Chris Jones in a Tyvek suit digs poison ivy

Natural Ways to Control Poison Ivy


Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Henry Homeyer

Leaves of Three, Let it Be

Even with toxic chemicals, poison ivy is tough to eradicate. But ignoring poison ivy can lead to an unpleasant red, itchy rash that is tough to get rid of. Even if you know where it is on your property, your cat or dog can walk through it (unaffected by it) and bring the oils into the house and on to furniture or directly onto unsuspecting humans. I feel blessed that I have none on my property.

Poison ivy is starting to decline as winter approaches

My life partner, Cindy Heath, is not so lucky. For years she has had a small patch of poison ivy growing near her home in Plainfield, NH and each year it has gotten bigger. Finally this year we met a fellow who makes it his job to dig it out and get rid of it, and she hired him. Chris Jones is willing to come to your home in the Upper Valley and dig it out.

Two layers of gloves are used

On the day Chris tackled the job I went to see him work and ask him questions. He was protected from the poison ivy oils from head to toe. He wears a disposable Tyvek suit which he tucks into black rubber boots. He uses duct tape to keep the suit inside the boots. On his hands he wears 2 layers of nitrile gloves. He wraps his arms, under the Tyvek, with something like Saran Wrap. On his head he has a balaclava with only his eyes and nose showing.

Chris Jones tapes his Tyvek suit to his boots

Chris gets poison ivy roots out of the soil by loosening the soil with a garden fork, then raking through it with a cultivator fork. I introduced him to the CobraHeadweeder  a month ago, and now he is an enthusiastic convert. The CobraHead is great for following roots for long distances, loosening the soil and allowing one to get roots in their entirety. He had a CobraHead in his hand when I met up with him at Cindy’s project.

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Poison ivy, Chris explained, has male and female plants, and if both are present, this is the time of year when greenish or off-white berries will be present. But, he said, often only one sex or the other is present and the vines spread by root. I’ve seen plenty of poison ivy in my day, but I have never seen the berries. Apparently birds love the berries, which are technically drupes that have one hard seed per fruit, like cherries.

Poison ivy is not easy to eradicate

It is important to keep the fruit from dropping to the ground, Chris told me, as the seeds are viable for up to 5 years, which means they will continue to sprout from seeds for that length of time. 

If there is deep leaf litter, the roots will spread through it and are easier to pull than if they are in the ground. Roots will go down a foot or more into the soil, making them hard to entirely remove. Scraps will come back.

Roots are long often difficult to get without breaking some.

Getting rid of poison ivy, even if you pull every root you can find, is a multi-year task. There will be scraps of root that have broken off, or roots that have worked their way into crevices in bedrock or a stone wall.

Chris sometimes tries to contain a poison ivy patch by digging a narrow trench just outside an affected area. He digs down 12 to 18 inches deep, lining the trench with black plastic and adding an inch or so of Epsom salts (which he buys in 50-pound bags), and topping that with some gravel.

Chris pre-moistens some paper towels with rubbing alcohol that he uses to wipe the oils off his Tyvek suit or his gloves. He says that like most of us, he is allergic to poison ivy and it only gets worse with more exposure. So he is very careful. Tecnu is a poison ivy preventive, and apparently works if applied right after exposure. Washing up right away helps, too.

Goats will eat poison ivy, and some farmers rent them out, along with electric fence to contain them. But I know, from my time in Africa, that goats will eat almost anything – including your flowers, decorative shrubs and the bark off your 150 year-old maple.

Goats will eat poison ivy - and almost anything else!

I don’t recommend pulling poison ivy yourself. It would be too easy to get badly affected by it. Me? I’d rather do my own brain surgery than put on a Tyvek suit and try to eliminate poison ivy.

You can reach Chris Jones by e-mail at cjones@landcraftservices.com. His company is “a land enhancement, native habitat restoration and consulting company specializing in affordable, non-chemical control and eradication of noxious and invasive plants including but not limited to Poison Ivy, Giant Hogweed, Wild Parsnip, Wild Chervil, Poison Sumac, Buckthorn, Japanese Knotweed, Japanese Barberry, Multiflora Rose, Burning Bush, Black Swallow-Wort, Eurasian Watermilfoil, Field/Hedge Bindweed, Virginia Creeper, grasses, brambles, thistles and vetches.”

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Henry is the author of 4 gardening books. Visit his website by clicking here.  

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