How to Kill a Tree

OK, before taking up pitchforks and clubs, bear in mind there are good and valid reasons for taking action or actions that result in a tree dying. While we tend, for very good reasons, to protect our trees, take extreme steps to keep them alive, and refer to them as we would other family members, there are situations that require the removal of a tree or trees.

Other than a chainsaw in the hands of a knowledgeable person – please, there are several ways a tree can be ”taken down” by a do-it-yourselfer.

How to Kill a Tree

how to kill a tree

Girdled tree tunk (Photo: Wikipedia)

Girdling is one of the most effective methods for killing a tree and will work regardless of the target’s size. Girdling is the process of completely removing the bark around the tree’s circumference. This interrupts the movement of nutrients throughout the tree, resulting in the tree’s relatively speedy demise.

A slower method for killing a tree is to pave around and over tree roots. We think of this as an issue for trees grown in an urban environment, but it also works for homeowners who construct or have constructed an impermeable surface that prevents tree roots from breathing. Even a too heavy layer of mulch can accomplish the same result although it might take longer.

While “salting” a tree sounds and is pretty barbaric, the process works almost too well as salt added to soil around a tree will also kill any vegetative life in the area. And it may be some time before anything, even “weeds”, grows back there. Not an option recommended anymore but there are some folks still using this method.

And of course there are herbicide applications. This method is primarily used on trees that have been cut down but insist on growing back. With pruners or handsaw cut back new growth as close as to the base as possible, then immediately paint freshly cut wood with an herbicide. Use undiluted glyphosate (Roundup is most familiar brand name) on the cuts; for extra insurance, drilling into the tree trunk and inserting more glyphosate will hasten the process. Be aware that glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide, meaning it will kill most any type of plant so read and follow label directions for safe application.

Some trees are too close to dwellings or other structures, power lines, etc. for the preceding suggestions to be considered; in those instances hire a professional to do the work. Even if the mechanical or chemical means such as those outlined in the preceding paragraphs seem workable, don’t hesitate to contact your local Extension office for more information or to answer additional questions.

By Sallie Lee, Urban Regional Extension Agent, Alabama Cooperative Extension System.  Contact Sallie at leesall@aces.edu.


The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. ACES is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce.  Educational programs of ACES serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin.

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Alabama Extension

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities and answers home-gardeners' questions each week on Birmingham Gardening Today.

2 thoughts on “How to Kill a Tree

  1. Please change this title as I feel it inappropriate for those of us professed tree huggers. How about “How to eliminate an undesirable tree”? Thanks for your consideration.

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