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How to Kill Poison Ivy


It’s every gardener’s worst nightmare: spending a warm spring afternoon pulling up what looks like any old weed with your bare hands, only to wake up the next morning with an excruciating rash and realize the “weed” was actually poison ivy. Fortunately, Blue-Emu Anti-Itch Cream with CORT-EMU Complex will soothe the symptoms of poison ivy rash and provide relief quickly – but you still have to do something about the poison ivy plants.

how to kill poison ivyFirst Things First: Learn What to Look for

The first step to learning how to kill poison ivy is learning how to differentiate it from the plants you actually want to grow. Luckily for you, Blue Emu has a separate blog post all about how to identify poison ivy, and you can access it here. Learning how to recognize poison ivy before coming into contact with it will help keep your favorite hobby safe and worry-free.

Choosing the Best Spray to kill Poison Ivy

Now that you’ve armed yourself with this vital knowledge, it’s time to take action against poison ivy growing in or near your yard and home. The easiest way to kill this treacherous plant is to use an herbicide designed specifically to combat poison ivy, like the ones manufactured by Roundup® and ORTHO® MAX®.

The main chemical ingredient in Roundup®is glyphosate, a nonselective herbicide that can potentially kill all plants it comes into contact with – not just poison ivy. For this reason, it’s best used on poison ivy plants that aren’t located in or among your vegetables or flowers, such as poison ivy vines growing on the side of a fence, shed, or nearby tree. Glyphosate requires time and repeat applications in order to effectively destroy poison ivy, which is why some people prefer to use brands containing a chemical called triclopyr instead.

Triclopyr, the main ingredient in ORTHO® MAX®, is a selective herbicide meant to target woody plants like poison ivy shrubs while doing less damage to grass and other beneficial plants. It works more quickly than glyphosate and can completely eradicate poison ivy in fewer applications. Some people have had great success destroying poison ivy vines found on trees by cutting the vine at the base and pouring a triclopyr-based herbicide on the “stump,” leaving the vine above the cut to wither and die without support from the roots.

Using Herbicide Safely

Before attempting to spray poison ivy with any kind of herbicide, you should put on safety goggles and a face mask to protect your eyes, nose, and throat. Don’t spray on a windy day or when rain is in the forecast; wind can carry the herbicide onto neighboring plants, and rain will wash the herbicide off, rendering it ineffective or, even worse, causing polluted runoff. If you’re still worried about contaminating your garden, consider using a foam brush to “paint” the herbicide directly onto the poison ivy leaves – the two main herbicides, glyphosate and triclopyr, will be absorbed into the rest of the plant through the leaves. A foam brush is better than a paintbrush because it’s less likely to drip. Always dilute concentrated herbicide before using; you may think the concentrated chemicals would be more potent, but the herbicide can only be absorbed by the plants after water is added.

Homemade Poison Ivy Killer

Whether or not chemical herbicides like glyphosate and triclopyr are safe for people and the environment is a controversial topic among gardeners, and the information currently available tends to be contradictory and confusing. As an alternative, there are multiple recipes available online for creating a homemade weed-killer from a combination of vinegar, salt, dishwashing soap, and/or bleach. If you choose to make your own herbicide, it’s important to remember that just because these ingredients are more natural than commercial herbicides doesn’t mean they are much safer; as a matter of fact, if these ingredients seep into the soil, they will prevent any kind of plant from ever growing back, which is bad news for your garden.

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Got Goats?  They know how to kill Poison Ivy!

Goats love to eat poison ivyIf you’re loath to use any kind of herbicide but open to unorthodox ideas, don’t let poison ivy get your goat – let a goat get your poison ivy! It may sound silly, but lots of rural landscape companies suggest using goats to clear out large patches of poison ivy. All animals are immune to urushiol, the “poison” secreted by poison ivy, and goats in particular find the plant quite delicious. You might even consider getting a pet goat yourself; they come in adorable sizes and require very little in the way of care, but you’ll have to keep a close eye on him or her – in addition to poison ivy, goats will eat literally anything else they can get their hooves on, including your prize begonias or green beans.

Safely Pulling up Poison Ivy

Goats are clearly not the best option for everyone to kill poison ivy, so what’s a gardener to do? Well, the surest way to rid your garden of poison ivy without damaging the other plants that grow there is to pull it up by hand. It goes without saying that this method presents the most danger to gardeners themselves, as it requires direct contact with the plants; however, taking the following precautions will help you pull up poison ivy safely, leaving your other precious plants intact and your hardworking hands rash-free.

First, wait until after a hard rain, preferably in the early morning; poison ivy plants have long, deep roots that are easier to extract from wet soil, and if you try to pull them during the hottest part of the day, the oil from the plants can transfer onto your skin through the sweat soaking your shirt – and you can bet you’ll be sweating, because you’ll need to “suit up” before touching the plants. You’ll need to wear long pants, tall socks, and a long-sleeved shirt, covering as much of your skin as possible. Shirts without buttons are a no-no because you run the risk of smearing poison ivy oil all over your face when you pull the shirt off over your head; wear a button-up shirt or a jacket with a zipper instead.

You should also wear thick, disposable gardening gloves to protect your hands, and on top of those, you should cover your hands with plastic bags – preferably bags that are less flimsy than grocery store bags, like the kind you get from stores at the mall. The trick here is to grasp the poison ivy at the base of the plant and pull slowly and firmly, making sure to pull up as much of the roots as you can, and then turn the plastic bag inside out over the plant, closing the plant safely inside. Be extremely careful – the roots are the most poisonous part of the plant, so make sure not to accidentally touch your face!

When you have pulled all the poison ivy in this manner, have your spouse or a friend open doors for you (to keep you from getting urushiol on the doorknobs) and remove your clothing very carefully, making sure not to touch any of it with your bare skin. Your clothes should be washed separately from the household laundry a minimum of three times in cold water. As for your skin, you should first wash your hands in a special soap formulated for poison ivy, like Tecnu® or Zanfel®, and then take a long, cold shower (sorry – hot water opens the pores, giving urushiol easy access to the skin).

What to Do if You Get Poison Ivy Anyway

Don’t worry, we wouldn’t leave you hanging in the event you somehow wound up getting a rash despite following these precautions. Blue Emu has a previous blog post all about treating poison ivy that you can access here.

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