I’m a strong proponent of designing landscapes around existing trees versus cutting them down. Sometimes, however, tree removal is ultimately the best option.
There are many reasons why you might need to remove a palm tree from your property. For example, you might be working to control disease spread between plants. Or maybe your palm variety is categorized as an invasive species in your area.
Safe and efficient tree removal can take many forms. In this article, I’ll explain how to kill palm trees without damaging nearby property or risking personal injury. Plus reliable methods that don’t involve cutting your palm down.
- 1. Girdling or Ring Barking
- 2. Cut the Surface or Hack and Squirt
- 3. Basal Bark Treatment
- 4. Copper Nails
- 5. Herbicide Injection
- 6. Spraying Foliage with Herbicide
- 7. Soil Treatment
Killing Palm Trees Without Cutting Them Down
Whether or not a palm tree must be cut down is not just about the efficacy of other removal options. Oftentimes, it’s unsafe to remove large trees without first cutting them down.
The simple fact is, dead trees fall. If you treat a mature palm with girdling, chemical herbicide, or a similar method and it dies, the trunk length becomes an extreme safety hazard. Any tree large enough to damage property or harm passersby if it falls absolutely must be cut down before treatment.
Depending on the palm’s location, I’d be comfortable killing one that’s no more than about 10 feet tall. However, it’s always best to err on the side of caution.
Your best resource for determining if your offending palm must be felled or can be killed where it stands is a local arborist. Arborists are professionals who specialize in tree health and management — it’s not necessarily in their best interest to “upsell” you on tree removal services. However, if felling is the best course of action, an arborist will be able to recommend a reputable tree removal company as well.
Killing a Standing Palm with Chemicals
There are several ways to kill a palm tree that doesn’t involve cutting it down at the base. Some of the most effective include girdling, herbicide injections, or foliar spraying.
Most of these methods target trees at the base and for those that don’t, you are going to need some ideas of what to do with the tree stump that remains. For multi-trunked specimens, you’ll need to repeat the chosen treatment for each individual stem. If you don’t, the untreated trunks are likely to survive and continue growing.
1. Girdling or Ring Barking
Girdling is extremely effective at killing trees. So effective, in fact, that it results in countless accidental tree deaths each year. But what is girdling?
Girdling refers to damaging or completely removing the bark and cambium from a section of a tree trunk. Without these layers of wood, water and nutrients are unable to travel up the tree, and growth stops. Death is often inevitable but may take several years.
Intentional girdling typically removes bark from the tree’s entire circumference. However, girdling that encircles even half of the trunk can end in death.
To girdle a palm tree, you’ll need a sharp tool like a chisel and hammer or hatchet. Select an accessible section of the trunk and remove the bark all the way around the tree. I recommend removing a section at least 4 inches wide for the best results.
Girdling alone will kill the tree but, again, results can be slow. The use of chemical herbicides in addition to girdling can speed things along.
2. Cut the Surface or Hack and Squirt
The aptly named hack-and-squirt method is far from elegant. However, it is an effective method for palm removal that requires minimal specialized equipment.
To kill a tree via the hack-and-squirt technique, you’ll need something sharp — e.g., a hatchet — and a chemical herbicide. The sharp tool will be used to cut into the tree’s bark. The herbicide will then be squirted into the open wounds.
I recommend cutting into the tree at a downward angle. This will create a trough in which to deposit herbicide without worrying about run-off.
You’ll want to make several cuts around the circumference of the tree. Read the label of your chosen herbicide carefully to determine dosage and better calculate the number of cuts needed.
3. Basal Bark Treatment
Palm trees that are less than 6 inches in diameter can be killed off using a basal bark treatment. This treatment utilizes a chemical herbicide suspended in oil which is applied to the base of the tree. For the best results, the oil mixture should be applied in a single coat to the bottom 15 inches of the trunk.
Results from basal bark treatment are generally slow and it could be weeks before you notice any sign of decline. It can then take several more months for the plant to actually die.
Basal bark treatment does have its advantages. For instance, it makes it relatively easy to target specific palms without harming desired trees in the same area. But it’s not my go-to solution for isolated palm trees in need of quick removal.
4. Copper Nails
There’s no shortage of anecdotal evidence supporting the use of copper nails on unwanted trees, but I’ve yet to see academic research to back up these stories. However, I have used this method myself on small fruit trees and it was reasonably effective.
If you want to experiment with copper nails on a small palm tree, I’m sure no harm will come from it. Alternatively, you can try driving copper nails into a stump to prevent new shoots. You can pick them up here at Amazon.com for a few dollars.
Personally, I wouldn’t rely on this supposed solution to kill a palm you need to be gone in a hurry. You’ll see much better results from a research-backed method, whether that means chemical herbicide, girdling, or simply chopping the tree down.
5. Herbicide Injection
Herbicide injection is very similar to the hack-and-squirt method I described above. This technique is preferred by tree professionals as it is far more precise.
Chemicals are usually injected by drilling small holes into the base of a tree’s trunk and inserting plastic syringes filled with the chosen herbicide. The syringes remain inserted into the bark until the herbicide drains into the tree’s vascular system — a process that typically takes a few hours.
The main drawback for the average gardener or homeowner looking to remove a palm tree is the need for specialized equipment. In my opinion, the hack-and-squirt method is a better investment if you only have a couple of trees in need of removal.
6. Spraying Foliage with Herbicide
Smaller trees may be killed using a standard foliar herbicide. Such treatments must be applied directly to the palm fronds in order to be absorbed by the tree.
The reason I recommend this technique for smaller palm trees is twofold. First, it’s easier to reach the foliage, including the newest leaves growing from the tree’s center. Second, large trees may require extremely high doses to fully succumb to the foliar herbicide.
Spray herbicides should only be applied on clear days with no wind. Before applying foliar herbicide, check the forecast for wind and rain predictions.
7. Soil Treatment
Some chemical herbicides work by seeping into the soil and targeting tree roots directly.
These products are typically used when the goal is to kill off all existing or future shoots along with the main trunk. Outside of this scenario, however, I’d rarely choose a soil-applied herbicide over the other methods outlined here.
Care should be taken with soil-applied herbicides to prevent run-off that may affect desired plants in the vicinity. Also, according to Cornell University, factors like soil pH and composition can impact the efficacy of some chemicals. This is a big reason why I prefer more direct chemical applications for palm tree control.
Choosing The Best Chemical Palm Tree Killer
Not all chemical herbicides are the same. In other words, an active ingredient that handles dandelions, crabgrass, and other common lawn and garden weeds won’t necessarily be effective against palm trees.
Tordon is a chemical herbicide formulated with the active ingredient picloram.
It is very effective on woody plants and, according to the University of Florida, is one of the better products for use on palm trees. You may use this herbicide on mature palms — via the hack-and-squirt or injection method — as well as young shoots.
It can be difficult to get hold of this product due to it being a commercial-grade product. However, it is available at DoMyOwn.com, it’s not cheap but it is a very effective treatment for palms along with any other form of tree or tree stumps.
Nearly all RoundUp formulas are created using the ingredient glyphosate. While glyphosate is extremely effective against many herbaceous weeds, it’s not the best choice for palm trees.
For the best results, I recommend opting for an herbicide designed to kill trees instead.
If you have a lot of overgrown vegetation, shrubs, brush, or brambles then RoundUp would be a great all-in-one solution to try. You can buy it here at Ace Hardware.
Alternative Tree Killing Products
You will want to consider your planned application method when selecting a formula. For example, an herbicide containing triclopyr is ideal for foliar spraying and basal bark treatment.
Various household chemicals — e.g., bleach — are often touted as alternative herbicides. While the efficacy of these products is occasionally backed by science, remember that home remedies are not necessarily safer for yourself or the environment than those sold in your local garden store. I always recommend opting for a commercial herbicide that includes detailed safety and application instructions.
Getting Rid of Palm Tree Pups or Shoots
New palm tree shoots that are relatively sparse may be controlled with hand-pulling. This technique requires regular oversight at first but can yield good long-term results with consistency.
Both pre-and post-emergent herbicides are effective on palm pups and shoots. To prevent new sprouts from emerging, apply an herbicide to the area containing trifluralin or oryzalin. If the sprouts are already growing from the soil, use an herbicide that targets palm trees such as picloram or triclopyr.
Verdict: Ways To Kill Palm Trees
Control and removal strategies traditionally used on deciduous and coniferous trees are also effective on palms.
When mapping out your tree removal strategy, always remember to prioritize the safety of both yourself and the surrounding environment.
Do not attempt to kill a large palm tree while it stands if there is a chance of it falling. Likewise, chemical treatments should be chosen carefully to minimize run-off and the potential risk to nearby desired plants.