How to Kill a Tree Without Cutting It Down | SOLVED

Tree diseases are a problem that many homeowners have to face, and unfortunately, it is prone to spreading if you have more than a single tree in your yard. 

However, cutting a diseased or unwanted tree down isn’t always an option. It can be expensive to hire a crew and dangerous to do if you’re inexperienced.

Luckily, there are alternative ways to kill a tree without cutting it down. So let me explain your options.

Killing a Standing Tree with Chemicals

The most effective way of killing a tree without cutting it down is through chemical application. The primary reason for this is cost. Removing a tree is expensive when you consider the labor and clearance required, and trying to save cost by doing it on your own is a bad and dangerous idea. It’s worth recognizing there are a number of alternative methods we can deploy and I will touch on these later.

Before I go into the nitty-gritty of the various processes, there are a few things to keep in mind. There are situations when it’s advisable to kill a tree with chemicals. But, there are also situations when you should be looking for alternative options to achieve your goal. Let me give you a couple of examples:

If dealing with a diseased rhododendron it is advisable to kill the tree with a chemical application rather than cut it down. This is due to the tree responding with vigorous growth. The remaining stump with put out shoots and regrow over 3 to 4 years.

Conversely, there are times when you shouldn’t use a chemical treatment, and cutting and clearing the tree is the best option. For example, if your tree is infected with sweet chestnut blight or if you have conifer trees. Dead conifers often develop a fungus that can damage neighboring trees or contaminate the soil.

Finally, before we move on to the processes for killing a tree with herbicides, it’s important to know your local regulations before you apply any potentially hazardous substances. 

Different regions have different regulations, and it’s possible that only professionals are licensed to use certain 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.

By the way, our site is supported by visitors like you. Some links on this page may be affiliate links which means if you choose to make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support! You can find out more here.

How to Kill a Tree Without Cutting It Down

In this section, I’ll be providing details of all the different methods of killing a tree to help you make an educated decision about which option is right for you.

1. Girdling or Ring Barking

Girdling also known as frilling involves cutting 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 a liquid herbicide that you will apply.

Girdling or Ring Barking


  1. Use a chainsaw or handsaw to cut a ring around the circumference of the tree trunk. Cut parallel to the ground.
  2. Cut deep enough to get through the tree bark and approximately half an inch into the tree core
  3. Make a second cut 6 inches below the initial cut, with the aim of creating a band to remove the tree bark and expose the tree core.
  4. Apply your herbicide or alternative chemical treatment to both incisions on the exposed tree core.

Always read the manufacturer’s label on the herbicide bottle before you apply. Be sure to understand how much to apply, and take on board 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 the best chance of reaching the roots and therefore kill the tree faster.

2. Cut Surface or Hack and Squirt

According to Penn State University, the ‘hack, and squirt’ method can be used by applying standard domestic herbicides, including, 2,4-D, Glyphosate, and Triclopyr.

hack and squirt.
Credit: PlantandPest
  1. Make a deep cut through the inner bark (phloem) all the way to the tree core (cambium cell layer), using an ax.
  2. Make a second cut right below the initial cut, to collect any liquid that leaks and drips down the tree trunk. 
  3. Repeat this at intervals around the circumference of the tree trunk until you have enough cuts
  4. Then apply the herbicide according to the instructions on the packaging.

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. This method is effective on all types of trees from hardwood varieties right through to killing palm trees.

3. 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 base of the tree and cover the area of the root collar. It’s also a good idea to treat all and any stems growing around the tree.

4. Herbicide Injection

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

herbicide injection

After buying the appropriate quantity of injections, drill 2-inch-deep holes (no deeper!) around the trunk. The 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.

5. Spraying Foliage with Herbicide

Spraying foliage is an old method and it’s been substituted with the aforementioned advanced methods. It is now only used in high-volume spraying, by an airplane or helicopter when large wooded areas need to be cleared.

Having said that, spraying can be an effective treatment for smaller, or juvenile trees and shrubs in your backyard.

6. Soil Treatment

When it comes to soil treatment, both liquid solutions and pellets are commonly used. The method can be a little more arduous than the other options I have covered.

  1. First need to dig 8-inch-deep holes around the tree with 6 inches between them.
  2. Apply the solution or pellets into those holes and the tree should die.

It can get complicated, as you often need several applications often meaning you will need to clear new holes with each repeat treatment

Choosing A Chemical Tree Killer

There are several products on the market that present themselves as tree killers, stump killers, and all manner of other interesting names. Over time I have had a go with pretty much all of them and can safely say only a few really hit the spot for domestic use.


Tordon is one of the most popular tree herbicides and is used to control and kill trees, while also preventing 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. 

tordon herbicide

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.

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 smaller 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 to 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

Another 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 brush herbicide try Bio Advanced Brush Killer.

Alternative Methods of Killing Trees

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, and 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.

Burning the Tree Stump

Burning the stump is one of the most effective, yet 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.

Frequently Asked Questions