Poison Ivy in the Garden

July 20, 2017


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Got poison ivy in your own garden? As a gardener myself, I feel your pain! Here are my tips on how to get rid of poison ivy in the garden and yard.

Indeed, poison ivy has plagued man—and gardeners—since the dawn of time. I suspect Adam and Eve encountered it soon after leaving the Garden of Eden while looking for some shiny new leaves to wear. Most Native American tribes have names for poison ivy, all of which translate to “the plant that makes you hurt.” It was first called “poysoned ivy” in 1624 by Capt. John Smith after his visit to America. 

What Is Poison Ivy?

Called Toxicodendron, which means poisonous tree, poison ivy is a member of the cashew family, along with pistachios and mangoes. Unlike its edible cousins, all parts of this plant are toxic to humans except the nectar and pollen. Goats can eat it with no ill effects and bees can make a non-toxic honey from it. Dogs and cats are immune to the resin—urushiol—that causes the itch, but they can carry it on their fur to rugs, furniture, and us. Another relative of poison ivy which also carries the urushiol is poison oak.


Poison ivy can be hard to identify. Aside from the characteristic grouping of three leaves, it can be a low-growing plant or the size of a large shrub. It can grab onto tree bark with its hairy rootlets and climb up. The leaves can be shiny or dull, thick or thin, smooth or hairy, and the edges smooth or toothed. Explore more tips on identifying and treating poison ivy.

How to Get Rid of Poison Ivy

When we first moved to our poison ivy covered cottage in the woods, I tried non-chemical methods of eradication including boiling water, salt, salt water, boiling salt water, and vinegar. I felt like I was trying to make poison ivy pickles! None had a lasting effect.

The best method has been suiting up in long pants, long sleeves, boots, and gloves and pulling it out by the roots. Thirty years later I’m still battling poison ivy, but I have at least gained the upper hand.

When rooting out poison ivy, never throw it on a brush pile to be burned. Inhaling the smoke from it can cause dangerous mouth, throat, and lung inflammation. I bag up the roots as I pull them and cart them off to the transfer station. Urushiol can linger on garden tools and clothing for years! Always isolate your poison ivy clothes and wash them separately from the rest of the family’s laundry. Any tools used need to have their handles thoroughly hosed down.

We have controlled some smaller patches of poison ivy by keeping that area mowed. Eventually it gives up and dies off. Some folks have had good luck smothering the vines with black plastic but it is sneaky stuff and may come up around the edges.

Vines that are growing up trees can be cut off so the tops die. Then the roots can be pulled.


Home Remedies for Poison Ivy

You can use an ocean of calamine lotion to soothe your poison ivy rash or try one of these natural remedies:

  • Orange jewelweed has been used effectively for centuries. Scientists at Rutgers University conducted a clinical study to test its anti-itch properties and found it to be superb! Its active ingredient is a chemical called lawsone which, although it can’t stop the rash from occurring, can block the itch. The liquid found in mature jewelweed’s air roots, near the lower part of the stem, has the highest concentration of lawsone. Squeeze out the juice and apply it directly to the rash. Reapply in 15 minutes and then as needed to soothe the itch.
  • Aloe vera juice can calm a painful, burning rash.
  • Oatmeal baths can help relieve the itching. Place 1/2 cup of uncooked rolled oats into a cloth bag or tie it up in a square of cheesecloth and hang it under the faucet as you run a lukewarm bath.
  • Baking soda paste made from 3 tsps. of soda and 1 tsp. of water can be patted onto the worst of the rash or add a handful of baking soda to a lukewarm bath and soak in it. Find more helpful household uses for baking soda here.
  • Herbal teas - plantain leaves, oak leaves, beech bark, oak bark, rhubarb leaves, garlic, ragweed, and dock leaves all have been used individually to calm the itch of poison ivy. Drop a handful of whichever plant you decide to try into 1 quart of boiling water and let it steep. Cool and strain the liquid and pat it on the rash or add it to your bath water. All have an astringent effect. This is an external remedy—don’t drink it!
  • You can find more tips on itch relief on our Summer Itches page.

Exposure to Poison Ivy

My first memorable encounter with poison ivy was when I was about nine and awoke one summer morning unable to open my eyes. Overnight my whole body had swollen, especially my face. The doctor surmised that since I hadn’t had any direct contact with the plant, I must have just walked by it on a hot afternoon when the oils were vaporizing into the air and my sweaty little pores were open enough to absorb it. It also was my first encounter with the miracle of steroids.

If exposed while gardening, you have about 30 minutes to wash the urushiol off your skin. Use cool water, no soap needed to be effective. There are some poison ivy washes on the market that remove urushiol. One called Technu was developed during the Cold War era to wash off radioactive particles! It has proven to be an effective skin decontaminant when used immediately after contact. It can’t stop a rash once it has started, but it can minimize the reaction.

Poison ivy actually has some useful qualities. Early Native Americans used the sap to make an indelible black ink for decorating baskets, and they often wove baskets from the vines. The Peabody Museum at Harvard has a Pomo Indian wedding basket made from poison ivy vine by a mother-in-law as a gift for her new son-in-law! What a welcome to the family!


About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.


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Poison Ivy/garlic

Poison ivy has taken over where my garlic is growing. My question is will the roots mix and would I get poison ivy rash from pulling the garlic cloves out and eating them?

Better suit up and wear

Better suit up and wear gloves when it comes time to harvest your garlic. You can get a nasty rash from contact with any part of the plant, even the roots. Some of the oil could rub off on the plants but after they have been hung to dry and you remove the tops, the cured bulbs will be edible since the papery wrapper on the cloves will have protected them. After the garlic is out of that bed get to work pulling out the poison ivy so you can plant something there next year without worrying.

poison ivy the scourge

This is an informative article that I enjoyed, thanks. I've been allergic since I can remember, having had a bad reaction when as a toddler some older kids played a trick on me by mixing poison ivy with honeysuckle as we were sucking the nectar from the flowers, and living in the south, being a surveyor, and being outside most of my life. I've learned to immediately recognize poison ivy and oak in its many variants. Once as an adult, on a job with no other choice, but having to work in it and cut through poison ivy overgrown lot on a hot humid day, me and my helper ended up in the hospital. Yes, steroid shots work. This was many years ago, the drugs have gotten better.The best prevention is to stay out of it. Jewel weed works well, but who has jewel weed handy? Technu works well if used in time. Bleach bath followed by a cool shower if available as soon as possible. Having poison ivy or oak on my land is not an option for me. Drastic measures are in order, and that means spraying herbicide concentrated enough to kill it. You can plant your plants after you get rid of the bad stuff. If it's a large vine then chop the vine leaving about a foot gap in the vine between root side and top side and spray the root side of the vine where you created the wound so the plant will suck up the poison. This should be done early spring before it makes seeds.

start over?

I moved some dirt from the rear of my property to the front raised beds. Then I got horrible poison ivy. So I am not sure if I got it from roots in the soil, but there wasn't any actual leafy plants in it. (although I am highly allergic). But I am not sure if I should just scrap those beds because I don't want any potential ivy oils to end up on my food. THoughts?

poison ivy

I have used witch hazel and tea tree oil. both work well. even for my horses when they get into it.

Poison Oak, Ivy and somatrah

I have pulled such large roots out that I fear I will hurt my back, they are so large I can not get them all out. I pull and encounter such large roots I feel defeated but I get them out or pour weed killer concentrate on them.

Poison Ivy

What freaks people out about me is that I'm not "Allergic" to it. I just pull them up bare handed and others can just walk by it (within 5 feet) and get it on them. Years ago I was White water canoeing and we set up our tents around the fire. The other two guys set there's up on the side with very little vegetation or weeds. I sat mine up on the other side and after we got back home, Both Frank and Danny had Calimine lotion all over them. I smiled and asked "Why do you have all that on"? They said "Didn't that Poison Ivy bother you? You set your tent up right in front of it and got in it behind your tent and we were on the other side about 15 to 20 ft. away"? I said "Nope, I'm not allergic to it and that's why I walked right in and thru it so it would get on me and on the way to the Put-In, I sat in the middle to make sure I got it on you two". hahaha After that, they didn't like it when I went with them again and made me ride in the back of the truck. They thought it would be funny for me to get all "Itchy and Scratchy" when I could care less and got it them so I could laugh at them.

To those who are immune to poison ivy....

Don't laugh too hard. I am 58 years old and have NEVER been effected by poison ivy. This year changed my 58 year run of good luck. I now am extremely sensitive to it. Old age brings misery!

Me too!

That happened to me, too! I was allergy-free until I hit my mid-30's, and now (mid-50's), it seems I'm allergic to everything!
I heard somewhere that the more you expose yourself to poison ivy, the higher the chance you'll develop an allergy to it.

Poison Ivy Soap

I had a break out of poison ivy six times in one year, and each episode took a few weeks to recover. Obviously I was having difficulty identifying the plant while I cleared the property where I'd just built a new house. I tried common remedies (e.g. calamine, antihistamine, dish soap), but I was still miserable. The only thing I found that provided true relief and healing was Burt's Bees Poison Ivy Soap, which uses jewelweed and pine tar. I don't think they make it anymore (glad I saved an extra bar), but those ingredients helped. Also, I had read that for temporary relief, running hot water over affected areas - as hot as you can stand it for as long as you can stand it - provides an antihistamine reaction. That provided some relief from the itching. I've learned to avoid that plant now and haven't had anymore episodes.

Baking Soda and White Vinegar

Equal parts of baking soda and white or apple cider vinegar will make a simple paste that will stop the pain and clear the rash.

two good things about poison ivy

One very good thing about poison ivy is that its berries are an important food source for birds. Poison ivy and I have an arrangement: I leave it growing for them in the part of my yard (a gully) that no one goes in. I pull it out in the areas where people and animals go. So far, our arrangement works out very well.
The other good thing about poison ivy is that it teaches you how to pay attention!

Good for birds means good for spreading

Birds eating this means they are spreading it via their waste all over the place. I understand that it has some positive effects, but unless you want this everywhere, you shouldn't let birds eat it. This is one plant where if you don't eradicate it, it will be everywhere... and I mean everywhere, entire counties/townships will be covered in the stuff if they aren't already.

There are many other options and if you feel bad about removing it because you are removing food sources for animals, consider still removing it but replacing it with other food sources.

poison ivy remedy

i get poison ivy rash at least once every year after trying to eradicate it from my yard.

this year i did a lousy job of washing afterwards (even though i tried!!). the rash was pretty bad but i was trying to control the insanity from it by taking a 24 hour allergy (which i take every day anyway), plus benadryl every 6 hours.

while i had been using a drying crystal mineral salt deodorant to keep it dry (the kind you have to wet in tap water before applying...), and that was working "okay", my homeopathic "guru" friend arrived at my house a day after hearing about my poison ivy, about 1 week into it. she made a spray for me that worked better than anything i have ever used on poison ivy rash. it was a spray of apple cider vinegar, peppermint oil, tea tree oil, frankincense oil, lavender oil, and sea salt. the result was amazing to me, as without this spray i am sure i would have had a rash for 3-4 weeks or longer. i think it was about 3/4 cup of vinegar and about 10-12 drops of each oil. plus the sea salt. incredible!

i hope this helps someone who is suffering.

Poison Ivy

I received this E-mail this afternoon as I stepped out of the shower after cutting back vines of poison ivy. I had scrubbed down in cool water and dish soap. I'm not sure if this method of protection will work but I'll let you know. the irony of this E-mails timing was amazing!

Cold water should help

Cold water should help because it keeps your pores closed so the oil can be flushed off the surface of your skin. It should at least minimize the amount of rash you get. Hopefully it all washed off and you will be itch-free.

Established poison Ivy on a tree

I was wondering if anyone has suggestions on killing the poison ivy growing on/in one of my 100+ year old cedar trees. The vine is about the diameter of my wrist. I removed an 8" section and painted Tordon on both sides of the vine that remained on the tree. Even though the vine is no longer connected to the ground, it continues to thrive.

Any suggestions of how I can get rid of it?

The woody part of the vine

The woody part of the vine will last forever but the foliage should be wilting at least now that it is cut off from its roots.

Poison Ivy

Vinegar is very good at killing the ivy once you get it on you. Like you said in a short time after you come in contact with it.

Removal of Poison Ivy & remedies

Brush Be Gone sold @ many home center & hardware stores does a decent job of killing poison ivy, oak & sumac. You might need a couple of applications, but it does work on killing & removing these plants

I swear by jewel weed for removing the itch & clearing up the rash poison ivy causes to the skin. Gather up the Jewel weed stalks, break open the stalks, rub the stalks until their juices wet the stalks, rub the juices on the effected area, don't be afraid of breaking any blisters. The itching will stop & the rash will start clearing up. I did this when I had poison ivy on both arms. On my left I used the Jewel weed on the right traditional methods. Within three, 3, days, the poison ivy on my left arm was almost gone, while on my right arm I still a while to go. Good Luck on removing the plant,the rash & the itch.

Exercise caution when using

Exercise caution when using potent weed or brush killers. Make sure to wet the leaves of only the poison ivy and not surrounding plants or the ground. These chemicals can wash into streams and groundwater. They are very effective though, if used judiciously.

Poison ivy treatment

I personally am immune to poison but one of my grandsons can pass by it and have a severe reaction.
One of the best treatments I have found is papaya. I discover this many years ago.
Just rub papaya on the affected area asap and see the results. Adolf meat tenderizer used to contain papaya extract and use to work real well. Don't know if it still has it.
This work very well on bee stings, jelly fish stings, catfish stings, and just about any kind of
sting. I keep pieces of papaya in a small pill container in the freezer and just have the person run it on the affected area.
My neighbor has severe reactions to poison ivy and he uses this treatment as soon as he comes in contact with poison ivy.
Hope this info is useful to someone.

Some people who have latex

Some people who have latex allergies are just as allergic to papaya as they are to latex so they should probably not use it on their stings and itches, it could make matters worse.

Poison Ivy

If exposed to poison ivy, the rash and ensuing intensive pain are due to once own body's defense mechanism going berserk and overreacting. A decongestant, such as Claritin D, or others like it, calms the body's reaction to the urushiol oil which is the offending chemical. If taken within a few hours of exposure, you can ward off pain, blisters, swelling, etc.. Take a 24 hour decongestent once a day for 7 days and you can avoid swelling, etc., at least that is my experience and I am very allergic to poison ivy.

Heike is right. The itch is

Heike is right. The itch is caused by our own antibodies reaction to the urushiol. Taking oral antihistamines will help quell the itch by calming down the body’s immune response.


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