How to Get Rid of Pokeweed Once and For All

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How to get rid of pokeweed plants growing in a woody area.

Pokeweed is an interesting perennial growth that produces tasty-looking berries. While some people consider pokeweed to have some practical uses, it contains toxic substances and is more of a nuisance in yards and gardens. So it’s best to clear this plant out if you spot it, but that can be a task that’s easier said than done.

There are a few different methods for how to get rid of pokeweed in your garden or lawn:

  • Manually dig up the plant and dispose of it in the trash.
  • Apply an herbicide, like glyphosate, dicamba or 2,4-D.
  • Use natural herbicides, like salt and vinegar or boiling water.

After dealing with the original pokeweed plant, it’s critical to monitor the area and pull up any young plants as soon as you see them.

In this post, you’ll learn a little bit more about the pokeweed plant and the details of how to go about each removal method listed above. We’ll also cover how to keep

What is Pokeweed?

American pokeweed, part of the Phytolaccaceae family, grows in tropical and subtropical areas according to the US Forest Service. It’s also known by other names:

  • American Pokeberry
  • American Nightshade
  • Pidgeon Berry
  • Cancer Root
  • Scoke
  • Inkberry Coakun
  • Poke Root

The pokeweed plant is truly built for survival. It forms an aggressive taproot and offshoots that can get very large over the years, contributing to the difficulty of removal. These offshoots will survive and produce new pokeweed plants even after being severed from the main plant!

Each berry contains multiple seeds, and a single plant can produce thousands of seeds each year. And when those seeds fall to the ground, they can survive for up to 40 years!

Pokeweed is originally native to the US Southern states, but it has found ideal growing conditions in US zones 4-8 where it grows quite aggressively. You can often see massive pokeweed plants along the sides of roads or in drainage ditches.

There are a couple of varieties of pokeweed, and depending on which part of the U.S. you live in, pokeberries may appear segmented or smooth:

A closeup of segmented pokeberries.
Segmented pokeberries
A closeup of smooth pokeberries.
Smooth pokeberries

All parts of the pokeweed plant contain toxins, with the roots having the highest concentration. However, the berries usually pose the greatest danger since they appear edible. According to WebMD, eating just 10 pokeberries is toxic for adults, and eating even fewer than that is harmful or fatal for children or pets.

There are some who claim the pokeweed has medicinal or edible uses. However, only certain parts are considered edible, and there are many detailed steps to make consumption even moderately safe. So it’s best to not eat any part of this plant at all.

Pokeweed berries contain very potent pigments, and when they’re crushed, they produce a rich purple or magenta dye for ink or fabrics. You still need to use great care when handling pokeberries or any part of the plant, so if you want to attempt a home dyeing project, gloves are a must!

How to Get Rid of Pokeweed by Removal

Manual removal of pokeweed is the most common method, but you’ve got to dig in deep and remove the whole taproot. Pokeweed is an extremely hardy plant, so you’ll have to ensure you completely remove all traces of root and all berries or seeds to prevent it from coming back.

Here’s what to do:

1. Prepare the Ground

If the ground where the pokeweed is growing is hard or very dry, soak the area with a garden hose a few hours or the day before you plan to remove the pokeweed plant.

2. Dress Appropriately

Pokeweed has an irritating sap that can cause a painful, itchy rash, severe eye irritation or gastrointestinal distress. Before you begin digging or handling the plant, make sure to gear up with protective clothing to keep your skin and eyes safe:

NOTE: Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly and throw your work clothes into the washer as soon as you’re finished removing the pokeweed.

3. Lay Down a Tarp or Plastic Sheeting

You’ll be laying the entire pokeweed plant in the sun for a few days after removal, allowing it to dry thoroughly before disposing of it. If you throw the plant in the trash without drying it out, it may still shed berries or root fragments at the landfill or along the way.

You don’t want to risk dropping berries or any plant material anywhere in your yard, so have your drying surface right next to your worksite.

4. Cut the Plant to Ground Level

Use a pair of loppers or a spade to cut the stem at or just below ground level. This makes the process of digging out the roots easier and reduces the chances of sap exposure. Place the cut pokeweed onto the tarp right away.

Also, if there are any fallen pokeberries on the ground, pick them up and put them on the tarp. The seeds from the berries are another method for the pokeweed to grow, and you don’t want to plant any new pokeweed plants!

5. Dig a Hole Around the Pokeweed Stem

Dig a hole 6 inches outward from the pokeweed stem in all directions, for roughly 12 inches in total diameter.

Now dig at least 12 inches deep. Pokeweed forms a very long taproot, and you must remove the entire thing to prevent regrowth.

6. Pull the Plant From the Ground

Carefully remove the entire root ball from the ground, trying not to snap any roots.

This video from Brian Treelife lets you get an idea of how big pokeweed roots can get:

After you’ve pulled up the root ball, lay it on your tarp/plastic surface.

7. Look for Remaining Root Sections

Use your shovel or a garden rake to thoroughly turn the soil, looking carefully for any remaining root fragments. Pick up all the pieces you find, no matter how small they are. Even if there are just tiny root fragments left in the ground, they could grow into a whole new plant.

8. Allow Plant Material to Dry Completely

Drag your tarp to an out-of-way section of the yard and leave the plant material to dry out. If you have a spot in full sun, that will speed the drying process up.

After drying, put your gloves back on, bag the pokeweed up and dispose of it in the trash.

How to Kill Pokeweed with Herbicides

In all honesty, I don’t like to promote using chemicals in the garden and home, and I avoid it whenever possible.

But pokeweed is a plant that you definitely want out of your yard or garden, especially if you have kids or pets around. While I encourage you to seriously consider manual removal before turning to chemical means, eradicating pokeweed does sometimes call for an herbicide application. And a few common herbicides are very effective for getting rid of pokeweed.

Glyphosate

Herbicides are typically most effective If your pokeweed plant is young, and glyphosate, or Roundup, usually produces the best results. A bottle with a wand attachment helps prevent getting glyphosate on any other plants.

Do not try to target the roots with glyphosate. Their thick, fleshly structure does not readily absorb chemicals, and the roots are also deep underground. Instead, apply directly to the leaf surfaces. The plant will absorb the chemical through the leaf tissue, which introduces it into the vascular system and kills the entire plant.

As with any chemical, read and carefully follow the manufacturer’s directions. And be sure to apply the glyphosate as sparingly as possible.

Dicamba or 2,4-D

Two others options are dicamba or 2,4-D, which both act as hormone disruptors for plants. They’re not quite as effective as glyphosate, but they are a good second choice.

Amazon has several different options, including these:

Rather than direct application to the leaves, these herbicides work on the roots and are designed to be applied to the ground. Because of this, there’s a greater risk of harming grass or other plants in the vicinity of your target pokeweed plant.

Again- apply sparingly and follow all manufacturer’s safety directions.

How to Kill Pokeweed Naturally

“Natural” really just refers to non-chemical means for getting rid of weeds. Keep in mind that although these methods don’t involve commercial chemicals, they are still potent and can harm insects and soil. So they’re not to be treated lightly!

You’ve got a couple of options to pick from here:

  • A homemade weed-killer with vinegar, salt and dish soap
  • Boiling water

Here’s how to do both:

Homemade Weed Killer

Mix these ingredients together in a container that’s easy to pour from:

  • 1 gallon vinegar (white works best)
  • 1 cup salt or Epsom salt
  • 1 tbsp liquid dish soap

Pour the mixture directly onto the soil, allowing it to soak in deeply. Vinegar is highly acidic, so it destroys plant cell membranes and causes cellular death. The salt separates into its sodium and chloride components, and the free chloride is toxic to plants. The dish soap acts as a surfactant that enhances the vinegar and salt’s chemical uptake.

If you’d prefer to buy a ready-made product, Amazon does offer a vinegar weed & grass killer from Energen Carolina.

Boiling Water

Goodell David, founder of Woodworking Clarity, shares that he has done battle with pokeweed many times during his years in the home improvement industry. One of his favorite ways to get rid of pokeweed is a boiling-water technique.

“One of the most effective and easy ways to get rid of pokeweed is to use boiling water,” Goodell says. “The first thing to do is to remove the stem and leaves. To do this, simply pull them off.” Remember to wear appropriate clothing and eye protection for this task!

When you’re ready to use the water, Goodell says “bring a boiling pot of water outside and pour it over the weed. It’s vital to not let the water go cold, otherwise it might take longer to kill. Pour boiling water over the plant, and leave it there for several hours. This will kill the roots and ensure the plant won’t grow back.”

One application of boiling water may not be enough to completely kill the pokeweed, so repeat the process a few times to make sure the plant is totally dead.

While Goodell says that he’s had success with the boiling water method, he does have a warning: “This can be time consuming and difficult.” And also, make sure to use great care for yourself and others while working with/transporting boiling water.

How to Combat Pokeweed Over the Long Term

After you’ve successfully dealt with pokeweed, the best way to keep it out of your garden or yard is to stay alert for it.

In the areas you’ve removed a pokeweed plant, monitor closely for up to two years as it can grow back from any seeds or taproot left behind. 

The berries contain seeds that can be spread by birds and animals, so scan your garden and yard regularly to spot a new plant early on. If you find a young pokeweed plant, put on your gloves and pull it out by the root or use the natural or herbicidal methods above. 

Pokeweed is by far the easiest to deal with when it’s young, so don’t wait- pull or otherwise kill young plants as soon as you spot them.

Elderberry vs. Pokeweed: How to Tell the Difference

Elderberries are a plant with several similarities to pokeweed, with one main difference- if you have an elderberry plant around, be thankful! According to WebMD, elderberries are packed with antioxidants and other healthy natural compounds that are thought to boost immune function, protect organs and ease some illness symptoms.

So you don’t want to kill an elderberry plant if you’re lucky enough to have one!

Here are some photos that show both plants:

An elderberry plant with multiple clusters of fruit.
Elderberry Plant
A large pokeweed plant grows in a yard alongside a house.
Pokeweed Plant

The biggest difference in elderberry vs pokeweed is the berry arrangement and shape:

  • Pokeberries grow on long stalks of berries while elderberries grow in drooping dome-shaped clusters
  • Pokeberries are blueberry sized, and elderberries are much smaller, about 1/10th of an inch in diameter

Also, elderberries grow from a woody bush, meaning that the plant has a rigid, wood-like structure, and it looks more like a large shrub or small tree. On the other hand, pokeweed is an herbaceous plant, meaning that it has softer, flexible green stems/stalks.

NOTE: Elderberries are a nutrient powerhouse, but they need to be processed correctly before consumption. The stems and leaves are toxic, and raw berries can also result in a pretty severe upset stomach. This article does a great job of laying out the steps to take to safely enjoy your elderberries.

And remember: NEVER eat a berry you can’t confidently identify!

What to Do If You’ve Been Exposed to Pokeweed

If you’ve come into direct contact with pokeweed, thoroughly wash the affected skin with large amounts of soap and water.

Many people develop an itchy, weeping rash after pokeweed exposure. If you’ve ever had a reaction to poison oak or poison ivy, a pokeweed rash looks very similar. 

If the rash is fairly mild, treat it at home by applying calamine lotion and avoiding scratching. According to Verywell Health, you can also apply hydrocortisone 1% cream as long as the rash is small and no other symptoms are noted.

If someone has ingested pokeberry, they may experience diarrhea, headache, stomach pain, vomiting, or seizures. Contact Poison Control immediately at 1-800-222-1222 for instructions or call 911. And be sure to have part of the plant in a plastic bag for identification should you need to go to the doctor or emergency room.

RELATED: We’ve dedicated an entire blog post about the dangers of pokeweed poisoning and what symptoms to look out for. Check it out of you’d like to learn more!

Frequently Asked Questions about How to Get Rid of Pokeweed

When it has completely dried out, you can burn pokeweed to dispose of a pulled plant. But disposal by burning is a risky move. If any part of the pokeweed is fresh, burning it can release toxins and make you sick. 

Once you pull it up out of the ground, it can be dried out in the sun completely then placed in a garbage bag to prevent any issues.

Pokeweed does have poisonous sap and chemicals that can cause rashes, and some of these chemicals can get into the bloodstream. So wear gloves when doing ANYTHING with pokeweed!

The toxins in pokeweed are enough to make most adults quite ill or produce a painful, itchy rash, but it’s typically not fatal.

However, the danger is much greater for children and pets, particularly the risk of severe or fatal kidney damage. It’s always best to remove pokeweed plants in any yard, but it’s an absolute must if you have young kids or pets. It’s just not worth the risk.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there’s no messing around with pokeweed. Stay vigilant for it, act quickly if you spot any pokeweed growing on your property and always protect yourself with gloves and appropriate clothing when handling it.

Hopefully the tips we’ve given above will help you get rid of pokeweed while keeping you and your loved ones safe as well!

We want to hear from you! Do you have any other questions about getting rid of pokeweed in your yard or garden? Have you been successful with any other removal methods? We learn best as a community, so please share your thoughts in the comments!

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