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Recognizing And Removing Poison Ivy

alexsandralyn By alexsandralyn on
Badge: Advisor | Level: 17 | Yard & Garden Expertise:
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Poison ivy had been growing in my yard and the contractor had used a commercial product to kill it before I moved in. The contractor removed the lilac bushes that had been overwhelmed by poison ivy. However, the contractor did not remove all of the dead poison ivy vines and roots that were still in the ground, and so the following spring after I moved in, the poison ivy started to grow back. You can see in the photos below what the new shoots of poison ivy looked like in April.

It's best to get rid of poison ivy in the spring while the leaves are still small because by summer, those leaves can be as big as 2 inches or more. The vines of poison ivy are distinctively hairy, which can be clearly seen in the photo of my neighbor's maple tree, making poison ivy vines very easy to identify even in the winter. New growth of poison ivy begins with the reddish leaves in groups of three that will turn green over the summer, and then turn yellow, orange or red in the fall. The vines will creep along the ground about a half inch to an inch under the topsoil and send up new shoots of leaves about every six inches to a foot, eventually spreading into a dense mat of toxic roots and vines beneath your feet if they're not completely dug out.

I noticed that a single vine of poison ivy was starting to creep up the maple in my yard in April. I put on my thick suede gloves and pulled the tiny tendril of poison ivy off of the tree. And that's when I noticed that the creeping tendril was attached to a much larger poison ivy vine and root system that had spread about three feet by twenty feet down the edge of my yard. Chemical treatments were obviously not effective at removing the problem of poison ivy, and the best way to get rid of problem plants is to completely dig them out, including all of the roots.

The oily sap of poison ivy is what causes the allergic skin reactions. Poison ivy will ooze sap wherever the leaves, stems, vines and roots have been broken or cut. If you wash the oily sap off with soap and water within 15 minutes of contact with it, you may not have an allergic reaction to the urushiol. Otherwise, a skin rash will usually develop in a day or two and last for about two weeks. You absolutely DO NOT want to burn poison ivy because the soot is extremely toxic. My local landfill company would take the poison ivy as yard waste as long as it was bagged, so I used a heavy duty garbage bag.

To remove the poison ivy from my yard, I put on some thick suede gardening gloves and gently pulled the vines out of the soil one at a time, loosening up the soil with a shovel as needed. When the vines were too long, I used a pair of pruning shears to cut the vine into smaller two foot sections that would fit easily into the garbage bag. Eventually, the vines led me to the main root system of the poison ivy plant. The main root stem of the poison ivy plant was fairly thick around, pink, and about a foot deep into the soil. I dug main root out of the ground with a garden spade and I kept track of the remaining poison ivy vines that led out from the root to pull those out, too. When I thought I had found and pulled out all of the poison ivy vines, I used a garden hoe to loosen up the topsoil in that entire area and I found a lot more hidden poison ivy vines that way.

I tied up the two garbage bags full of poison ivy vines and roots and I sent them off to the landfill. The oily sap on tools and gloves can cause allergic reactions for many years afterwards if they're not washed with soap and water, so I washed my tools carefully. And I kept the suede gloves for future poison ivy control. Over the summer, I spotted one new tendril of poison ivy growing in that area that I quickly removed. And this spring, I will know for certain if I got it all.