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To avoid unfortunate encounters with poison ivy plants in your yard, make sure you can accurately identify them, and remove the entire plant as quickly as possible.

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What Is Poison Ivy?

Eastern poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is a toxic plant that is closely related to poison sumac and poison oak. It grows readily throughout the southeastern United States, but you may also find it in wooded or swampy areas anywhere in the country. Poison ivy produces urushiol, a faint yellow oil secreted by poison ivy leaves, poison ivy stems, and poison ivy roots. When this oil comes into direct contact with the skin of humans, wild animals, or farm animals, it can trigger a painful rash.

How to Identify Poison Ivy

You may encounter poison ivy anywhere in North America, provided there is sufficient moisture. Poison ivy generally grows as ground cover, but may also form vines. New growth begins at ground level, often near the base of trees and shrubs. Its leaves typically appear in groups of three (per the old adage, "leaves of three, leave it be"). Poison ivy foliage changes color from red (spring) to green with reddish tint (summer) to orange (late summer and fall) to brown (late fall and winter).

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How to Get Rid of Poison Ivy in Your Yard

Poison ivy removal works much like standard weed control. To eliminate patches of poison ivy in your yard, try the following methods of ivy control.

  • Chemical herbicides: Although not an environmentally friendly option, commercial herbicide rapidly kills poison ivy over a large area. Glyphosate is a powerful poison ivy killer, as it can infiltrate the plant's complex root system.
  • Homemade weed killers: You can kill poison ivy without noxious chemicals by dissolving one cup of salt, one tablespoon of white vinegar, and one tablespoon of dish soap in a gallon of water. Pour this soapy water mixture into a spray bottle and apply it liberally to the whole plant.
  • Weeding: Perhaps the most surefire way to eradicate poison ivy is via careful weeding. Wear gloves and long sleeves when you weed, and take note that even dead plants can secrete the urushiol that causes itchy rashes. Dig deep around the plant with a sharp trowel and remove all traces of roots. Dispose all plant material in a plastic bag and throw it away.

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Grow your own food with Ron Finley, the self-described "Gangster Gardener." Get the MasterClass Annual Membership and learn how to cultivate fresh herbs and vegetables, keep your house plants alive, and use compost to make your community - and the world - a better place.

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