Sometimes, you just don’t want to go through the pain and hassle of cutting down a tree. You may want to explore non-cutting methods of killing trees. And if you do, you will find the following article useful.

You can kill a tree without cutting it by:

  • Spraying its foliage with solutions like herbicides and vinegar
  • Girdling it
  • Drilling holes into its trunk and then filling the holes with salt, herbicides, muriatic acid, fertilizer, or any other solution that can disrupt its functions
  • Exposing its roots and then applying chemicals like muriatic acid, salt, or other poisonous herbicides
  • Hacking the tree’s trunk and then spraying a herbicide on the exposed sections (hacking and squirting)

Here is what you should know.

There are four main ways of killing a tree without cutting it. They include:

  • spraying its leaves with a herbicide, vinegar, or any other harmful chemical
  • stripping and removing its bark
  • drilling holes, or making cuts, into its trunk and then applying a tree-killing solution
  • applying herbicides, muriatic acid, salt, vinegar, or any other harmful chemicals on and around the tree’s roots

1. Spraying foliage

You can kill a tree by spraying its foliage with chemicals.

You can use chemicals that simply use leaves as an entry point. The leaves then absorb the chemical into their system from where the chemical starts killing the tree.

Spraying foliage is a technique that is used to kill pines. Most professionals use glyphosate — Roundup. When sprayed on the needles of a pine tree, it gets absorbed into the tree. And then it starts destroying the tree from the inside.

spray chemicals on trees foliage

2. Injection chemicals into the trees trunk

You can also kill a tree, no matter how big, by drilling holes into its trunk and then placing chemicals inside the holes.

To be effective, the holes need to have a diameter of about half an inch. They also need to be angled downwards. Sealing them off after placing the chemicals is sometimes also recommended especially if you are dealing with a desiccant.

Some of the chemicals that are effective at killing trees when placed inside their trunks include:

  • Diluted salt
  • Nitrogen fertilizer
  • Vinegar
  • Muriatic acid
  • Glyphosate
  • Imazapyr
  • 2,4-D
  • Metsulfuron
injecting a tree

3. Girdling / ring barking

A tree is heavily dependent on its bark.

It uses it as a shield against pests, diseases, and animals. It also protects the tree from excessive water loss. And also plays a significant role in the transportation of sugars and nutrients.

Girdling kills a tree simply because it interferes with its bark. And given the role that the bark plays in a tree’s ability to survive, this is something that is often enough to kill a tree. However, the dying process is often slow and happens over a couple of months.

To do it:

  • Start by creating deep cuts — between 1/2 an inch to one and a half inches deep — along the circumference of the trunk
  • Create a second cut about 4 inches below the first cut. And just as in the first cit, make sure that it is along the circumference of the trunk in such a way that it appears like a band.
  • Wait for the tree to die. It will eventually die given that it won’t be able to effectively transport nutrients and food between its roots and leaves.

If you want to speed up the dying process, you can apply a herbicide to the exposed areas.

Apply the herbicide immediately after making the cut while the wounds are fresh. If the application is delayed, the tree’s defenses will kick in and this will reduce the effectiveness of the herbicides’ penetration.

girdling or ring barking a tree

4. Applying chemicals on, or around, roots

Trees wholly depend on their roots for nutrients and moisture. Therefore, if you can kill a tree’s roots, you can effectively kill it without having to cut it.

There are a few ways in which you can destroy a tree’s roots. You can kill tree roots by first digging a trench in order to expose them and then:

  • spraying them with a herbicide
  • covering them with rock salt, or
  • applying a solution of muriatic acid to the roots

Doing any of the above will either directly destroy the roots or interfere with their ability to carry out their functions. Whichever the case, the resultant effect will be death.

Note: This can contaminate the ground and cause nearby trees to die, so be careful.

5. Paving around the tree

When you pave around a tree, you can easily kill it. This works because paving restricts the ability of the roots to work properly.

It hampers their ability to breathe properly. It reduces their effectiveness and efficiency when it comes to absorbing moisture and nutrients. And it keeps them from growing properly. All of these things will eventually kill it.

6. Hacking and squirting

The girdling technique of killing a tree is a little bit more labor-intensive since the cuts have to be made along the circumference of the tree. If you want a less involving alternative, then you should use the hacking and squirting technique.

With this technique, you use an ax or a hatchet to hack off sections of the tree’s trunk. A downward cut that is about 2 inches long is ideal.

Once you make several of these cuts, you mix a herbicide in a spray bottle. And then use the spray bottle to squirt the herbicides into the cuts.

7. Soaking the bark with herbicides

You can kill a tree when you soak the lower half of its trunk in herbicide.

To be effective, you need to start by mixing the herbicide with oils. This will enable the herbicide to permeate the bark. This will make the mixture more potent.

It is also advisable to focus your application within 18 inches of the ground. This is the most significant part of the tree and it gives the herbicide the best chance of spreading to the rest of the tree.

What can you use to kill a tree without cutting it?

You can use a wide range of chemicals to kill a tree. Some of these chemicals can be homemade. Others are available commercially.

What can you use to kill a tree without cutting it

Here are the most common ways through which trees are killed without cutting them down.

Using salt

Salt can kill a tree because of two main reasons.

  • The first is that it is a good desiccant. This means that it is good at absorbing moisture. And so if you place it in the trunk or next to a tree’s root system, it is bound to drain it of much-needed moisture.
  • The second is because salt is made up of sodium. This sodium interferes with the ability of the tree to transport and handle both potassium and magnesium.

Since both of these compounds are essential ingredients in photosynthesis, they essentially interfere with the tree’s ability to produce food. This is often enough to kill the tree.

Note: Salting the ground can have very long-lasting effects on the ground and will prohibit you from planting anything else in the area for years to come.

Applying salt around the roots

Salt absorbs moisture. Therefore, when you dilute it and pour it around a tree, it will interfere with the ability of the tree to absorb moisture.

In fact, it can actually absorb moisture from the roots of the tree. With time, this will kill the tree’s roots. And since the tree won’t be starved of moisture, it will eventually die.

Applying salt to the tree's trunk

Given how powerful salt is as a desiccant, it can also be used to kill a tree.

To do so effectively:

  • Start by drilling downward-facing holes into the tree’s trunk. The holes that you drill should be at least 3 inches deep. A half an inch of thickness is also recommended.
  • Fill the holes with diluted rock salt. You should dilute it at a ratio of 1:2 — two cups of salt for every cup of water.
  • Take a sheet of plastic and use it to cover the holes shut
  • Give the salt a few weeks to work
  • If the tree doesn’t die, repeat the process

Using vinegar

You can kill a tree using vinegar by either spraying it on its leaves or spraying it into its trunk.

Here is what you should do.

Spraying the tree's leaves with vinegar

You can also kill a tree by spraying it with vinegar.

When you spray vinegar on the tree’s foliage, the vinegar will burn its leaves. This will compromise the tree’s ability to produce food. With time, the tree will gradually starve and then die.

Injecting vinegar

You can also kill a tree by injecting its trunk with vinegar.

Start by drilling a couple of holes into the tree’s trunk. Make sure that the holes are downward so that they can be able to hold as much vinegar as possible.

  • Fill the holes with white vinegar
  • Seal the hole with tape, and then wait
  • After the tree absorbs the vinegar, refill it
  • Check back, and if the tree isn’t showing signs of dying, repeat the process.

Using a drop cloth or tarp

If you are trying to kill a small or medium-sized tree, you can kill it by covering it.

When you cover a tree, you block sunlight from reaching its leaves. This will hamper its ability to create food. It will then starve and die.

Take a thick drop cloth of tarp over the tree to do so. Tie it to the trunk area. And then wait. This will kill the tree slowly.

Using muriatic acid

Muriatic acid is an incredibly harsh chemical that you can use to kill a tree.

To kill the tree:

  • Wear gloves and goggles for protection
  • Mix muriatic acid with water
  • Expose the tree’s roots by creating a trench around it
  • Take the diluted muriatic acid and pour it on the exposed roots

The acid will burn the tree’s roots. Some of it will also be absorbed into the tree. The combination of the two will slowly kill the tree.

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Cutting a tree down is the quickest way of killing a tree. But if you don’t want to cut it down, then the fastest way will be to drill holes into the tree’s trunk and then fill these holes with a powerful herbicide.

Yes, you can kill a tree with diesel. You can apply diesel to its roots and this will kill it. You can also make holes in the tree and then fill them up with diesel.

However, this is not a recommended technique for killing trees. In fact, in some areas, it is outlawed. This is mainly because it is not eco-friendly.

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.