If there’s poison ivy within a mile radius, it somehow knows I’m here and makes a beeline for me. Every single time. I’ve become an expert at spotting it and eradicating it from my property. Because poison ivy is such an aggravating plant, it’s tempting to want to smother it with a no-holds-barred herbicide containing glyphosate — but I promise you there are better methods that won’t harm the soil, surrounding plants, and the environment. So let’s get to it, because we don’t want one pesky plant to slow down our gardening this year, do we?
Identify it correctly. We’ve all heard “leaves of three, leave it be” but poison ivy is often confused with other plants that have similar growth patterns. Wild grape vines, Virginia creeper, and cow-itch vine are the most often mistakenly identified as poison ivy, but they lack the oil (urushiol) that causes the allergic reaction. Be sure you know what you are dealing with first before attempting treatment.
Protect yourself. Wearing long sleeves when you garden, and if you think you’ve come into contact with poison ivy, proceed carefully. Wash clothes separately several times in the hottest water your clothing will tolerate, and wash skin with cool water and soap as quickly as possible. If you plan to work around poison ivy, wear a double layer of disposable gloves, and pull them off inside-out to avoid contact with the oil.
Use organic controls. Remove the entire plant by hand (making sure you are well protected), getting as much of the root out as possible. If you have a larger area of poison ivy, mow over it repeatedly to kill it off. Sheet mulching also works — lay any type of organic mulch thickly over the affected area after mowing or trimming it down close to the ground. If you are lucky enough to have goats, congratulations! Goats do not have allergic reactions to poison ivy and will munch on it with enthusiasm.
Pay attention to the soil. Poison ivy appears to prefer acid soils and those that are deficient in selenium, calcium, and phosphorus. It’s worth a quick soil test to find out if your soil is a breeding ground for this plant — and if it is, then spend some extra time adjusting your pH and nutrient levels to create a soil that is inhospitable to it.
Note: Never burn poison ivy plants. The oil can be inhaled through the smoke, and can cause serious allergic reactions to the nasal passages, lungs, and throat.