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How to Kill Poison Oak

Three Methods:Manual RemovalChemical ControlNatural Techniques

Poison oak looks innocuous, but the rash it causes can lead to severe itching, water blisters and even skin poisoning. It thrives on abandoned land, along hiking trails, in wood lots and on Christmas tree farms. If you have poison oak plant near your home or business, you can get rid of it by hand, using herbicide, or trying natural methods. See Step 1 to find out how.

Method 1
Manual Removal

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    Identify poison oak plants. Poison oak has green, shiny leaves that turn red in the fall and die off in the winter. The leaves are thick and have a rumpled surface. They have a similar shape to oak leaves and grow in groups of three (hence the "leaves of three, let it be" adage). In open sun, poison oak grows in the form of bushy shrubs. In areas with partial shade, it can grow as a vine, climbing up trees and stumps.
    • Look for poison oak along trails, near the edges of woods, and in abandoned lots.
    • Left to grow, poison oak plants can become quite large, but you'll also see baby plants sprouting from the ground. Look for the classic leaves for positive identification.
    • Even when a poison oak plant has lost its leaves, the dry sticks left behind are still poisonous, so don't dismiss a plant just because it doesn't have leaves.
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    Cover yourself from head to toe. Manual removal requires actually touching the plants, so you need to make sure you're completely covered to protect your skin from urushiol, the toxic (to humans) oil they produce. Put on thick gloves, several layers of long shirts, long pants, socks, and heavy boots. Since some people get affected by simply breathing the air near poison oak, you should cover your face as well. This is the most effective removal strategy, but it's also the most dangerous.
    • This method is not recommended for people who are severely allergic to poison oak - and you are, you probably already know you shouldn't attempt to do this. Either find someone who's immune - 15% of the population can touch poison oak without getting a rash - or try another method.
    • Be aware that if you only had a mild rash in the past, it's possible that another exposure could have a worse effect.
    • Be very careful when you remove your clothes after the job is done. The oils from the poison oak plants will be on your gloves, shoes and other clothing. It should all be promptly washed using the hot cycle in your washing machine.
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    Dig out the plants by the roots.[1] Smaller plants may be pulled out by hand, but you might need a shovel to dig out larger ones. It's very important to get the entire plant, including the roots. Otherwise the plant will grow right back.
    • It's easiest to manually remove plants in the spring, when they're green and the ground is relatively soft. Waiting until the ground gets dry or cold will make it difficult to get all the roots, since the plants will tend to break off at the stems.
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    Discard the plants. Once you've collected all of the plants and their roots, either stack them in an out-of-the-way area or put them in garbage bags to be thrown away. Dead poison oak plants are still poisonous, so don't leave them in a place where other people will come into contact with them.
    • Don't use the plants as mulch or compost. Again, it's just too risky, since they're still full of the oils that can cause an extreme rash.
    • Don't burn the plants. Breathing the smoke from burning poison oak plants is extremely dangerous.

Method 2
Chemical Control

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    Apply a chemical treatment to poison oak stumps. You can use glyphosate, triclopyr or a combination of these chemicals to kill the poison oak plants. Do this at the beginning of the growing season, while the plants are still green. The plant will will drink in the chemical down to the roots. Once the plants are dead, you'll need to go back and dig them out.[2]
    • Start by covering yourself from head to to. You won't be directly touching the plants this time, but you still need to be careful.
    • Use long-handled loppers to cut down the poison oak plant so that the stems are just 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5.1 cm) above ground.
    • Immediately after cutting the stems, apply a of chemicals with a 1-inch wide paint brush or a squeeze bottle.
    • Thoroughly cover each stump with the chemical. You will have to re-treat any new growth that shoots out of the stump.
    • When the stems turn brown a few days later, use a shovel to dig out the dead roots.
    • Don't mulch or burn the dead material; throw it away, since it could still cause a rash.
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    Use an early-season spray. Choose an herbicide made with triclopyr. This chemical is most effective early in the growing season, and you can it from spring to mid-summer when plants are growing rapidly and flowering.
    • Don't spray on a windy day. The chemicals will kill nearby plants in addition to the poison oak, or they may blow back in your face.
    • Don't spray trees.
    • Spray when it's dry, not when it's rainy out. The herbicide will need at least 24 hours to work effectively.
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    Use a late-season spray. Use an herbicide made with glyphosate late in poison oak's life cycle. You can use glyphosate after the poison oak has flowered, but while its leaves are still green. Apply a 2 percent solution of glyphosate to the poison oak, spraying it directly on the poison oak plant's leaves. Glyphosate will damage or kill other nearby vegetation, so be careful where you spray it.
    • Don't spray on a windy day. The chemicals will kill nearby plants in addition to the poison oak, or they may blow back in your face.
    • Don't spray trees.
    • Spray when it's dry, not when it's rainy out. The herbicide will need at least 24 hours to work effectively.
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    Consider getting a professional involved. If you don't want to go near the poison oak, it might be best to hire someone else to do it. A licensed professional will apply a high-powered pesticide such as Imazapyr to wipe out the poison oak. It's best to do this in spring or early fall.

Method 3
Natural Techniques

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    Cover the plants. Use plastic sheeting to cover poison oak plants that are in a contained area. This works best if you first cut the plant down to a few inches above the ground. The dead roots must be removed and discarded properly, or they'll come back.
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    Use boiling water. Heat up your tea kettle until the water has come to a rolling boil. Take it outside and pour it near the roots of the poison oak plant. The boiling water should kill the plant - but again, you'll need to get rid of the roots. This method is better for small plants. Large shrubs probably won't be affected.
    • If you use this method, be very careful not to breathe in any steam that rises from the boiled plant.
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    Employ a goat to do the job. Goats love to eat poison oak - they aren't affected by the oils - and since they're always hungry, they can clear out an are riddled with the stuff in no time at all. This is a great natural way to get rid of poison oak plants. Check around to see if there's a goat farm in your area. It's becoming increasingly popular for goat owners to hire out their goats for natural landscape management.
    • If you go this route, you'll need to get the roots in order to make sure the plants grow back. However, you could instead hire goats every spring to keep them maintained.
    • Interestingly, goats that eat poison oak produce milk that's free of the toxic oils.[3]
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    Try a vinegar spray. This method might be worth a try, especially for smaller plants. Fill a spray bottle with undiluted white vinegar and spray the leaves and stems of the poison oak plants in your area. In a few days, the plants should die. Remove the roots if you don't want them to grow back.
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    Plant your yard with healthy groundcover. Since poison oak tends to thrive in "disturbed" areas with bare soil, you can prevent it from invading by planting other plants to take up that open space.


  • You can prevent poison oak from spreading by allowing sheep or goats to graze on it. Deer and horses can graze on it while the plant remains young (before it flowers).


  • Working with herbicides can be dangerous. Make sure you follow all label instructions as to proper use, storage and disposal.
  • Bulldozers and brush rakes are not successful at removing poison oak because oftentimes the root is still left in the ground to sprout again. Mowing and plowing are not successful for poison oak control either, in fact they spread pieces of the plant around.
  • You can still get a rash from the plant even if it has been dead for years. Urushiol lasts a long time.
  • Do not ever under any circumstances burn poison oak. The smoke contains urushiol (the substance that causes the rash) which if breathed in can cause severe and possibly life threatening damage. Burning poison oak is worse than touching the plant.
  • Urushiol can penetrate latex gloves and can stay on unwashed clothing and tools for a year or more.

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Categories: Garden Pests and Weeds