Getting Rid of Poison Ivy — A Private War

Gate to Lou’s backyard. So pretty. Where’s the poison ivy? (look below for answer)

Never declare victory until the war is won; the final battle, over. I’ve been fighting a personal battle with the poison ivy in my backyard for the last 5 years, almost as long as the war on terrorism. Much like that war, I had no idea I was in the war for the first few years. I was losing battles I had no idea I was engaged in. I’d go to work after a weekend of gardening and barbequing in my backyard, and by Tuesday I’d feel tired and beaten, like I had gotten very old all of a sudden. My face was red and warm. I felt hot and itchy and tired.I figured it was the sun and the smoke of the barbeque. It was that but what it mainly was, was the poison. The poison that caused the low-grade fever and then the rash — all over my arm or above the eyes. Poison Ivy.

There are lots of misconceptions about poison ivy that you can clear up by doing a quick internet search. For example, it’s not called poison ivy because the rash seems to crawl up different parts of your body like an ivy vine — it just takes two days generally for your skin to react to the poisonous oil that you get from brushing against the ivy. If you get it on your hands and then itch your ass, you’ll have a poison ivy reaction on your ass. (Luckily I’ve never had a poison ivy reaction on my ass.)

The oil wears away the first day or so — during that time you could conceivably give the poison ivy to someone else if the oil is on your hands or another part of your body that someone rubs up against. If the family cat is trespassing through poison ivy bushes and then cuddling up to your newborn, don’t be surprised if your newborn develops a rash.

Poison Ivy Everywhere!

Or not, because the odd thing about poison ivy is that your resistance to it decreases the more you come in contact with it. So if you felt fearless as a youngster — able to truffle through forests with nary a case, and now as an adult you constantly seem to be coming down with a rash after similar jaunts, you know the reason why.

It’s also been said that global warming will cause an increase in poison ivy, as (unsubstantiated) ‘warmer temperatures’ provide a hot bed for it. I read that in a sidebar to a news story two years ago — part of the now well-known Rule-by-Fear Global Warming propaganda. Major effects of ‘global warming’: melting of ice caps, rise in sea levels, destruction of major low-lying cities, increase in killer diseases, destruction of farm lands through drought, and an increase in poison ivy. Poison Ivy made the top 6 list!

I knew I had poison ivy in my yard, I just didn’t know where. I looked up pictures of it on the internet, printed out color copies and then went hunting about comparing every leaf structure to the pictures. But damn if 50 percent of the leaf types in my backyard were triangular and pointy, and come in groups of three. None of it looked like ivy though. I read that it turns red in the fall. I waited ’til the fall. Everything turned red. I read that you can buy Poison Ivy spray to kill it.

I bought Poison Ivy spray. I sprayed it on a bunch of different types of leaves — everything I sprayed it on died. The can said “This will kill anything you spray it on”. My litmus test failed.

Poison Ivy Is Relentless

There’s the poison ivy — EVERYWHERE.

And it kept coming after me, beating me up in battles; it was relentless and it wasn’t going away. Then my one-year-old son came down with a bad case of it, that the pediatrician swore wasn’t poison ivy (what the heck does he know? How many kids come in with poison ivy rashes?). I went back to the internet and did a precise examination of poison ivy pictures and the written descriptions that accompanied them. Equipped with the clearest and most definitive pictures I could find, I went back to my backyard, determined to find it.

And I found it. It was simply ALL OVER THE FENCE on the left side of the property, including the gate that led one into the backyard! The leaves were bigger than I thought they’d be — that’s what caused me to overlook it initially.

Poison ivy is a big broad shiny pointy leaf, with three leaves to a stem, that grows off a fury vine. The ivy can disguise itself as leaves to a great big bush — as mine was doing — it will grow over the bush and have its leaves cover, obfuscate, and impersonate the bush’s leaves.

Poison ivy is deceptive. It’s vine is fury — making it look very neat and cute. It is so cute, that in the past I had remembered pulling cords of the vine and playing with it — wrapping it around my neck. My internet research revealed to me that the vine and its roots are just as poisonous as the leaves. Also, burning poison ivy releases fumes that are especially poisonous — even lethal. Poison ivy, when smoked, can put those who breath its fumes into the hospital or even kill them. So don’t throw poison ivy leaves into the fire when toasting marshmallows. We had done that. Many times.


I had seen the enemy, and he was mine. They said I should hire professionals. They said I should hire Mexicans. I said ‘no’. This was my private war. The tools of war were a package of plastic disposable gloves, one pair for each of the many battles that lay ahead, an old pair of sneakers that would remain outside, long sleeved shirt and pants that would go into the wash as soon as each battle closed.

LouV is well padded and covered, and surrounded by poison ivy. The ivy got to him at the seams between gloves and shirt.

And the bloody battles began. The poison ivy struck back at every turn. It would find the separation between my long sleeved shirt and rubber gloves and get me there. Two days after every weekend battle came the tiredness, the low-grade fever, the itch above the eyes, the feeling of being an old man, even though I had made sure not to brush against it nor rub my eyes. Even being in close proximity to the ivy will cause an outbreak. On the internet you’ll find that many people who have been struck by poison ivy to the point of being hospitalized, refuse to go into their backyards anymore.

But for each battle, the poison ivy felt the pain — first it lost all of its leaves, torn down, horded into 20 or so large 10 gallon hefty bags. Then its vine, ripped up piece by piece off the fence. It hung on with its filament fibers clutching onto the wood it had embedding itself into. The filaments were left for a cleanup battle later on. Even the bushes and small trees that the ivy had inundated were completely removed — dug up from the roots.

The final battles focused on completely eradicating the poison ivy roots — first the major arteries, pulled from the ground. Later, the thin fibers of roots that infest the ground in the 15 foot by 3 foot area where the poison ivy grew were meticulously removed.

This proved to be the trickiest part — digging up the entire area, section by section, and coursing through the dirt picking out foot fiber after root fiber, placing the fibers into a large garbage bag, and then putting the filtered dirt back.

Back to the fence — 5 months after the ivy was pulled from it, leaving its tentacles — a paint scraper was applied to scrape the tentacles off. By that time the tentacles had dried and lost their grip. A new coat of stain and shellac was then applied to the fence to cover any leftover tentacles that were missed.

Section of backyard fence before the war. Lou used to comment that the leaves on this big bush looked so pretty. It was actually poison ivy that had grown over a bush, trees and the fence. (Click to enlarge.)

Same section of backyard fence after numerous battles. Notice the furry tentacles of the poison ivy left on the fence. This still needed to be scraped off with paint scraper, after allowing several weeks to dry out. (Click to enlarge.)

Finally,  poison ivy killer spray was applied to the dirt all along where the roots took hold, at the base of the fence. This was, in essence, nuking the area. What remains now for me to do is to be ever vigilant that no vines or anything that looks like a vine rises from that area. And to make sure it doesn’t come up elsewhere. I’ve developed an innate ability to spot poison ivy from 40 paces. Something that might be able to be parlayed to a side job with the coming of global warming.

The poison ivy roots are just as poisonous as the leaves. And they’re a bitch to get off. Best bet is to let them dry up for a month, and then tackle with paint scraper and screwdriver.
Hairy tentacles of poison ivy roots are not only on fence, they were all over the ground, in an expansive root system an inch below the surface and spreading out for many feet.


I have been plagued with poison ivy every since I purchased my home 10 years ago. My first breakout was the worst because I was naive to poison ivy so therefore I ended up on steroids & I was so tired! It is extremely frustrating to have poison ivy growing in your yard in which you have to mow and maintain. After many breakouts, I have learned to wear long shirts and pants even in the highest of temps because it sure beats itchy like crazy! Thanks for the article!

— Donna

Lawrenceville, GA


This article was extremely helpful!!! I moved to New Jersey this past August and had never encountered poison ivy before. I was outside for 1 day cleaning up and pulling weeds, etc.. Two days later I started to see a red patch of skin that developed into blisters then the annoying never ending itching. Within a couple of days it appeared at various places on my body (areas you would absolutely NOT want it)! It was on my face, arms, legs, stomach…I put Cortisone on it for a couple of days with NO relief. I finally wound up in the Emergency room where I was diagnosed with “Contact Dermatitis” from none other than Poison Ivy. It was so bad that they had to give me an injection of steroids and then I was on Prednisone for 10 days and that was awful! I thought I was being really cautious since then.


I printed out pictures as well off the internet and searched my yard. Two days ago I was doing yard work and there was an enormous vine that had taken over the back corner of the yard. I had no idea it was poison ivy or that it could grow into such a mass. Needless to say I now have a poison ivy rash on my face and neck.


What helped me the most from this article is the information on the hairy stems. I had never seen this before and it was all over the tree that the vine was wrapped around. So I knew immediately it was poison ivy. I now know what I need to do to get rid of it. (Not looking forward to that!) Thanks for your post!!


— Michelle Francoeur

Moorestown, NJ


This is a great article. I’m curious if you’ve experienced any return of the menace? I’m on my second year in a new home, and my battle against poison ivy in the border around my patio. It infiltrated daylily plants; I dug those up and the poison ivy roots led me back to the patio — they’re growing out from under the concrete!

Any suggestions how to deal with this situation? I dug up all I could and left root stumps about 4-5 inches long (there were 5 that I found); plan to douse them with roundup every week all summer. Do you think that will work? Thanks so much for sharing your story and for any suggestions.

Lisa E



This article is very informative and I welcome it. Like the author I am fighting a war with the poison ivy and I have developed an allergy to the plant. Not only does it cause itching, it also causes rashes, and breathlessness. After reading this article I have concluded that my husband is also experiencing episodes of allergic reaction — for a few weeks now he’s started feeling weak and unwell after gardening close to the plant.

My next-door neighbour’s yard is overrun by the poison ivy and now my garden fence is being infiltrated by it. Last year (2010) I tried diesel but now the poison ivy has returned with a vengance. I’ll be trying some bleach.

Joan McDowall
Wellingborough, England


What a great story. At age 55 I got hit by poison ivy (for the first time) growing up the front of my brick house and spreading out. I was caught by surprise like you. You didn’t mention how long it takes to recover from this. I will spare no expense on Roundup to nuke it incessantly. Unbelievable how poisonous something so innocent looking can be.


Dennis Bernstein
Ann Arbor, Michigan


Great article on Poison Ivy.  Although I don’t think I have any on my property it’s great to get a little heads up info & keep my eyes open.  I caught what I think was poison sumac a couple years ago & ever since I’m leery of potentially poisonous vines.


Dave Di Pietro
Cortland, NY


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