How To Kill A Tree (Tested & Proven Methods)

Looking for how to kill a tree?

Then you’re in the right place because trees were taking over my yard.

They were growing in my fences, lifting my driveway and dangerously dropping huge branches every wind storm.

I researched how to kill a tree and found a bunch of ideas that didn’t work!!!

I know because I tried all of them and my trees didn’t die! (I’ll be laying down the tree killing facts.)

After spending hours speaking with local arborists, tree killing experts, I discovered the best ways to kill a tree. I couldn’t believe how simple it was.

The 2 Best Ways To Kill A Tree

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#1 Best way to kill a tree is to just cut it down.

I know this sounds too easy but what I found is that MOST trees will die if you just cut them down.

You don’t need chemicals, copper nails, roundup, or salt.

Here is a list of the most common trees that will die if you just cut them down.

Select the tree you need to kill from the list below for more details on the best way to kill and remove each one.

  • Pine Tree
  • Palm Tree
  • Oak Tree
  • Maple Tree
  • Cedar Tree
  • Fir Tree
  • Cypress Tree
  • Holly Tree
  • Apple Tree
  • Olive Tree

What about all the other trees? That brings me to the next best way to kill a tree.

#2 Best way to kill a tree is to use a tree killer called Tordon.

Trees can die using other methods like copper nails, roundup, salt, and bleach but Tordon is what most Tree Killing Experts (Arborists) recommend and use every day. It just works every time.

Later on, in this article, I review all the most common tree killer products and how to use them in detail.

Here’s a list of the most common trees that need tree killing chemicals to die.

For detailed instructions on how to kill and remove each of select from the following trees.

  • Willow Tree
  • Cottonwood Tree
  • Poplar Tree
  • Ficus Tree
  • Elm Tree
  • Tree of Heaven
  • Russian Olive Tree
  • Aspen Tree
  • Tamarisk (Tamarix) Tree

5 Steps For How To Kill A Tree

*Follow all product safety instructions when using any tools and chemicals mentioned here.

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Step 1- Equipment Checklist

The best way to get a job done is to have the right tools before you start. It will save you lots of time and hassle if you do this step first.

Safety Gear-

  • Safety glasses, and gloves and a hard hat are a must.
  • You will need chemical resistant gloves for treating the stump with Tordon.
  • A long sleeve shirt, pants and steel toe boots are good to have as well.
  • Depending on the size of your tree you may need ropes and a harness.

Tree Cutting Equipment-

  • A chainsaw works best but if your tree is smaller, you could get away with a small hand saw or reciprocating saw. If you are really old fashioned then find and sharpen your ax.
  • For larger trees, I would consider renting a scissor lift.

Tree Killer Chemicals-  

  • If your tree needs to be treated to die then buy Tordon now.
  • Make sure to have chemical resistant gloves, long sleeves, pants and safety glasses for treating your tree with Tordon.

Tree Stump Removal-

  • Renting a stump grinder works best.
  • Alternative tools will be recommended in Step 4.

Step 2- Cut the Tree Down

Assess The Area-

Before cutting your tree down assess the area.

Make sure there’s nothing around or below the tree that could be damaged from falling branches like power lines, pedestrians, fences, houses, sheds, etc.

If there are any obstructions then I highly recommend calling a local arborist.

Small Branches-

Start by cutting the lowest, small branches and working your way up the tree to the top branches. Most trees will have one main branch from the trunk to the top. If your tree has several equally large branches then cut the smaller branches off each of the larger branches to the top.

Large Branches-

Now start cutting the tops of the main branch or branches in small sections working your way down to the trunk.

Trunk-

Cut the tree trunk down to as low as you can safely cut it. (Leave the stump longer if you want to keep it for a fairy garden or plan to pull out the stump with your truck;)

Step 3- Treating the Stump

If your tree is one that just needs to be cut down then skip this step.

The fresh-cut stump must be treated right away. Waiting even 30 minutes will lessen the effectiveness of the tree killer chemical because the tree will immediately start healing itself.

Put on your chemical resistant gloves and other safety gear and begin treating the outer ring of the trunk just inside the bark.

This is the Cambium layer and is where the tree transfers nutrients from the roots to the branches. The darker heartwood or inner part of the tree doesn’t need to be treated.

Once treated let the stump sit for 3 to 7 days. That way the chemicals will reach the furthest roots.

Step 4- Remove the Stump

The best way to remove a tree stump is to rent a stump grinder and grind it down, however, depending on the size of the stump some of the ideas listed below may work better.

Here are a few of the most effective methods of removing a tree stump. For a comprehensive guide on how to remove a tree stump click the link.

Stump Grinder Rental

The best way to remove a tree stump is to rent a tree stump grinder. Renting a 13 HP Stump Grinder in my area for a four-hour minimum costs $104.

This is the quickest and easiest way to remove a tree stump.

Cut and Pull

Dig around the stump to expose the roots below the ground. You can simply cut the tree stump below the ground and bury it.

Watch out for rocks because you may damage your blade. Or you can cut the major roots and hook the stump up to a truck with a chain or tow strap and pull it out.

Burn the Stump

Depending on where you live burning may or may not work. Check with your local jurisdiction. Often just a call to the local fire department is all you need to do.

Also, you will need to wait several months for the stump to dry before burning. Here are the best ways to burn a stump

  • Tree Stump Rocket Stove- make the tree stump a rocket stove by drilling a hole down the center and 4 holes at the bottom of the tree. I have seen this work but my attempt at it didn’t quite work.
  • Swedish Candle- Cut the stump down the middle in a criss-cross pattern. That will allow oxygen in and the stump should burn well.
  • 55 gal Metal Barrel- Cut out the bottom off of a 55 gal metal barrel. Place it over the stump and pore charcoal or wood down around the stump then light and let burn. This is the best way to burn a tree stump.

Make A Fairy Garden

This is kind of a joke but not really because I have actually seen this done. Fairy Gardens are the rage these days and what better place to put one on than a tree stump.

You could even put a birdhouse on top as well. These ideas could be fun unless your tree stumps in your fence like mine was.

How To Kill A Tree With Chemicals

The most common chemicals you will hear about for killing trees are Roundup, Salt, Bleach and Brush & Stump Killer.

Next, I will show you what I have learned about each of these tree-killing chemicals and their effectiveness.

For an in-depth review on the most popular stump killer products go to How To Kill A Tree Stump.

In this article, I review the positive and negatives of each of the following stump killer chemicals: Tordon, Roundup, Gordon’s Stump Killer, Fertilome Brush and Stump Killer, Bonide Vine and Stump Killer.

Will Roundup Kill Trees?

Undiluted Roundup can kill trees, however, when I used it on my Chinese Elms it didn’t work.

I haven’t tested Roundup on every tree type so it may work on yours. Some trees are more resilient than others.

Let me know if it works on your tree in the comments at the bottom.

In my research, I did find a way that Roundup will kill even the hardiest trees, every time.

How To Kill A Tree With Roundup

For Roundup to kill even the most resilient trees you need to mix additional chemicals. Here’s the roundup tree killing chemical recipe.

Each of these ingredients needs to be used in their concentrated forms. Add and mix them into a small container like a glass jar.

Mix these ingredients and apply with a paintbrush to the cambium layer, just inside the bark. Treat immediately upon cutting the tree down.

Waiting even 30 minutes will lessen this mixtures effectiveness.

You don’t need to paint the whole stump only the outer cambium ring.

Making this recipe costs more than Tordon and takes more time. So unless you already have these chemicals on hand it makes more sense to use Tordon.

Will Salt Kill A Tree?

I tested this method twice on my Chinese Elm trees and…it didn’t work.

Those trees sent up new shoots from below the stump. Salt is toxic in high dosages so maybe if I really went crazy and poured several bags over the area then it might have worked.

The problem with that is you may never be able to grow something in that spot. The best use for salt in killing trees is to pour it on the stump to dry it out.

That way you can burn it sooner.

How To Kill A Tree With Salt

Using Salt or Epsom Salt to kill a tree in my mind is not the most effective way and takes a long time.  

With that in mind if you are still interested in trying to kill a tree with salt here is how to do it.

Step 1- Cut the tree stump as close to the grown as possible.

Step 2- Drill holes with a ½ drill bit as deep as you can into the stump. The deeper the more salt you can use.

Step 3- Cover it with a bucket or tarp and water it every couple weeks to help the salt dissolve.

Step 4- Let that sit for 6 months to a year and the stump should mostly be decomposed.

One a funny note one thing to watch out for is deer.

I read a youtube comment where someone tried to remove their stump with salt said “Thanks for nothing, got around 20 deer licking on my stump now, lol”

In my opinion, people who have killed trees with Epsom salt probably used it on one of the trees that didn’t need any chemicals to kill them in the first place.

How To Kill Weed Trees

If you have tons of baby weed trees popping up all over your yard, the best way to kill them is to use Fertilome Brush and Stump Killer.

Roundup works as well, just mix half water to half roundup.

I mixed a gallon of Fertilome Brush and Stump Killer and was able to kill all the weed trees in my yard very quickly.

All you do is spray the leaves of the weed tree and they will die.

Some of the larger trees I sprayed didn’t die.

Another quick way to kill larger weed trees is the hack and squirt method.

Go around with a hatchet in one hand and a spray bottle of undiluted tree killer and hack into the bark to reveal the inner bark or cambium layer and squirt.

The tree should die.

If the tree doesn’t die then I recommend cutting the tree down and treating it with Tordon or the roundup recipe discussed earlier.

How To Kill A Tree With Bleach

I haven’t tried to kill a tree with bleach and couldn’t learn much about it. Once I try it I’ll let you know how it works.

The steps to kill a tree with bleach would follow the same steps as I discussed when treating with Tordon.

You may want to even drill a few holes around the outer layer of the tree. That will allow more bleach to be soaked down into the tree roots.

How To Kill A Tree Naturally

So far we have discussed the most natural way to kill a tree which is just cutting it down. A few other methods are using copper nails and girdling.

Do Copper Nails Kill Trees?

From everything I have researched copper nails will kill trees. I’m not sure which trees it will effectively kill and which ones it won’t.

I assume copper nails will kill the trees that don’t need to be poisoned.

What I did find is that using copper nails to kill a tree takes a really long time. Like over a year.

Here are the steps for how to kill a tree with copper nails.

How To Kill A Tree With Copper Nails

The technique for killing trees with copper nails is quite simple. Purchase 100% copper nails and pound them into the tree.

I have heard of people using one nail or hammering them in all the way around the tree. Once they are in let the tree sit until it dies.

It would best if you cut the tree down to a stump and then pounded the nails into stump and roots below the ground.

That way you don’t have a dead tree that could fall over in a windstorm or be a fire hazard later on.

Kill A Tree By Girdling

Girdling a tree is a method used by homesteaders as a way to allow a tree to die while standing so that it will dry without rotting on the ground.

That way it can be harvested for firewood when it’s needed. This method will only completely kill the trees listed above that don’t need to be treated.

I girdled my Elm tree and it did die above the area where I girdled it but new branches started below.

If you live in the city then girdling would not be recommended and could even be dangerous. A dead tree is more likely to fall and damage property as the roots rot.

For homesteaders girdling trees is a great way to set aside dry firewood that can be harvested later.

My goal for this article and website was to create the ultimate resource for helping people kill trees. I wanted to set the facts straight.

If you have any questions about how to kill a tree that I did not cover in this article please ask your question in the comments below.

Thanks and good luck killing your tree.