Pokeweed in your yard is every gardeners worst nightmare. This invasive weed not only unwelcome but contains toxic sap that can cause pokeweed rash and if ingested can 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, 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, cancer root, American nightshade, or simply, poke.
This noxious weed multiplies quickly with each pokeweed 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 forty years under the right conditions.
Pokeweed grows easily in U.S. hardiness zones two through eleven. 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.
Is Pokeweed Poisonous
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 morsels of 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.
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 its best avoided.
Always protect exposed skin when handling pokeweed or you could end up with a poison ivy-like rash, known as pokeweed rash, after coming in contact with any part of the plant.
Contact with pokeweed sap can cause a blister-like itchy rash similar to poison ivy and other botanical irritants. So when looking at how to get rid of pokeweed be sure to wear gloves, long sleeves, and long pants to help 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.
Poke Weed Identification
The leaves of the plant can be anywhere from five to ten inches long. They are dark green on top, and pinkish underneath and somewhat egg-shaped with a smooth surface.
Pokeweed grows long clusters of white-green flowers with each flower developing into a pokeberry. It’s 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 ten feet in height.
It has a very long fleshy, white taproot that can grow up to six 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 the more familiar grape or other tasty berries.
One of the tell-tale differences between grapes and pokeweed berries are 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 habit and clumps of purplish berries to pokeweed. 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), while 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 darker brownish color, and only the small stems of the berries are a deep red in color.
Whereas the pokeberry stem is smooth, hollow, and more succulent in texture. The entire stem of a pokeberry plant is a purplish 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.
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.
You’ll also need a few good tools to get started. You’ll want to gather up a shovel, wheelbarrow, soil screen, tarp, rototiller, garbage bag, and a rake.
Digging Out Pokeweed Roots: 6 Simple Steps
1. To get started, you’ll want to 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 root in the soil. Any root 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.
2. To remove the main plant, you will need to dig a wide circle around the plant, about twelve inches across. Then you will need to dig deep to remove the large taproot. Keep digging until all the root is completely removed. If you leave any part behind, it could regrow and you would need to repeat the process again.
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.
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.
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 root, berries, and plants.
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 removed the pokeweed plant by hand. If the plant regrows, you will need to repeat the process.
There we have it, how to get rid of pokeweed in 6 simple steps. It’s is hard work, but it’s not complicated!
Do not leave any segments of the taproot behind. Any small pieces will sprout and regrow. It’s best to do the job thoroughly, once!
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.
How To Kill Pokeweed
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. Weedkiller needs to be used with caution, but it is a good option for stubborn pokeweed.
Pokeweed can be killed with a weed killer. If the pokeweed problem persists, you might want to try using a two percent solution of glyphosate herbicide. Apply the solution to the leaves of the plant and wait for ten days. After ten days have passed, you can pull up the plants. You will need to keep monitoring the area for new growth and reapply as necessary.
Summary How To Get Rid Of Pokeweed
Once you have suitably identified pokeweed in your garden precautions need to be taken to avoid rash or any other form of its effect through ingestion.
By following our 6 simple steps on how to get rid of pokeweed, you can thoroughly dig out every piece to the taproot to prevent a reoccurrence of this nuisance weed in your backyard.
As a final resort, you may need to apply a weedkiller for any deep root or very significant overgrowth.