3 ways to kill a tree


I’m not one for killing trees for the fun of it, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t good reasons where the need to kill a tree is a must whether that be  because one has grown too close to your home, putting your foundations at risk or even the tree roots causing damage to drain pipes etc.. Here we are going to look at 3 ways to kill a tree which includes cutting it down, tree girdling and the use of chemicals, for those who don’t want your neighbors knowing that you are killing the tree!

Cutting the tree down

Let’s start with the most obvious answer which is to cut the tree down. This is a particularly good option since it’s the quickest way to solve a problem! It’s best to use a qualified tree surgeon for this job, especially if it’s a big tree although it will come at a cost, and if it’s a tree that you need to kill without anyone knowing then this option is best left alone.

If this is something you want to take on yourself then depending on where you live in the world then there may be laws in place to stop you from using a chainsaw, which is strange as you can pretty much purchase them from anywhere with no questions asked! Chainsaws are extremely dangerous and carry great risk especially if you experience kick back! If the law says that you are able carry this work out yourself then always remember to use PPE (personal protective equipment) which includes goggles to protect your eyes, ear muffs to protect your ears against the noise of the chainsaw (presuming it’s a petrol powered machine) as well as not forgetting gloves and chainsaw clothing. Oh and since you will need to start from the top of the tree and work your way down don’t forget to invest in a harness!

If the use of a chainsaw is out of the question, then you could always use a pruner which doesn’t always carry the same laws as a chainsaw. A pruner is usually around 8 inches long, and replicates a mini chainsaw. The benefit of using a pruner is that you can usually extend the polls, meaning that you can work from the ground if the tree isn’t too tall, or at the very least you won’t need to go as high as you would using a normal chainsaw. But be careful as I have had large logs nearly fall on my head by using this method, so never stand directly beneath a branch! Below is a picture of us using a pruner for some tree pruning work we carried out for a customer recently.

Tree pruning

If you are looking to cut the tree down, then why not take a look at our ‘how to remove a tree stump’ page for once you are done.

What is tree girdling?

I feel a little silly admitting this, but despite being a professional landscape gardener, I didn’t know what tree girdling was until recently and I only stumbled upon it by chance! I was actually walking through a nature reserve in Hertfordshire when I saw some trees with a ring of bark missing around the trunk, about a foot wide. I took a picture (pictured below) and done a quick Google search later in the evening. To my surprise there was a huge amount of information on tree girdling, but why they are deliberately killing trees in a nature reserve in beyond me! But I do know that tree girdling is best practiced when trying to protect the trees surrounding the one you are trying to kill, since simply cutting the tree down may harm the other trees.

Tree girdling

The reason that tree girdling works is because the bark actually plays a very important role for the tree to survive. By removing the inner layer of the bark, also known as the phloem, the tree is no longer able to transport sugars from the leaves and down to the roots. When tree girdling occurs, the roots can still temporarily transport water and other nutrients up to the leaves, but as the leaves can not transport the sugar back down to the roots, a slow death occurs. The tree can sometimes survive if it grows new sprouts from below the affected area, meaning that only everything above the wound will die off. If not, then the root will surely die. Looking at the picture above, the cut was made relatively close to the ground, so the chance of new sprouts growing is unlikely.

Do chemicals really kill trees?

There are many brands on the market that claim to kill tree stumps and roots such as Roundup, Doff, SBK and job done which in theory, should work. The only downside is that many of these are best used once the tree has already been cut down since it is recommended to drill holes from above the stump as well as drilling holes into the sides before applying the chemical. Only being able to apply the killer into the sides of the tree stump since the tree is still in tact will give it a lesser chance of working, and with the effort needed to drill the holes, you may as well have gone for the tree girdling method.

This being said, there is an inexpensive method used called ‘hack and squirt’ which involves cutting the tree with a hatchet or ax and simply spraying the wound with a herbicide. These cuts are approximately 2 inches long and spaced 1 inch between each cut, spraying the herbicide with a spray bottle. You will need to be careful not to over spray since the herbicide will run down the tree and affect other trees and foliage but if you are worried about some nearby plants that you want to keep then it’s best to mix your herbicide with some dye or coloring to make sure that you have no runs.


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