How to get rid of poison ivy plants safely

Poison ivy plant with red shiny leaves.

Sometimes, you can be out smelling the flowers and appreciating nature, and without realizing it, you unknowingly stumble upon poison ivy. The redness, itching, swelling, blisters, or trouble breathing (which can happen if you inhale smoke from burning poison ivy) are symptoms you’ll definitely want to prevent or cure as early as possible. Poison ivy is indigenous to most states, and there are simple home remedies to treat the resulting rash. To help you have peace of mind when you’re in your own yard or garden, we’ve gathered the best tips on how to get rid of poison ivy plants safely. You can also check out our list of the best weed killers for a chemical option.

Identifying poison ivy plants through the seasons

The best way to prevent poison ivy contact is to know what poison ivy looks like. If you can recognize it, you can avoid direct contact. As with most plants, poison ivy changes color through the seasons. It is usually red with lime green flowers in springtime, green through the summer, and orange with ivory berries in autumn. Though the leaves may have fallen off during the dead of winter, you should still watch out for the plant’s hairy vines or stems — toxic resin urushiol can be found in every part of the plant.

Regardless of the season, a quick way to tell if its poison ivy is by looking at its structure. Its leaves come in threes with the middle leaflet being a little bigger than the other two. The edges can be toothed or smooth. It usually grows as a shrub in northern and western states and as a vine in the east, midwest, and southern states.

The best time to pluck

Getting rid of poison ivy is no easy task, but you can make it more manageable for yourself under the right conditions. When it comes to plucking poison ivy, the wind is your enemy. The breeze makes it difficult for you to avoid brushing against poison ivy, and you run the risk of the herbicide being blown toward other plants or — worse — back at you.

Pick a dry day for this job. Spring is the easiest time to spot poison ivy because the reddish coloring stands out. Winter is also a favorable time to pluck because there are no leaves to get in the way.

Prepare your armor

Make sure that you’re all covered up with your full gear on. This means that you should be wearing pants, long socks, long-sleeved shirts, heavy-duty rubber gloves, and a pair of boots. It never hurts to be on the side of caution, so you can be extra-safe by putting on some goggles and a breathing mask. You might even want to seal the opening of your gloves and boots with duct tape. There are also ivy blocking creams available that inhibit your skin from reacting to urushiol. As for garden tools, you’ll need pruning shears, a sharp-edged shovel, and a couple of thick garbage bags.

Strike slowly but surely

Poison ivy is known to have a complex root system, so if you don’t take it out completely, it will most likely resurface. Start off by cutting the stems with a pair of pruners. Avoid tearing or ripping the vines, because this can cause the toxic resin to spread in the air around you. Throw everything you’ve managed to remove in garbage bags and tie them up to keep the plants safely inside.

Once you’ve cleared everything at ground level, it’s time to dig out the roots with your shovel. Go eight inches deep into the soil to be sure you’ve gotten everything; bag it up as you go. Then, pour boiling water on to the ground to kill any remnants of the pesky weed. You can opt to use an herbicide or craft your own potion by mixing together salt, water, vinegar, and dish soap.

Trash the poison ivy

Poison ivy belongs in the trash. It is not meant to find its way back into your garden or lawn, even as a compost. And since poison ivy can emit dangerous fumes that could cause injury to your lungs once inhaled, burning it is never an option.

Touch me not

As soon as you’re done extracting poison ivy, you don’t want it to contaminate your other things, as urushiol can stay active for a period of five years. It is important that you disinfect all your tools with rubbing alcohol or vinegar while still wearing your gloves. Then, clean your gloves and boots with soap and water. Try not to touch the outer layer of your clothes as you strip them off, or use another pair of disposable gloves while doing so. Wash the clothes you used separately from other laundry in the washing machine, then rinse your hands thoroughly with cold water and soap.

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