Garden Advice

How to Kill a Tree

A tree can add a great deal of beauty to any garden. However, some species are invasive and can leave no nutrients for the rest of your plants. Other trees may dig their roots into the foundation of your home, or get too close to your home, meaning you’ll have to clean the gutters every Autumn and Spring. Whatever the reason might be, you’ve concluded that the tree has to go.

So, if you

  • Have a large dying tree that has become hazardous to passers-by and infrastructure and needs to be removed quickly;
  • Have old stumps which have sprouted new trees;
  • Don’t want to use any chemicals or heavy machinery to remove the troublesome tree;
  • Have a neighbour who refuses to take responsibility for a dangerous tree, so you want to take matters into your own hands but also remain unnoticed.

Then read along to learn how to kill a tree!

Table of Contents:

How to kill a tree with copper nails

If you decide to stick copper nails into the tree to kill it, know this: it will take over a year until the tree is dead. Maybe longer, depending on how large it is. If you have time to spare, then here is how to do it.

  1. Purchase or find big and long copper nails. The bigger they are, the faster and better results you will get, especially if the problem tree is small.
  2. Hammer multiple nails around the tree, forming a ring. Hammer them into the roots at the base of the tree. If you can’t see the roots, remove the soil around them with a shovel. The nails need to penetrate the tree bark and get to the phloem.

In time, you will notice the tree has started to die and slowly fall apart.

How to kill a tree with girdling

Girdling, also known as ring barking, is the process of deliberately removing the bark around the trunk of the tree. Everything above the girdled area will begin to die off.

But why would removing some bark from the tree kill it? 

The bark is essential for every tree. It conserves water and transports it along with food throughout the tree. It also guards the living systems from temperature extremes and animals. Some trees even have bark which protects them from bushfires! In a nutshell, with nothing to feed it, the tree will slowly starve to death.

With that said:

  1. Choose a level according to the height at which you feel comfortable.
  2. Choose a tool. You can use an axe, chainsaw, or hatchet. For chainsaws, use protective clothing and face gear.
  3. Cut about three and a half centimetres (roughly 1.5 inches) deep. The girdle needs to be 5 cm (2 inches) wide for smaller trees and 20 cm (8 inches) for larger trees.
  4. Form a circle around the tree.

If you decide to make use of this method, know this:

  • It will take time until the tree dies from girdling. Months and months. If you want to speed up the process, you can apply a herbicide to the cuts while they’re still fresh. That way, the waiting time will drop to several weeks at most. Be sure to follow the manufacturer instructions and wear safety gear when applying it.
  • You still need to fell the tree when it’s ready. Failing to do this might result in structural damage if your tree is close to a fence or shed, and even injury for an unsuspecting passer-by.
  • Girdling is not a 100% sure way the tree will die. Some trees manage to bypass it.

How to kill a tree with a chainsaw

The tips so far take time to show results, but you may need to know how to kill a tree quickly. In this case, the chainsaw is your best option. You should be very careful with this instrument as it is quite dangerous. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Consider what size chainsaw to get, based on your tree size.
  2. Obtain safety clothing and gear – a helmet with ear and eye protection, work gloves, steel toe boots, and chaps to protect your legs.
  3. Pick a drop zone – Look at the tree and discover what direction it’s naturally leaning towards. That’s the direction where it will fall to.
  4. Clear area – Clear the area around the tree of any lawn furniture. Make sure there are no powerlines and roofs within a radius equal to the height of your tree.
  5. Notch cut – Make a V-shaped cut on the tree side that faces the direction where it will fall. The depth of the cut should be about a quarter of the tree’s diameter.
  6. Make a wedge – Go to the back of the tree and make a second cut towards the front cut. It shouldn’t be in a V-shape, rather a singular cut. Stop the saw when you’ve almost reached the front cut. That’s the wedge that will control the tree as it’s falling.
  7. Move away – As you’re making the second cut, you will notice the tree starting to lose its balance. When you’ve reached deep enough with the second cut, the tree will start to fall. Get out of the way as that happens.

After that, you have to take care of the stump. The root system is still alive and will likely send up new sprouts. What you must do is either apply a herbicide coating to the exposed sapwood in the trunk or remove the stump entirely. Check this post on how to remove a tree stump for more information.

How to kill a tree with the hack and squirt method

If you have herbicide laying around and want to use it to kill a tree, this is how:

  1. Get protective clothing – Gloves, glasses, and long sleeves;
  2. Get an axe or hatchet – You will be making cuts into the tree;
  3. Mix your herbicide of choice into a spray bottle;
  4. Make downward cuts into the tree bark – Make them deep enough that you see the lighter-coloured sapwood;
  5. Spray the herbicide into the cuts – Don’t pull the blade entirely from the cut while spraying the poison. Spray right away after making the cut, before the softer wood starts drying out and hardening;
  6. Make as many cuts as the product instructions suggest.

As an alternative to this method, you can drill holes into the roots and put herbicide there.

Need professional help with your tree?

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If you’re not keen on waiting for your tree to die, and you don’t want to risk it with a chainsaw, then book a tree surgery service! Fantastic Services works with experienced and fully equipped arborists who can handle your tree felling and removal with no stress on your part. The problem tree will be removed and disposed of. You can also use our stump grinding services, should you want us to remove the stump.


  • Kill the tree roots by nailing copper nails into them.
  • Remove parts of the tree bark by girdling, so it literally starves to death.
  • Cut the tree with a chainsaw.
  • Make cuts and fill them with herbicide.

Did you manage to remove the tree you set out to? What method did you use? Let us know by leaving a comment!

Image source: Shutterstock / Zoran Kompar Photography

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