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How to Get Rid of Poison Ivy Plants

Posted on October 26, 2023 by Lawn Doctor

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Dealing with poison ivy is manageable but requires extreme caution and vigilance even after treatment. Often, homeowners overlook the plant’s roots after removing the plants themselves, resulting in its return. Today, we share in-depth insight into poison ivy, ways to identify and distinguish it from other plants, when and where it grows, control measures and how to prevent it from returning after removal.

What Is Poison Ivy?

Poison ivy is a plant that contains an oily resin known as urushiol. When urushiol comes into co

ntact with the skin, it results in contact dermatitis, a red, itchy rash with bumps or blisters. While many homeowners can identify and easily avoid poison ivy, it becomes particularly concerning in areas with children and pets who cannot differentiate it from other innocuous plants.

This plant doesn’t tolerate regular mowing and rarely thrives in maintained lawns. However, homeowners can still find it along fence lines, landscape beds and wood piles. Poison ivy vines make it a notorious climber that can just as easily spread laterally across the ground.

All these creeping and crawling poisonous vines make this toxic plant even more difficult to eradicate and a much larger problem in areas where children and pets play.

Identifying Poison Ivy

The plant is best identified by its trifoliate compound leaves. Thus, the old rhyme” leaves of three, let them be.” Poison ivy leaves are attached to red petioles and are mostly hairy on older plants. Homeowners can also identify it through its oblong leaflets, which have smooth margins that sometimes have a lobe or notch on one side.

While lawn owners and homeowners can certainly avoid poison ivy foliage, it’s always best to try and eliminate the problem before unsuspecting people lurk close to the vine.

How to Tell Poison Ivy From Other Plants

As mentioned above, the poisonous plant has three pointed leaves that change colors depending on the season. They turn reddish in the spring, green during summer, and yellow-orange or red in the fall. The leaves may also have notched edges on some plant species. On other species, they are smooth.

Poison ivy plants sometimes have white berries that they use to spread and cover wider surfaces. Birds eat these berries and transplant the seeds onto new ground along with their droppings. This is one of the main reasons the plant is so common across the United States, except for California, Hawaii, Alaska and other parts of the West Coast.

When and Where Does Poison Ivy Grow?

The plant grows throughout most of North America, disguising itself as a shrub, groundcover or climbing vine. It prefers “disturbed ground,” such as a background perimeter along walking paths, trails, trees, and fences. It blends well with the landscape.

Poison ivy is mainly associated with spring and summer when it’s most abundant. It prefers savanna and woodland habitats but can also be found along pasture edges, stream banks, and other non-cultivated habitats.

The poisonous plant spreads primarily by shoots that arise from extensive shallow, horizontal root systems. Its aboveground vining allows it to creep yard perimeters, walls, and other plants’ branches.

Controlling Poison Ivy

A dry day with no wind is the best and safest time to control and remove poison ivy from your lawn, especially when using herbicide spray to kill the plant. You don’t want the herbicide to blow back on you or on other desirable plants. A windy day could also scatter parts of the poison ivy to surrounding areas, compounding the problem instead of solving it.

We also recommend removing poison ivy during the springtime when its leaves are red and easier to spot. However, it is vital to control and prevent the plant from spreading as soon as you identify it. This is when it is easiest to manage and eradicate from your landscape.

How to Remove Poison Ivy Plants

Trying to eliminate the plant without taking proper precautionary measures can result in poison ivy rashes or, worse, an allergic reaction when the leaves come into contact with the skin. This section provides insights into how homeowners can get rid of poison ivy infestation or prevent it altogether:

Hand Pulling

Pulling poison ivy by glove is one of the most effective ways of removing the plant. However, this process requires direct contact with the plant. Therefore, it requires extreme care to prevent disturbing the plants and their roots.

Start by clipping off stems above the ground using sharp shears. Tearing apart or ripping the stems could make the toxin resin airborne, which can cause poison ivy reactions like the ones mentioned above. Dispose of the cut parts in heavy-duty garden waste bags before digging out the roots using a small hand shovel and disposing in the garden waste bag.

Douse With Boiling Water

You will need to drench the plant in boiling water to scald its tissues and kill it. However, it is worth mentioning that this method may not be as effective in killing the entire plant and may require several tries to destroy hidden roots and stems completely.

The leaf tissue that remains after scalding the plant may still have the urushiol oil on its surface, which could cause an itchy or allergy reaction when it comes in contact with the skin.


Many commercial herbicides used for controlling and killing poison ivy require an increased concentration to be effective. We recommend homeowners consult manufacturer instructions and guidelines before using commercial herbicides for the best results. While natural treatment is preferable, commercial herbicides are more effective when used judiciously.

Smother the Plant

Smothering the poison ivy plant involves blocking off oxygen and light sources it uses to thrive. However, the resilient nature of the plant may deem this control method less effective, depending on the smothering method used. Poison ivy is well adapted and can thrive in shaded conditions and situations, making smothering a less desirable solution.

Hire a Professional

This is the most effective poison ivy control method for ridding the lawn and other areas of poison ivy plants. Hiring a professional landscaping company is recommended in cases of extensive or difficult-to-manage poison ivy infestations. Professional landscaping experts have the knowledge, tools, and experience to safely remove poisonous plants and prevent their regrowth.

Will Poison Ivy Plants Return After Removal?

Hand pulling can be a difficult, if not impossible, control method when dealing with mature poison ivy plants with well-established root systems. Plus, the plant’s highly resilient nature means it can grow back from the root fragments left in the ground. Its complex roots would mean homeowners require at least three or four tries to remove its underground runners completely. Failure to do so would allow it to regrow and infest the land.

We recommend removing the entire plant, including the roots and stems, when it’s still small. This is the most effective way of controlling the plant. We also recommend mowing or tilling the lawn regularly and repeatedly cutting vines at the soil line to keep it under control.

Preventing Poison Ivy

Herbicides that contain glyphosate and triclopyr have proved effective in controlling poison ivy spread. Most grass species are tolerant to triclopyr, making it the preferred chemical component in herbicides over glyphosate, especially in areas where the herbicide may come in contact with the grass.

How to Prevent Poison Ivy Plants

We advise lawn owners to exercise caution when using commercial herbicides around broadleaf plants as they can harm or injure these desired plant species alongside the poison ivy plant. Contact a professional landscape expert if you need help deciding whether to spray the herbicide close to other plants.

While getting rid of poison ivy from your lawn may seem like a good idea at the time, using the wrong herbicides or amounts could also harm other surrounding plants and grass.

The Conditions Poison Ivy Thrives In

Poison ivy can thrive in areas with partial shade to total sun exposure. It is also well adapted to a range of soil moisture conditions. It can grow in moist riparian areas just as in arid, impoverished soils, making it an incredibly resilient, difficult-to-kill plant.

Poison ivy is a woody perennial that may grow as a low, spreading shrub with delicate stems, an upright, tall shrub or as a woody vine attached to tree trunks using aerial roots that look like a fuzzy rope.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the Difference Between Poison Ivy and Poison Oak?

Poison ivy and poison oak are two separate plants. However, they share similar characteristics, with the main similarity being that both contain urushiol.

Poison ivy is more of a vine with leaves that grow in clusters of threes. It mainly grows near the ground but can also grow as a vine or small shrub on rocks and trees. Its leaves are somewhat pointed and have an intense green color that turns yellowish or reddish, depending on the time of the year. The leaves sometimes appear shiny with urushiol.

Poison oak, on the other hand, has more intense green leaves with varying amounts of red color at different times of the year. Its leaves also grow in clusters of three but are slightly different from poison ivy leaves. They are more rounded, less pointy and have a textured, hair-like surface.

Will Killing Poison Ivy Harm Other Plants?

We recommend hiring a professional landscape expert to get rid of poison ivy from your lawn or land without killing other plants. A landscape professional will assess the extent of the spread, the poison ivy species invading your land, and the best control and preventative measures to prevent the plant from returning after removal.

We do not recommend using commercial herbicides that contain glyphosate because this chemical also kills grass. Instead, use herbicides with 2,4-D, Mecoprop, Triclopyr and/or Dicamba, as these chemicals are harmless to most lawn grass species.

We also advise lawn owners to spray herbicides on days with minimal or no wind and shield desirable plants from the spray using cardboard or plywood sheets. Using these tips should allow you to eliminate poisonous plants without harming other plants.

Lawn Doctor offers a variety of lawn treatments, including controlling and managing unwanted plants, including poison ivy. Contact our capable landscaping experts to help keep your lawn in excellent condition without worrying about poison ivy.

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