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How To Control Poison Oakpoison oak

Along with poison ivy and poison sumac, poison oak is another one of those noxious invasive plants that you may run into while hiking or enjoying the outdoors. These same plants can also creep up onto your own lawn which can be a hazard to you and your children if skin happens to come in contact with their leaves which can cause painful and irritating rashes and blisters.

Poison oak is an invasive plant typically found along the west coast of the United States and in areas of southwestern British Columbia.  In California, poison oak has become such a prevalent problem that it is considered the most hazardous plant in the state and has affected the economy, resulting in people who come in contact with the plant to miss work days while trying to recover from the allergic reactions of the plant.

Poison oak is a deciduous plant and contains a woody stalk which takes one of two forms depending on whether it is growing by itself in the open or is sheltered by trees or structures. In general, poison oak leaves are made up of three leaflets but can also appear in leaves of five, seven or nine leaflets. These leaves produce an oil called urushiol which is a serious allergen and is what causes rashes and irritation to humans who come in contact with it.

During springtime, poison oak can also be identified by the small greenish-white flowers it produces and by its whitish fruit in later summer or early fall. Like many deciduous trees, the leaves of the poison oak change color in autumn, often turning bright red.

If your home has poison oak growing, it is important to get it removed as soon as possible. At Solutions Pest and Lawn, we can help with our offerings of high-quality control products that will remove these plants quickly.

Browse our poison oak products below. We are available via live chat, email or phone if you ever have any questions or concerns or would like more detailed advice on how to conduct control.

How To Get Rid of Poison Oak: 4 Step Solution

Controlling poison oak completely can be rather difficult because the plant is beloved by birds who eat the fruit and berries which grow from the plant and then spread the seeds far and wide to where they continue to emerge in places they are not wanted. As difficult as it can be, removal is not impossible. With the right approach along with being equipped with the right weed-killing products, you can get it off your lawn. Here are the steps we’ve shared to help you tackle poison oak the DIY way.

Step 1: Identification -  First and foremost, before going through any kind of control strategy, you need to correctly identify the plant is for certain, poison oak. Because of poison oak looking similar to other harmless plants, it may not be a serious issue and you could just hand pull the weeds or leave them be. Poison oak grows as a bush or vine, much like poison ivy. In fact, poison oak and poison ivy are so similar to one another that some people use their names almost interchangeably. 

The way to tell the difference between poison oak and poison ivy is that poison oak leaves are shaped similar to an oak leaf (though it's not a member of the oak family), they have leaflets which are colored a duller looking green which are more unique lobed or toothed than poison ivy leaves. When mature the older leaflets are a duller green than younger leaves and finally the leaflets are hairy on both sides unlike poison ivy.

If you are not totally sure, you can always shoot us an email at identification@solutionsstores.com containing a photo of the plant in question and we will ID it properly for you as well as provide control recommendations.

Step 2: Inspection -  Once you are certain that what you have on your property is indeed poison oak, you can then proceed with an inspection. This is mainly done to see where the poison oak is growing on your property and how large of a growth this plant has. Poison oak, much like poison ivy, can grow just about anywhere - on trees, on the ground, and on buildings.  When inspecting, make sure that you are first properly geared up for the occasion. Be sure to wear long pants, long sleeves, gloves, and boots, covering as much skin as possible.

Check for what phase of growth the plant is in. Poison oak changed color throughout the year, in spring, the leaves have a tinge of red. As spring progresses, leaves change to bright green and loose clusters of small greenish white flowers are produced. As summer progresses, ivory white fruits will form and in the fall the leaves will eventually turn golden, then red and eventually fall off, leaving just the woody stems throughout winter. Unmarked stems are just as effective as the leaves in exposing you to the urishiol oils.


Step 3: Control -  The best strategy for eliminating poison oak is through the use of chemical herbicides. Use a non-selective herbicide like glyphosate which will easily kill off this plant. Apply the chemical treatment after the fruit has formed but before the leaves have changed color. lternatively, we suggest using Triclopyr 4 Brush Killer (Garlon 4). No matter what you choose, keep in mind that poison oak is a persistent plant, so repeated applications may be necessary to completely kill the plant. Afterwards, wash all your clothing and equipment thoroughly to remove traces of the oil. 


Step 4: Prevention - If you are able to successfully kill off the poison oak, you don't want it to make a comeback. Closely monitor your yard to check if poison oak returns. This should especially be done in the spring and summer since that is when poison oak is actively growing. If patches begin to pop up, spray them with herbicides or yank them out. Again be careful and use gloves and wash the gloves afterward.


Learn More About Poison Oak

Poison oak, along with poison ivy, are two of the most unpleasantly irritating plants in North America. Each year thousands of people are affected with moderate to severe dermatitis from coming into contact with the leaves and stems of these plants. 

Poison oak is a widespread deciduous shrub or vine found throughout the country but particularly in the mountains and valleys of California, generally below 5,000 feet elevation. In shady canyons and riparian habitats it commonly grows as a climbing vine with aerial roots that grow onto the trunks of oaks and sycamores.


Poison oak also forms dense thickets and regenerates readily after disturbances such as fire and the clearing of land. Because the two species of western poison oak often exhibit a viny growth form, they are listed as subspecies of eastern poison ivy by some experts.

The Itchy Affects of Poison Oak

Every year, thousands of adults and children are treated for the itchy side effects of poison oak. This is in largely in part due to people who haven't learned to identify it in the wild. People unknowingly walk through it, play in it, and even eat it! Some people are immune to it, or only contract mild rashes when exposed. Most people, however, are not so fortunate. Upon contact, they develop a spreading, very itchy, and sometimes painful rash.

A natural oil on the stems and leaves of Poison Oak called urushiol is the culprit. It is not actually a poison, but it causes an allergic reaction. The oil adheres to skin and clothing and can spread by touch.


Burning leaves of poison oak is a terribly bad idea because smoke from burning Poison Oak will just send the urushiol resin into the air, thus it can be breathed into the lungs, which can cause severe reactions in people, internally as well as externally.


Inspecting Poison Oak: What To Look For

3 parted leaflets - The old saying "leaves of three, let them be" includes poison oak. Poison oak leaves are three parts, meaning each leaf has the appearance of 3 leaves. Depending on the time of year, leaves can be yellowish, deep green, red, orange, or reddish black. The oil in the plant causes the leaves to be very shiny.

Growth and stems - 
In winter and early spring, keep an eye out for clumps of light brown or grayish stems between an inch to 6 inches tall with a strong upright habit in open areas and much smaller in shaded areas. When poison oak grows beside a tree it can climb to 20’ or more by utilizing the tree for support. Older plants tend to branch but clusters of younger plants are usually made up of singular stems. At lower elevations, on dry slopes exposed to strong sun, the plants tend to be more spread out and take on a more disheveled appearance, often rough and gray with splotches of light-colored lichens all over.


Fruits and berries - Poison Oak produce small, hanging bunches of yellowish-green flowers in the springtime that mature into small, greenishwhite berries in late summer. The berries hang on through early winter with only the stems remaining by spring. To aid you in identifying Poison Oak, look closely for little hanging stems with white berries, which look like custers of tiny, dried up grapes.


Control Options For Poison Oak

While you could always manually chop down poison oak or hand pulling the shrub, this is something we wouldn't recommend because of the risk of urushiol exposure to your skin and face. Also, if you are not absolutely thorough with pulling out all parts of the plants--stems, roots and all--before long poison oak will grow and dominate the land once again. The only time we recommend hand pulling is if you have a very minimal amount of the plant on your property.

Herbicide treatment remains the best option for poison oak control. However, it's important to be careful in applying the herbicides so it doesn't get on your desired plants because it can potentially kill them as well. For instance, if the poison oak is growing among desired vegetation, you must apply chemical controls directly to the poison oak plant and not to any of the other plants. One thing you can do if the poison oak is in close proximity to desired plants is to paint chemical on the poison oak rather than spray. If the poison oak invasion is severe enough, you may have to sacrifice some desirable plants in order to eliminate the poison oak.

Herbicide products that contain the active ingredient triclopyr are the most effective at controlling poison oak. The products are often touted as poison oak or brush control and are most often mixed with glyphosate. When using these products, it is essential to thoroughly coat the vegetative parts of the plant. Be prepared to make repeated applications for complete control. Roundup has also demonstrated effectiveness in killing poison oak, but again, will require multiple applications. You may also use a combination of triclopyr and 2,4-D where herbicide drift is not a factor. However, you should never apply 2,4-D in locations where other sensitive species grow in close proximity to poison oak


Additional Resources on Poison Oak

Poison Oak Management Guidelines--UC IPM


Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac FactSheet



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