼-cup of white vinegar to strengthen the potency of the mix.
2. Spray DIY Poison Ivy Killer Spray on Poison Ivy Plants
Place your DIY herbicide into a spray bottle. Wait for a day where the weather is forecast to be dry to prevent your spray from being washed away. Spray the herbicide directly onto the poison ivy’s leaves and stems. Make sure to avoid spraying nearby plants that you don’t wish to harm, otherwise the herbicide will kill those too.
3. Reapply Poison Ivy Killer Spray as Necessary
Monitor the poison ivy and repeat applications of the herbicide until the plants are completely eliminated. Remove and dispose of the dead plants appropriately by placing them in a heavy-duty trash bag. Never place dead poison ivy plants on compost piles or bonfires.
How to Kill Poison Ivy with Chemical Poison Ivy Killer Spray
Chemical store-bought herbicides can be used to kill poison ivy fast. Most commercial herbicides contain either glyphosate or triclopyr as their main ingredient. They work by penetrating the poison ivy plants and killing them from the inside out. Take note that in addition to killing poison ivy quickly, these chemicals are indiscriminate and will wipe out any other plants they’re applied to.
1. Purchase Poison Ivy Killer Spray
Purchase an appropriate herbicide spray that contains either glyphosate or triclopyr. These are available to purchase online or from your local garden store.
2. Put on Protective Clothing
Put on full protective clothing, including heavy-duty rubber gloves, a long-sleeved top, and long-legged pants tucked into thick work boots. This is to protect your skin from coming into contact not only with the poison ivy, but also the chemicals in the weed killer.
3. Spray Poison Ivy Killer Spray on Poison Ivy Plants
Before spraying your poison ivy killer of choice, read the application and safety information on the label carefully. Wait for a day that is forecast to be dry. Then, following your product’s exact instructions, spray the herbicide directly onto the leaves of the poison ivy plants. Do not try and remove the plants by hand straight after you have applied the herbicide.
4. Reapply Chemical Poison Ivy Killer as Necessary
Keep checking the poison ivy plants and reapply the chemical herbicide until you completely eliminate any new growth.
Note: Chemical options of weed control should always be used as a last resort due to the potential harm they can do to the surrounding environment and wildlife.
What to Do if You Get Poison Ivy on Skin
If you make contact with the poison ivy during removal, or develop a rash afterward, you’ll need to take some measures to counteract the effects of the plants’ toxins.
- Rinse affected skin with lukewarm, soapy water as soon as possible after exposure.
- Wash clothing thoroughly.
- Wash anything else with soapy water that may have been contaminated, like tools, pet leashes, and even pets’ fur.
- Avoid scratching the rash to prevent infection.
- Don’t pop or scratch blisters.
- Apply calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to the rash to calm the itch.
- Take antihistamine pills to calm more severe reactions.
Doctors recommend against treating any rashes when you aren’t 100% certain of their origin. So, if you’ve never had a poison ivy rash before, get it checked out by a doctor to be sure this is what you’re dealing with. Also, visit a doctor if the rash worsens in pain or severity, or doesn’t clear up after a week.