Using Copper Nails to Kill Trees | Does It Really Work?

If you’re thinking of using copper nails to kill trees, you’re likely dealing with a problem tree somewhere in your backyard, right. One that is shading the wrong part of the yard, overcrowding, or maybe dropping messy fruits and nuts around.

Removing problem trees before they can cause too much damage or mess is a good initiative, but finding the best way to kill trees can be a surprisingly exhausting experience. Copper nails can be a pretty effortless method with a relatively low cost.

I’ve put together a complete guide to killing trees with nails to save you some time and deal with your target tree.

Can You Kill a Tree With Copper Nails

Yes, copper nails can be a very effective method of killing trees. The larger the tree, the harder it may be to accomplish with just copper nails. However, it’s still possible with time and dedication.

I find copper nails a handy way to kill problem trees without much effort. It can help to know more about the process for the best results.

How Does Copper Nail Kill Trees?

Copper nails attack trees from multiple angles. This powerful method gets the job done thanks to its ability to cause damage physically, chemically, and biologically.


Copper oxidation is a process where copper, exposed to water and air, corrodes into different copper forms. You may be familiar with oxidized copper if you’ve ever seen green pennies or the Statue of Liberty.

Copper can eventually oxidize into copper sulfate, which can be toxic to people, algae, fungi, plants, and bacteria. However, it is only harmful to people if it is ingested or gets in the eyes, not on the skin.

Stunts Cell Growth

Not only will the copper sulfate be a toxin within the tree, but it actively damages tree cells. The tree can’t continue to grow and keep up with the damage as it binds to and destroys cells.

Leaf Damage

The toxic copper will continue to make its way through the tree, and eventually, it will begin to damage the leaves. They will yellow and whiten, and the tree won’t be able to absorb nutrients from the sunlight due to a lack of chlorophyll.

Root Damage

The best place to position the nails is at the base of the tree near and into the roots. Doing so causes direct physical damage to the roots and opens a pathway for the copper toxicity to travel through the tree. Not to mention, it leaves an open wound in the tree that is vulnerable to tree diseases.

Step by Step: Killing a Tree With Copper Nails

Here’s the way to get the job done.

Step 1: Insert Copper Nails Near Base of the Tree

I’ve found it best to hammer the copper nails into the tree near the base. It helps to get the nails into the roots and deep into the tree.

The larger the nail, the better, both in diameter and length, to cause maximum damage. There’s no standard, but the farther the nail pierces, the better chances it will work.

If you have a small tree that you have cut down, then I prefer to nail vertically down into the remaining tree stump, as shown below. I hammered the full length of the nails right down into the stump. Left untreated even a small tree stump like this will put out new shoots or suckers, and begin to grow faster than you may think.

copper nails to kill a small tree stump

Step 2: Insert More Copper Nails To Form a Ring Around the Bark of the Tree

Continue to place nails in a ring, about half an inch apart. The proximity causes maximum damage and higher ratios of copper. It’s a good idea to count how many nails you place to know later when removing them.

Placing the nails around the entire bottom ring of the tree ensures a layer of consistent damage with plenty of copper. It’s especially crucial for big trees.

Step 3: Conceal the Copper Nails With Mud To Maintain the Look of Your Backyard

Copper is a bright color, especially as it begins to oxidize. Covering the nails will keep the tree from becoming unsightly. Plus, the extra moisture could help oxidation.

Step 4: Wait for the Tree To Wither and Die

Wait for signs like the leaves changing color, leaves falling, dead branches, cracks in the bark, or new signs of fungus. Any of these will be a good indicator the tree is dying.

Step 5: Remove the Copper Nails From the Tree

Finally, remove the copper nails from the tree. The tree will be ready to be dealt with now, but you don’t want to risk hitting nails with power tools during the process.

How Long Does it Take for Copper Nails to Kill Trees?

How long it takes to kill a tree with a copper nail depends on the size and health before adding the nails.

Generally, small or unhealthy trees should only take a few weeks to die from the copper nails. I’ve found that the copper nail method works best for immature trees or ones that need that final nail in the coffin.

Smaller trees will also take less work because they need fewer nails. Generally, killing a small tree will take around 1-3 weeks.

It can still be possible to kill large trees with nails, but it will take months and may need multiple rounds of nailing.

Will Copper Nails Kill Large Trees?

It is possible to deal with some large trees with copper nails, but this method does have limits. Unfortunately, it can occasionally not produce enough toxicity.

However, copper nails around the base can still handle mid-sized to large trees. The process is slow, and I’ve found that it requires taking the copper nails out after a few months and placing new ones.

Still, copper nails can be an effective and natural method to remove trees. It is worth a shot as it is very little work. Additionally, the nail holes open up the possibility for tree diseases to take hold. If the copper nails can’t directly kill the tree, there’s a chance they will allow something else to do the job.

For large trees, follow a few tips:

  • Get the longest possible nails
  • Place nails regularly around the entire base
  • Consider more than one ring at a time.
  • Replace the nails every few months
  • Be patient, as it may take up to a year

Is it Safe to Kill a Tree Using Copper Nails?

Yes, killing trees with copper nails is one of the safest methods. Despite the method being a bit slow, it’s an entirely natural way to deal with issue trees.

Some of the only dangers involved with using copper nails are potentially hurting yourself while hammering the tree. The toxicity to people is not through skin contact, but children should be kept from the tree if they tend to put things in their mouths.

There is little risk to other wildlife, and the copper nails won’t affect any nearby species. This factor is a significant advantage of the copper nails versus options like pesticides, which can hurt people, nearby water sources, other plants, or wildlife.

You will eventually need to remove the dead tree, and for safety, it’s crucial to remove the nails beforehand. This may be one of the most dangerous aspects of copper nails. Power tools can hit leftover nails and jump or throw pieces of metal.

Other Ways To Kill Trees, Stumps, and Roots

Perhaps waiting for the copper nails isn’t an ideal method for you. Some trees can be causing active damage that can’t wait. No matter how you plan to get it done, there are multiple other ways to kill trees. From other natural methods to full-on pesticides, you’ll find a method that works.

Of course, copper nails can’t always be the solution. To start, I’ll offer a few other natural ways to kill trees.  

The first option is tree girdling. This method removes entire circular chunks of bark around a tree, cutting deep enough to hit the wood. It starves out the roots and stops the tree from producing foliage.

Next is a simple method of putting large amounts of mulch over the tree roots. The roots may suffocate under the dense layer or begin to twist themselves around the tree, killing it.

The final natural method is to put salt in the tree’s soil. Salting is a dangerous method that should be a last resort, as it will kill off any other vegetation that shares the dirt. Salt will stop all plants from getting nutrients or water.

Finally, if you prefer to use herbicides, there are plenty of options available. There are a few effective ways to treat a tree with herbicide to kill it:

  • Spray the base directly
  • Cut the bark or branches and apply herbicide to the cuts.
  • Drill holes into the tree and fill them with herbicide

If you choose to use herbicide, ensure to follow directions from the product and local laws.

Verdict: Killing a Tree With Copper Nails

Overall, I find that using copper nails to kill trees is an effective natural way to kill some trees but might not be the ideal option for all issue trees. I’ve often found it an easy way to start, and if the tree doesn’t die, move to more aggressive methods.

It’s worth the try for peace of mind after removing problem trees.

FAQs Using Copper Nails to Kill Trees

Still unsure about using copper nails for your tree? Check out a few frequently asked questions to figure it all out.