How To Kill A Tree (5 Ways To Do It!)

How To Kill A Tree

Trees are the highlights of many yards. They’re big, beautiful, and offer a yard feature that you can plan your landscaping around. However, trees aren’t always wanted.

There may be times when you want to kill one of the trees in your yard for a variety of reasons. When this happens, there are a few different paths you can follow to get the job done. Your best option will depend on the size of your tree along with its other unique characteristics.

The easiest way to kill a small tree is to spray it with a commercial herbicide like Roundup. Larger trees will need to be cut down first to keep the surrounding area safe. After you cut a large tree down, simply treat the stump with a tree-killing chemical to make sure it doesn’t grow back.

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When Do You Need to Kill a Tree?

Homeowners may decide they need to kill one of their trees for a number of reasons. For example, you might make this decision if a tree has grown so large that it’s beginning to interfere with the other parts of your backyard landscape.

Additionally, trees that are dying pose health and safety hazards to your family, your home, and your neighbors. If you know that one of your trees is in the process of dying, it’s a good idea to be proactive about the issue rather than allowing it to cause damage down the line.

These are just a few examples of times when you may decide that killing a tree is the best way to resolve the issues that you’ve been having with it. There are many other scenarios not listed here that may cause you to feel the same way.

Regardless, you’ll find that there are many different ways that you can kill a tree. However, some are easier than others. Continue reading to find the best methods for killing trees.

Can You Kill a Tree Without Cutting it Down?

One of the first questions that most homeowners have about killing a tree is whether or not they need to cut it down. Ultimately, the answer to this question depends on how large the tree in question is. 

If it’s a very large tree, then you’ll want to call an arborist to come out and look at it. They’ll be able to tell you whether you can kill the tree without causing it to eventually come crashing down on a neighborhood home or another delicate part of your yard.

Smaller trees can absolutely be killed without having to cut them down. There are many different ways to do this, many of which will be covered in the following sections.

Kill a Tree by Drilling Holes and Applying Tree Killer

This is one of the easiest ways to kill a large tree without having to resort to cutting it down. There are several different ways you can go about doing this.

We recommend drilling holes in the roots of the tree, as this will allow you to impact the entire tree without having to drill hundreds of tiny holes. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to achieve this.

  1. Start 2-3 inches from the trunk of the tree. From there, you’re going to drill down through the dirt and into the tree’s roots. You should be able to see where the major roots of the tree are located visually.
  2. Apply tree killer directly to the roots. Not all commercially available herbicides will get the job done, so make sure that you’re careful about which one you purchase. Tordon is one brand that should be able to get just about any job done.
  3. If attempting to avoid detection, cover the ground up with mulch. Once this is done, the outside world will have no idea that the tree is slowly dying. However, within a few weeks, the tree should already be completely dead.

How to Kill a Tree with Salt

Salt is an alternative that can be used to kill a tree without a commercial herbicide like Tordon on RoundUp. This strategy allows you to accomplish your task without having to shell out for an expensive tree killer. It could be the best option for budget-conscious tree killers.

The process for this is very similar to the one you’d follow if you were killing a tree with an herbicide. Here’s a guide you can follow to get the job done.

  1. Drill holes into the roots of the tree. The exact number of holes that you need will vary based on the size of the tree. That being said, four to six holes spread evenly across the roots should do the trick.
  2. Prepare a salt solution. This is done by mixing in two parts of salt for every one part of water. Add as much of these ingredients as you need, then mix the solution until the salt dissolves entirely.
  3. Pour the salt solution into the drilled holes. This is a process that you’re going to have to repeat regularly for a few weeks. Once the tree’s foliage begins taking on a brown color, you’ll know that the process is working properly.
  4. If it’s a large tree, cut it down. Large trees that are killed this way still need to be cut down. However, that process will be much easier after you’ve completed this process.

Kill a Tree by Removing Bark (Girdling)

Girdling is a tree-killing process with roots that trace as far back as the Iroquois Indians. They would kill unwanted trees by cutting a ring of bark away from the tree all the way around. Eventually, that tree would die and the Iroquois could use its wood to build.

This is an ancient tree-killing method that’s just as effective today as it was back then. It’s also a fairly easy way to kill your unwanted trees.

All that you need to do is cut a complete ring around a portion of the tree’s bark. Most people who follow this strategy use a chainsaw to do it. Once you’ve done this, the portion of the tree that lies above the girdle line will stop growing completely.

It is important to note that only the parts of the tree that are above the girdle line will stop growing. Trees can be fairly resilient and you may find that the lower part of the tree continues thriving even after you girdle an upper portion.

Still, this is a good strategy for people who don’t want to cut down their trees right away. Girdling halts the growth process and buys you time. You’ll be able to go back to cut the trees that you’ve used this treatment on down whenever you want.

Kill a Tree with Copper Nails

Copper nails are another tool that you can use to kill a tree without having to cut it down. This is another fairly easy way to get the job done. All that you need to make this work is a hammer and a box of copper nails.

Essentially, the process boils down to simply hammering a bunch of copper nails into a live tree. To get the best results from this strategy, you’ll want to place those nails near the trunk of the tree.

This is also a tree-killing method that can be hidden from suspicious onlookers. One way to do that is to lay a layer of mulch near the base of the tree where you’ve hammered the copper nails. Buy mulch that matches the color of the nails you’ve hammered and it will be very difficult for anyone to see what you’ve done.

That being said, there is one major downside to using this strategy. If you try to kill a tree with copper nails alone, you shouldn’t expect the tree to die for at least a year. You might have to wait even longer to see the fruits of your labor.

That makes this tree-killing method one that’s best used in situations where you don’t need the tree to die as quickly as possible. If your needs are more pressing than that, continue on to the next section.

How to Kill a Tree Fast

You can kill unwanted trees in many different ways. However, if you want to complete the process as quickly as possible, you’re going to want to utilize one of the following methods.

Spray the Tree

The easiest way to kill a tree quickly is to spray it with a commercial herbicide. RoundUp and Killzall are two of the most commonly used treatments for this strategy.

All that you need to do is mix the herbicide into a gallon sprayer and begin spraying the unwanted tree. To get the best results, you’ll want to place most of your focus on the tree’s leaves.

That being said, this strategy won’t completely kill trees that are above four feet or so in height. For these, you’re going to need to cut the tree down to the stump after you’ve sprayed it.

Cut and Remove the Tree

There’s really no method that kills a tree faster than cutting and removing it. Tree species like oak, palm, maple, and pine don’t need any chemical agents. They’ll die just from cutting them down.

However, other tree species will continue growing back if they aren’t treated with chemical agents. Check out this link for a complete list of the common types of trees that need to be treated with chemicals and those that don’t.

Call for Professional Assistance

It can be difficult to identify both the most effective and fastest method for killing an unwanted tree. Even when you do find the right method, you might be surprised at how long and physically exerting the process turns out to be.

You may be able to speed the tree-killing process up tremendously by simply calling an arborist. They can come out to take a look at your trees and make specific recommendations about the fastest way to solve your problem. This enables you to get rid of a tree quickly without having to devote multiple weekends to the project.

Can You Kill a Tree with Bleach?

Some homeowners ask if they can use bleach to kill an unwanted tree since it’s an item that they have at home anyways. You can absolutely take care of your tree problem with bleach provided that you follow the correct method.

Killing a tree with bleach is a process that’s similar to the one you would follow if trying to kill a tree with a commercial herbicide. This means that you need to start the process by drilling into the roots of the tree.

Doing this will expose the tree’s roots to the bleach that you’re getting ready to apply. This will allow the bleach to work much more efficiently and effectively than it would be able to do otherwise.

Once you’ve drilled holes into the roots of your tree, simply apply the bleach to those holes and wait. It may take you multiple applications and a bit of time. However, eventually, you’ll find that bleach applications will kill the tree that you’re trying to get rid of.

What are the Best Tree-Killing Chemicals?

Using chemicals to kill a tree is one of the most popular methods used by DIYers. If this is what you plan on doing, then it’s worth taking some time to consider which chemical would be the best herbicide for your tree.

There are many different kinds of chemicals that can handle this task. Essentially, you just need to make sure that they have a concentration of glyphosate, the active ingredient, that is 41% or higher. This will ensure that the chemical is strong enough to take down even large trees.

Many commercial brands meet this specification. This is a list that includes:

  • Roundup
  • Tordon
  • Hi-Yield
  • Ferti-Lome Brush Stump Killer

Can Antifreeze Kill Trees?

You may have heard about how effective antifreeze is in killing vegetation. If so, you might be thinking about using it on a tree that you’d like to get rid of. However, this generally isn’t a good idea.

Antifreeze can absolutely kill a tree that you apply it to. However, the risk of using it comes from how it could affect the rest of your yard.

Antifreeze is difficult to contain in a single place once it’s been applied to your soil. Using an application of it to kill a tree could quickly cause issues elsewhere in your yard. Antifreeze could kill your grass, your flowers, and make replanting them impossible.

For these reasons, stick to one of the chemicals listed above to kill your unwanted trees. Doing so will ensure that you don’t risk the parts of your yard that you actually want to keep.

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Related Questions

Can vinegar kill a tree?

Vinegar is another substance that you might consider when trying to kill a tree. It isn’t powerful enough to kill the tree directly. However, what it can do is kill the tree’s leaves, which will slowly kill the rest of the tree over time. That means vinegar can kill your tree, but it will do so very slowly.

Does rubbing alcohol kill trees?

Yes, rubbing alcohol is a substance that can kill trees when applied in the right quantities. To do so, create a mixture that’s a blend of water and rubbing alcohol. That being said, in order to be effective, the mixture will need to have a high concentration of rubbing alcohol.

If the concentration is at 5% or under, then the tree’s growth will be stunted but it will not die. In order to kill the tree, you’re going to have to make the mixture at a concentration of 25% or higher.

Kellan Jansen

Kellan is a content writer who specializes in everything DIY. When he's not behind the keyboard, he enjoys spending time with his pets, playing music, and geeking out about basketball. He hopes to make your home improvement projects a little bit easier to accomplish.

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