How to Kill a Tree Without Cutting It Down | SOLVED

Tree diseases are a problem that many homeowners have to face, and they can spread easily if you have more than a single tree in your yard. 

However, cutting the tree down isn’t always an option. It can be expensive to hire a crew and dangerous to do if you’re not experienced.

Luckily, there are alternative methods to this. Read on to learn how to kill a tree without cutting it down.

How to Kill a Tree Without Cutting It Down

The most effective way of killing a tree without cutting it down is by using chemicals! The primary reason for this is money – cutting a tree down is expensive and doing it on your own can end very badly.

There are also a few alternative methods that we’ll discuss later.

Before we go into the nitty-gritty about the process, there are a few things to keep in mind. There are situations when it’s advised to kill trees, there are also situations when you shouldn’t use chemicals to kill trees, and we also must mention all the safety measures and preparations.

In some instances – such as for diseased rhododendron – it is advised to kill the tree with chemicals rather than to cut it down. For some tree species, alternative methods are just not effective, which makes chemicals the best choice.

If you are unsure, check with your local department for specific details in your region. 

There are also times when you shouldn’t use chemicals to kill trees. For example, if your tree is infected with sweet chestnut blight or if you have conifer trees in your home, using chemicals isn’t an option.

Dead conifer trees can easily develop a fungus which can cause damage to neighboring trees as well as any new trees you plant in its place.

Lastly, before we move on to the ‘how to’ of killing a tree with chemicals, it’s important to know all the regulations before you apply any potentially hazardous substances. 

Different regions have different regulations, and it’s possible that only professionals can use these chemicals in your area.

It’s also crucial that you know which method is appropriate for your tree and what’s the best choice of chemicals for killing a standing tree.

Killing a Standing Tree with Chemicals

In this section, I’ll be providing details of all the different methods of killing a tree to help you better decide which options are available to you.

Girdling or Ring Barking

Girdling is also known as frilling, and it includes making a long wound around the circumference of the tree. 

You can use any tool you feel comfortable with for this but bear in mind that the wound must be deep enough to hold in the liquid you’re applying with no dripping.

Girdling or Ring Barking

After making two girdle circles, one above the other (the depth depends on the size of the tree), you can apply your herbicide of choice. 

Always read the manufacturer’s label on the herbicide bottle before applying so that you are clear on how much to apply, and any safety features you need to consider. 

It’s important to apply the chemical as quickly as possible, as the open wound will start to dry out and make it more difficult for absorption to take place.

It is best to locate the girdles near the lower section of the tree. This will ensure that the chemicals have more chance of reaching the roots and therefore killing the tree quicker. 

Cut Surface or Hack and Squirt

To ‘hack and squirt’, you first must make a cut in the tree with an ax. The cut should break through the bark all the way to the stem.

It’s best to make another cut right below to collect any leaking liquid. 

After that, apply the herbicide according to the instructions on the packaging. Depending on the diameter of your tree (you’ll have to measure it), you’ll have to make multiple cuts.

hack and squirt.
Credit: PlantandPest

The larger the tree is – the more cuts you’ll be making. After making a cut, squirt the killer liquid in the hole. Do that until you’ve applied the solution according to the instructions on the packaging.

Basal Bark Treatment

Basal spraying is effective only with small trees and bushes, no wider than 12 inches in diameter. If that’s the case, you’ll be happy to know that this method is cheap, but it might consume plenty of your time.

basal bark treatment.

After buying your herbicide, apply the solution around the tree (the base of it) and cover the area of the root collar. It’s also best to cover all the stems growing around the tree.

Herbicide Injection

Similar to the ‘hack and squirt’ method, Herbicide Injections will require you to measure your tree to know how much product to buy. This depends on the product itself, so make sure to always follow the instructions.

herbicide injection

After buying enough injections, drill 2-inch-deep holes (no deeper!) around the trunk. Holes should be about 3 inches apart from one another. You’ll obviously need a drill for this.

After inserting the injections, hit them with a hammer to push them in and crack the end open so it releases the solution.

Spraying Foliage with Herbicide

Spraying foliage is an old method and it’s been substituted with the aforementioned advanced methods. It is usually used in high-volume spraying, often done by an airplane or helicopter when a large, wooded area needs to be cleared.

This method can be great (and cheap) with smaller, younger trees and shrubs. However, if you’re wondering how to kill a large tree without cutting it down, make sure that you don’t spend your money on the wrong thing at the store, as this method is no good for large trees.

Soil Treatment

When it comes to soil treatment, both liquid solutions and pellets are commonly used as an effective way of killing a tree. 

This method is a bit more complicated than all the others; you first need to dig 8-inch-deep holes around the tree with 6 inches between them.

Apply the solution or pellets into those holes and the tree should die. However, several applications may be necessary, which is why it’s best to stick to the methods previously explained.

Choosing the Best Chemical Tree Killer

Next, I’ve been looking at and comparing the best tree-killing herbicides on the market. I’ve short-listed my favorites based on effectiveness, user-friendliness, value for money, and manufacturer’s instructions. 


tordon herbicide

Tordon is one of the most popular tree herbicides and is used to control and kill trees, while it also prevents them from sprouting again.

The active ingredient in Tordon is Picloram which makes this herbicide dangerous to all plants, not just trees. Make sure you keep it away from all plant life that you want to preserve when you’re applying it. 

Many regions restrict the sale and usage of Tordon due to its toxicity so you will need to research in advance whether it is safe to use in your area before trying to order some in.

On a positive note, Tordon isn’t dangerous to you, your pets, or the bees in your garden provided you use the recommended amount of herbicide to prevent any runoff. 

You also don’t have to worry about Tordon sticking around in the soil. It’s quickly broken down, and it’s only dangerous for trees. In addition, it can’t kill trees from bark and foliage contact alone, unless they’re young and undeveloped.

Using Tordon is straightforward. You’ll need to employ the hack and squirt method of application. Make sure you have the right safety equipment, protective clothing, and sharp tools to do the job properly. Purchase Tordon online here.


Another popular and well-known solution is Roundup. Manufactured by the Bayer Group, this product contains glyphosate as its active ingredient. This herbicide works with almost all plants, which includes weeds, grasses, as well as trees.

The brand in general is more popular with weed-killing than it is with tree-killing, but nonetheless, their tree-killer products still get the job done. 

As with all products that could potentially pose a hazard or risk if used inappropriately, it’s important to thoroughly read the manufacturer’s recommendations for use. 

Taking advice and seeking guidance is applicable whether you are a professional with years of experience or a novice working in a domestic setting where other people, children, or pets are likely to be close by.

When it comes to usage, you will still need to check with your local Agriculture Extension Office to make sure it’s authorized for use in your area, but it is more widely available than products such as Tordon. 

With Roundup tree killer you can choose how you apply it. From the squirt and hack method, injecting or removing sections of bark, simply select which method suits your needs best and follow the specific instructions for use.

Alternative Tree Killing Products

Other recommended products for killing a standing tree are Ammate, which is soluble in water, just like 2,3-D Amine. Silvex Kuron is another herbicide, but it is heavily regulated and might be difficult to find in your region.

For a brush herbicide try Bio Advanced Brush Killer.

Alternative Methods of Killing a Tree

If killing the tree with chemicals isn’t an option for you, then an alternative is cutting the tree down and killing the tree stump and its roots.

It’s best to hire professionals to cut a tree down for you (unless you’re a professional yourself), as it’s a dangerous job and the tree could easily collapse on you, your home, or cause damage to the infrastructure or buildings that surround it.

After cutting the tree down, it’s worth considering killing the stump and the roots to prevent new shoots from sprouting.

Killing Tree Stump and Roots

In this section, I’ll explore the different methods and pros and cons of killing a tree stump, as well as the roots.

Effective Ways to Kill a Tree Stump and Roots

Burning the Tree Stump

Burning the stump is one of the most effective, yet most hazardous methods of stump removal. 

It involves drilling as many deep holes as possible in the stump and then filling them with a burning liquid such as kerosene or gasoline.

The aim is to build a small fire on top of the stump, light it and then allow the stump to burn to the ground.

This method comes with a significant warning. Firstly, make sure the area is clear of debris and overhanging branches from other trees that could potentially catch fire. And, secondly, do not leave the fire unattended.

After it burns down, just throw away the ashes and fill the hole with new soil.

This method will burn away a good deal of the main root structure too.

Digging by Hand

Digging a stump up by hand is labor intensive and time-consuming, but it is an option if you are up for a cheap and effective workout. 

You’ll need to literally dig it out with a shovel, which might require digging several feet into the ground. This method is best suited to young trees with short roots.

Alternatively, a slightly less arduous approach would be to use an excavator. An expensive piece of kit to invest in if you just need it for one tree, but relatively cheap to hire by the day from a local supplier.

Stump Grinder

A stump grinder is a machine that uses a rotary cutter to cut the stump out. 

To perform this, you first need to cut the stump with a chainsaw as low to the ground as possible. Next, you’ll use the stump grinder to cut and grind the stump completely away to ground level.

The grinder collects the ground pieces of the wood stump, after which you’ll just throw away the remains.

As with the excavator, you can rent a stump grinder locally for a day or a weekend. They can be very expensive to buy unless stump grinding is your business.

Copper Nails to Kill Small Tree Stumps

Copper nails are a possibility for small to medium-sized tree stumps. 

Once the copper nails have been hammered into the tree stump, you simply need to wait for the copper to oxidize into copper sulfate. Since this is highly toxic to plant life, your tree stump will start to wither and die, will change color and bark will begin to flake off. 

The copper nail method will take a few months to kill the stump, after which it can be removed from the ground quite easily.

This method takes time and patience but is much less harmful than using herbicides.

Salt to Kill Tree Stumps

Lastly, using Epson salt to kill stumps is a very effective method. All you have to do is drill 8-inch-deep holes in the stump that you’ll fill with Epson salt. 

Be sure to cover the holes to make sure the salt doesn’t get out. I recommend using melted wax to seal the holes.

Use a cover to make sure the stump gets no sunlight or rain, as this will make the process faster. 

Depending on the size of the stump and its level of decay, it can take weeks or months to kill a stump this way, depending on its size. However, once it’s dead, it should be easy to rip out of the ground.

Make sure to use Epson salt and not regular salt, as regular table salt can affect the pH levels of the soil around the stump and cause harm to neighbor trees and plants.

In Summary – Killing a Standing Tree

Chemicals are the best method of killing a tree. Most modern solutions can easily kill a tree. However, it requires some legwork, as you’ll probably need to drill holes in the tree or at least rip off the bark.

In some areas, you might need to hire professionals, as working with chemicals can be dangerous. You’ll also have to get rid of the stump and the roots once the tree is dead.

Make sure to check all the regulations and keep track of safety measures before you do anything.

FAQs – Killing a Tree Without Cutting It Down