If you’re looking to get rid of a tree from your yard without spending a fortune, you may be wondering if this is possible.

You can slowly kill a tree so it doesn’t die overnight by pouring high salt doses on the roots of the tree. Other slow methods of killing a tree include the use of copper nails, Copper sulfate, muriatic acid, and overwatering.

Another effective method is by using herbicides such as Tordon. However, this will not only kill the tree but also put the surrounding vegetables at risk of poisoning.

How to kill a tree slowly

In high dosages, salts can be deadly for plants. The sodium in salt will prevent the flow of potassium and magnesium, which are essential in the making of chlorophyll, the green photosynthetic pigment. That being so, the lack of chlorophyll will kill the tree as a result of nutrient deficiency.

Therefore, when looking for a slow and safe way to kill a tree, salt will do the job. To ensure that you are able to selectively kill the tree without affecting other vegetation around, follow the steps below to do it the right way.

  • Drill from four to six ½-inch holes, at least 3 inches deep, around the target tree, and fill them with salt. The holes should be drilled diagonally.
  • Mix one part water with two parts salt. You can go with mixing 3 cups of water and 6 cups of salt in a container.
  • Fill the holes with the solution. When it dissipates, refill them. Keep doing this weekly. After a while, you’ll notice that the foliage on the tree starts turning brown, indicating that you’re doing things right. The tree will eventually die off.

Killing a tree with herbicides

Herbicides can be very effective for killing trees, especially zombie trees that have been cut down but continue to grow back. The chemicals in the herbicide will destroy the sap and other living arts of the tree, thereby stopping nutrient transport.

This will eventually lead to the death of the tree. While using this method, it’s important you follow all Federal, state, and local laws and regulations regarding the use of herbicides.

Some of the ways of killing a tree with herbicide are discussed below:

1. Tordon herbicide injections

Some herbicide kills a tree fast, some slow. Using herbicide is a very easy and certain way to kill a tree than anything else. Tordon is the most powerful herbicide that will kill any type of tree from the inside out while the tree stands in place.

There are different ways to achieve this. One way is to locate or dig out one of the roots, drill some holes into the root beneath the soil and fill them with Tordon. Then you’ll cover the holes with a rug and put the soil back on top of the roots. After a few days, the tree will be dead, leaving no visible evidence of poisoning.

You can also drill holes into the trunk of the tree, but this may later get exposed. Treat the tree on a hot day without rain for the herbicide to take full effect.

2. Foliar spray method

Trees under 15 feet tall can be killed by spraying the foliage with Roundup or a selective weed killer, such as 2,4-D. The good thing about this method is that it is effective both in spring and summer. It’s important to do the spraying on a windless day so the herbicide is not carried onto nearby trees or garden plants.

Even though larger trees will resist this method, if the tree you’re looking to remove is small enough, you can kill it with a foliar spray.

3. Cut Surface Treatments

This technique involves creating a pathway through the bark so that herbicide can be introduced into the plant’s vascular tissue.

Start by making a series of downward cuts around the circumference of the tree with an ax or hatchet, leaving the frill (cut section of bark) connected to the tree. Immediately apply the selected herbicide to the cuts.

Avoiding spring applications when sap flows from the wound will prevent good absorption. You can return the bark to ensure that the cut part of the tree is not exposed.

4. Stump treatments

If the tree is already cut down and you don’t want it to sprout, you can eliminate the possibility of regrowth by immediately treating the freshly cut surface with herbicide to prevent sprouting.

On larger trees, treat only the outer 2 to 3 inches, including the cambium layer, of the stump (the internal heartwood of the tree is already dead). For trees 3 inches or less in diameter, treat the entire cut surface.

5. Soil treatments

If you’re planning to kill more than one tree, soil treatment with chemicals may be the recommended option. Certain soil treatments can be applied evenly to the soil surface which will move into the root zone of targeted plants after ample rainfall or overhead moisture.

What other chemicals can be used to kill a tree?

Some herbicides are specially made to kill trees. If properly applied, they can also be safe for the environment. The most environmentally friendly method of application involves applying herbicide to a specific area of the tree. In some cases, you may need to use herbicidal spray.

There are five major types of herbicides, only some of which are rated for home or crop use. Triclopyr amine and triclopyr ester are growth regulator-type herbicides, while glyphosate and imazapyr kill plants by interfering with the synthesis of plant proteins.

Aminopyralid is primarily effective on legumes such as kudzu and may not be appropriate for your needs. Some of the techniques you can apply while trying to slowly kill a tree with chemicals are outlined below:

Slowly kill a tree with copper nails

You can easily kill your tree with copper nails without leaving lasting damage. There’s no size requirement for the nail to use, however, the longer and wider the nail, the more efficient the treatment.

You should follow the steps below if you want to employ this method:

  • Hammer in a copper nail near the base of the tree at a slight angle pointing downward.
  • You don’t stop after hammering a single copper nail into the tree. Hammer as many copper nails as you can about half an inch apart. This way, the concentration of copper in the tree will increase, which will result in metal oxidizing. This will in turn poison the tree and lead to its death.
  • Once the tree dies, you can go ahead and remove the nails.
  • Keep in mind that this is a slow process that will take time, sometimes up to one or two years to get the desired outcome.

Slowly kill a tree with copper sulfate

Copper sulfate is a poison used to discourage the growth of tree roots in vulnerable areas. But, when applied properly, it’ll kill the whole tree as well. However, never apply the copper sulfate on the ground around the tree, but directly into the tree instead since it can get into the water supply. Here’s how to gradually kill your tree with copper sulfate solution:

  • Near the base of the tree, peel about two inches of bark.
  • Drill a hole downwards. The size of the hole depends on how fast you want to get rid of the tree. A large hole will allow a higher amount of copper sulfate.
  • Fill the hole with copper sulfate using a funnel.
  • Push the bark back into place to ensure that the copper sulfate is intact. This will prevent the copper sulfate solution from rainfall and kill the tree slowly.

Killing a tree with Muriatic acid

Hydrochloric acid, also known as Muriatic acid is a harsh chemical, which burns through pretty much anything it touches. For this reason, it’s a suitable killer for both weeds and trees in your yard.

But, make sure to apply it only on the target tree; otherwise, the acid will kill any plant in the area. You should also avoid spilling it in your yard to avoid acidifying your landscape, soil, and groundwater.

Start by digging a trench around the tree, deep enough to expose the roots. Then, mix the muriatic acid with water in a metal container, according to the recommended ratio on the bottle. Finally, pour the solution directly onto the tree roots.

It’s important to always wear rubber gloves and goggles when using acid due to its toxicity.

Killing a tree with acidic water

This is a safer option compared to the Muriatic acid method applied above. If you’re using this method, you only need to dilute a small amount of acid in a large portion of water. This is a simple method that requires you to continuously water the target tree with acidic water- that is, water whose pH value is below 6.5, it’ll slowly kill the tree without a trace.

Generally, plants thrive with a pH of about 5.5 to 6.5. The acidic environment can lower the levels of phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and molybdenum, nutrients that are essential to plant growth. Also, low pH levels will create mineral levels in the soil, which are toxic and, therefore, harmful to plants, including trees.

This method is not always recommended because the acidic water will not only be affecting the target tree but also a lot of vegetation close to the tree.

Killing a tree by Overwatering

It’s more likely to kill a tree with excess water than insufficient water. It’s just like a tree being affected by a flood. Most kinds of trees cannot survive persistent flood conditions. Flooding may cause direct damage to trees by changing soil conditions, interrupting normal oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange between trees and their environment, sedimentation, and physical damage.

Flooding also can weaken trees, making them more susceptible to damage from insects and diseases. The likelihood of insect and disease damage depends upon the severity of the flood and tree health.

A tree in weak condition before a flood can be further stressed by flooding. Trees that are flood-stressed exhibit a range of symptoms such as leaf chlorosis (yellowing), leaf loss, reduced leaf size, early fall coloration, and leaf drop.

Other symptoms are the emergence of waterspouts or small shoots from the main stem and crown dieback. If these symptoms persist for a long time, the tree will end up dying.

In the same way, watering a tree with more water than it needs is a surefire way of slowly killing such a tree.

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Applying vinegar to the tree leaves is usually not enough to kill the whole tree. However, when it is successful in killing the leaves, the tree will become less capable of photosynthesizing and transferring carbohydrates to the roots, which is essential for its growth. When this happens, it becomes a gradual death call for the tree.

Roundup can only kill weed trees and small trees that are under four feet. On the other hand, it won’t be as efficient as larger ones. To kill a large tree, you should combine Roundup with other chemicals.

Epsom salt is hygroscopic, with the crystals having the ability to absorb water. This property is why Epsom salt will continue to absorb moisture from a tree until there’s no water for it to survive on. This is a gradual death trick you can use to kill a tree.

Ben McInerney
Author: Ben McInerney - Ben is a qualified arborist with 15 plus years of industry experience in Arboriculture. He ran a successful tree service before turning to writing and publishing. Ben is dedicated to providing users with the most accurate up-to-date information on everything trees.