Ask the County Agent: ‘How do I get rid of poison ivy in my yard?’

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By Stephanie Butcher, Coweta County Extension Office

Question: “How can I get rid of poison ivy in my yard?”

Agent: Poison ivy is a homeowner’s or gardener’s worst nightmare and a dreaded landscape weed. If you have ever experienced the red, itchy, blistery rash that comes from being in contact with this weed, then you understand.

I learned just how terrible poison ivy could be when I was in the second grade. I had to go to school covered in pink Caladryl since there was no such thing as “clear” Caladryl back then. It was quite an experience since my face was covered in it. I remember it like it was yesterday.

First of all, make sure that the plant is actually poison ivy. The old saying, “Leaves of three, let it be,” is a good starting point, but a plant should not automatically be considered poison ivy just because it has three leaves.

People frequently confuse poison ivy with other plants in the landscape like Virginia creeper that is a native vine that normally has five leaflets — but can have three to seven leaflets.

Boxelder tree seedlings can also look suspiciously like poison ivy. Boxelder seedlings are young trees with three leaflets on a woody stem. But boxelder leaves are arranged opposite each other on the stem, while the leaves are alternate on poison ivy.
Poison ivy can grow as a vine or a shrub and its leaf shape and texture are highly variable. Leaves with different shapes may be found on the same plant or on plants near each other.

If you are unsure whether a plant is poison ivy, contact the Coweta County Extension office for positive identification. But whatever you do, please don’t touch the plant with your bare hands or bring a sample to the Extension office without first placing it in a sealed plastic bag.

Not long ago, someone brought in a suspected poison ivy sample to be identified. I jumped back as they held the vine in front of me, a little too close for comfort. Visions of pink Caladryl ran through my mind until I realized, thankfully, that I was looking at Virginia creeper.

So how can you get rid of poison ivy? If it pops up in a lawn, then it can be mowed. Mowing will eventually eradicate the vines since poison ivy does not tolerate continued cutting. If it is in an area not easily mowed, then there are several herbicides labeled for it. The most effective are those containing glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Clipping the vines on trees and painting the stumps with 41%, glyphosate works well. Remember the roots will then send up shoots and you will have to contend with them.

I can’t stress enough the importance of wearing gloves, long sleeves and pants when working around poison ivy. Don’t touch your hand to your pant legs and then touch exposed skin. Always wash your clothes immediately after being around it and wash any exposed skin thoroughly with soap and water.

For more information about poison ivy, contact the Coweta County Extension office at 770-254-2620 or  by email: [email protected] and ask for the publication, “Controlling Poison Ivy in the Landscape.”

The University of Georgia College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences is an equal opportunity, Affirmative Action, Veteran, Disability Institution.

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