Pokeweed in your yard is every gardener’s worst nightmare. This invasive weed is not only unwelcome but contains toxic sap that can cause pokeweed rash and, if ingested, may even prove fatal.
It is important to get this invasive weed under control for the safety of your family, pets, or livestock.
Despite its deep taproot and quick spreading habit, our experts share 6 easy steps on how to get rid of pokeweed from your garden or allotment.
- What Is Pokeweed?
- Pokeweed Removal In 6 Simple Steps
- How To Kill Pokeweed With Chemicals
- Is Pokeweed Toxic?
- Pokeweed Identification
- Final Verdict On Managing Pokeweed In The Landscape
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Pokeweed?
Pokeweed, otherwise known as Phytolacca americana, is an herbaceous perennial weed native to the Southeastern United States. It has expanded into other parts of the country, making it a widespread nuisance. It is sometimes called Pokeroot, Pigeon Berry, Cancer Root, Inkberry, American Nightshade, Pokan Bush, or simply, Poke.
This noxious weed multiplies quickly, with each plant producing as many as 50,000 seeds throughout its life. Each seed can be distributed through animals such as birds when eaten, leading to widespread distribution. Pokeweed seeds can remain viable for up to 40 years under the right conditions.
Pokeweed grows easily in U.S. hardiness zones 2 through 11. If you live in one of these zones, you likely have pokeweed somewhere near you. It grows rampantly in disturbed areas, such as fields or pastures, but you can also find it growing in the woods or, worst still, your garden.
You won’t want it to stay there, because it can be dangerous to animals and people and will crowd out your valuable vegetable and flower beds.
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Pokeweed Removal In 6 Simple Steps
There are a number of ways to remove pokeweed. You can remove it manually by hand, compost it, or kill it with weed killer. No matter which method you choose, you need to have the right protection, the right tools, and always take measures to avoid its toxic sap.
How To Get Rid Of Pokeweed By Hand
To remove pokeweed by hand, you’ll want to gather the right tools and equipment. First, you’ll need protective gear. Long sleeves, pants, work gloves, and even eye protection will be helpful to keep you from getting a rash from the pokeweed sap.
You want to avoid having the sap come in contact with your skin and eyes. Also, the earlier in the season you can remove the pokeweed, the better. The longer it is allowed to grow, the bigger and deeper the taproot becomes, and the harder it becomes to remove.
Digging Out Pokeweed Roots: 6 Simple Steps
You’ll need a few good tools to get started:
Step 1. To get started, put on your protective gloves and pull up all of the small shoots at the base of the main plant. Grab them at their base and pull them up, making sure you don’t break off any roots in the soil. Any root tissue that is left behind could regrow into a new plant. If the soil is hard, it’s often best to leave the job until after rainfall to make it easier to pull the roots out of the soft damp ground. Alternatively, you can water the area around the weed to loosen the soil manually.
Step 2. To remove the main plant, you will need to dig a wide circle around the base — about 12 inches across, to avoid cutting off roots — with a garden fork. Then you will need to dig deep to remove the large taproot. Keep digging until the root is completely removed. If you leave any part behind, it could regrow and you would need to repeat the process again.
Step 3. Place all the pieces of pokeweed on a tarp and let it begin to dry out. Once it withers and dries, you can place it in a garbage bag for disposal. Be careful not to leave any berries or seeds behind.
Step 4. Next, use your rototiller to loosen the soil around the plant. You will probably want to screen this soil to make sure all of the roots and seeds have been removed.
Step 5. Place your soil screen on top of your wheelbarrow or box, and shovel the fresh soil onto the screen. The soil will fall through, and you can remove the loose pieces of roots, berries, and plants.
Step 6. Rake the soil smooth and then you can plant grass or some other plant in its place. You will want to check back often to make sure there is no regrowth after you remove the pokeweed plant by hand. If the plant regrows, you will need to repeat the process.
Do not leave any segments of the taproot behind. Any small pieces can sprout and regrow. It’s best to do the job thoroughly, once!
How To Kill Pokeweed With Chemicals
If removing pokeweed by hand does not work or if you cannot face the scale of the task, you will need to know how to kill pokeweed with weed killer. Weed killer should be used with caution but is a good option for stubborn pokeweed.
Pokeweed can be killed with a weed killer or brush killer applied with a pressure sprayer. If the pokeweed problem persists, you might want to try using a 2% solution of glyphosate-based herbicide, such as RoundUp Max Control which you can buy at Amazon. Apply the solution to the leaves of the plant and wait for 10 days. After 10 days have passed, you can pull up the plants. You will need to keep monitoring the area for new growth and reapply as necessary.
Is Pokeweed Toxic?
All parts of pokeweed are considered toxic. Saponins and oxalates are the main chemical compounds found in pokeweed that are toxins. The root of the plant is the most poisonous part, while the berries are the least, with the rest of the plant falling in between.
Children are most often poisoned by eating the dark-colored berries of the plant, making it especially dangerous in domestic locations. It only takes a few berries to deliver potentially fatal results in infants and young children.
Livestock can also suffer from the toxicity of this weed but, in practice, it’s not the most palatable of meals for them, so they will generally avoid eating it.
It can be a different story if livestock hay becomes mixed with pokeweed or contaminated by berry secretions. In this case, it can be consumed in lethal quantities. Care should be taken to make sure pokeweed is not mixed in with livestock hay or bedding.
Symptoms Of Pokeweed Poisoning
Pokeweed poisoning begins with a burning sensation in the mouth after ingestion. It may also cause cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. If large amounts of the weed have been ingested, pokeweed poisoning may cause convulsions, respiratory failure, and lead to death.
Although some people claim that young shoots can be eaten when cooked, many people have been poisoned due to improper preparation so it’s best avoided.
Contact with pokeweed sap can cause a blister-like itchy rash similar to poison ivy and other botanical irritants. When looking at how to get rid of pokeweed, be sure to wear gloves, long sleeves, and long pants to protect the skin from pokeweed rash.
After handling the plant, make sure you wash clothes thoroughly to remove any sap that may have come in contact with the fabrics.
If you believe you’ve come into contact with pokeweed, wash the affected area immediately. If a mild rash develops, you can treat it at home with calamine lotion. But if any further symptoms develop, contact your doctor immediately.
Prevention is always best when it comes to pokeweed rash, so wear protection at all times.
Pokweed is not difficult to identify if you know what you are looking for. It appears as a large bush or a small tree, growing to about 10 feet in height.
The leaves of the plant can be anywhere from 5 to 10 inches long. They are dark green on top, pinkish underneath, and somewhat egg-shaped with a smooth surface.
Pokeweed grows long clusters of white-green flowers. Each flower can eventually develop into a purple pokeberry.
Pokeweed has a very long, fleshy, white taproot that can grow up to 6 inches in diameter. It can also be identified by its smooth, tall, reddish-purple stems. Multiple stems can grow out of a single tap root, and they sprawl off in several directions. The stems are thick and hollow.
Pokeweed berries are very similar in appearance to dark purple grapes, growing in hanging clusters. This makes them a particularly high risk to children who mistake the pokeweed berry for grapes or other tasty berries.
One of the tell-tale differences between grapes and pokeweed berries is the reddish stems on the pokeweed compared to the woody stems of grapes.
Eating just a couple of berries can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and in extreme cases even lead to death.
Elderberry Vs Pokeberry
Elderberries are another plant with similar upright growth habits and clumps of purplish berries. But, with a little bit of knowledge, you can spot the difference quite easily.
First, elderberry fruits are much smaller than pokeberries, being about the size of a BB shot (4mm). Pokeberries are around twice the size and similar in diameter to a garden pea (8mm).
If you look closely, you can see that elderberries grow in wide flat clumps of berries, while pokeberries can be seen in long, dangly overlapping clusters of fruit.
There is also a notable difference between the stems of elderberry and pokeberry. Elderberry stems are woody and flecked, resembling a small tree branch. The stems are a dark brownish color, and only the small stems of the berries are a deep red in color.
Meanwhile, the pokeberry stem is smooth, hollow, and more succulent in texture. The entire stem of a pokeberry plant is a purple-red color along its full length.
The leaf arrangements of the plants are also a good way to tell them apart. Elderberry leaves are opposite of each other in pairs, whilst pokeberry leaves appear in an alternating pattern along the branch.
When in doubt, never eat berries that you cannot positively identify. They have the same challenges as mushrooms or fungi, with so many of them potentially harmful yet similar in appearance.
Can You Compost Pokeweed?
Composting pokeweed is very difficult. Technically, you could compost pokeweed shoots in a cold compost pile. They will eventually break down and provide nutrients for the soil. However, any seeds, berries, or roots will likely sprout and grow in your compost bin, causing you more problems.
Even if you attempted to compost pokeweed in a hot compost pile, it would be very difficult to get the temperature high enough to keep the seeds from being viable. The safest way to dispose of pokeweed is to allow it to dry on a tarp, place it in a garbage bag, and tie it up tightly. Then simply dispose of it in the trash.
Final Verdict On Managing Pokeweed In The Landscape
Once you have suitably identified pokeweed in your garden, precautions need to be taken to avoid rash or any other form of toxicity.
By following our 6 simple steps on how to get rid of pokeweed, you can thoroughly dig out every piece of the taproot to prevent the return of this nuisance weed in your backyard.
As a final resort, you may need to apply a weed killer to remove deep roots or very significant overgrowth.