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How To Kill a Tree Without Cutting It Down (5 Effective Methods)

eastern cottonwood tree in a forest

Whether you are doing some home renovation or changing the design of your landscape and want to start from scratch, removing old trees can be a nuisance. It can become real trouble when a tree begins spreading roots so wide that it damages the rest of your property, such as the driveway or patio. Roots are powerful and can extend far, raising the concrete pavement and destroying the rest of your garden. That’s when you have to turn to peaceful methods to remove the tree.

If you are looking for alternatives to killing or removing a tree from your garden other than cutting it down—you are in the right place. The article below comprises a list of a few slow and peaceful ways to kill a tree, with minimum effort involved.

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5 Ways to Kill a Tree Without Cutting It Down

1. Girdling

Girdling a tree
Photo By: ThamKC, Shutterstock

The method of girdling refers to killing a tree by interrupting the flow of sap from the roots to the tree’s crown. This method is the easiest way to kill a tree without using herbicide or cutting it down. It takes time but the method is highly effective. Start by pulling any loose bark you see on the tree to expose the trunk. Make the first cut around the tree’s circumference while trying to be as level as possible. To achieve the best girdling effect, you will need a second, parallel cut, which will be 2 to 4 inches away from the first cut.

After making the cuts successfully, you can choose to introduce herbicide to the roots by applying it directly to the cuts, although this step is optional.

  • Can be done chemical-free
  • Highly effective technique
  • Requires minimum effort
  • Eco-friendly
  • It takes a long time to take effect

2. Chemical Root Treatment

forest worker drilling tree by injecting chemical substance to kill trees in the forest
Photo Credit: tetxu, Shutterstock

One fast way to damage the tree’s roots—resulting in the tree’s death—is by using a chemical treatment on the roots directly. The chemical compound responsible for killing the tree’s roots is glyphosate herbicide, a highly effective chemical that is one of the fastest and most effective methods. Some other chemicals that you may use are picloram and even diesel fuel.

Diesel fuel is another highly effective substance that can kill sprouting stumps or entire root systems. Adding sugar to diesel fuel in the same amount is recommended to increase its effectiveness.

  • Highly effective
  • Fast working
  • Suitable for spreading roots, stumps, or entire systems
  • It can be damaging to the ground and surrounding roots
  • Not eco-friendly

3. Epsom Salt

epsom salt in a hand with gloves
Photo Credit: Martina Unbehauen, Shutterstock

Most people, especially gardeners, know how damaging Epsom salt can be to plants and trees. This substance is toxic to plants by dehydrating the soil around them quickly, leaving it without nutrients that the roots can absorb. This method is eco-friendly and can work well with small and large trees, although it is more effective on smaller trees.

One way you can use salt on tree roots is by pouring large amounts of salt into boiling water and pouring the water directly into the tree roots. Roots are sensitive to extreme temperatures, and the boiling water blended with salt can burn the roots and permanently damage them.

  • Eco-friendly
  • Highly effective
  • For larger trees, it takes a long time to work
  • It may affect the future plant growth in that area

4. Vinegar

white vinegar bottle_focal point_Shutterstock
Photo Credit: focal point, Shutterstock

The first step is to acquire horticultural vinegar because it has higher levels of acetic acid. Besides being a beneficial ingredient in the kitchen, vinegar is also popular for gardening purposes. It has been known to kill harmful insects such as aphids and help fight and control garden weeds.

After acquiring the correct vinegar, you have to make holes in the trunk, which you will fill with vinegar. Fill the holes constantly and frequently until the tree begins to die off.

  • Effective
  • Eco-friendly
  • Chemical-free
  • This method takes a long time to take effect

5. Copper Nails

Copper Nails
Image Credit: MindStorm, Shutterstock

While using copper nails to kill trees is quite a new method that many people may be skeptical about, it is actually quite effective. All you need to do is strip a certain amount of bark from the tree and hammer copper nails into the trunk and the roots. The only thing that might be an issue for some people is that it takes a long time—over a year in some cases. If you have enough time and are not in a hurry to finish this project, then you can choose this slow but peaceful method.

  • Harmless to the environment
  • Effective
  • Effortless
  • It requires a long time to be efficient

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After reading these several highly effective methods for killing a tree, hopefully, you’ll use them wisely and with caution. These methods may be effective on a tree, but they also have some consequences on the surrounding plants and the environment. Read the instructions, and follow them carefully to get the best results.

Featured Image Credit: Aleksandra Duda, Shutterstock


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