How to girdle & kill a tree?

pickler_gardenerApril 26, 2009

I girdled 6 large honey locust trees last Feb 12th hoping to kill them because I need more sunlight on my garden. 15-18" diameter trunks and I chainsawed through the bark completely around them.

Today I discovered they are leafing out just like the locusts that I didn't girdle. What did I do wrong and how do I kill them now? Cutting them completely down is out of the question until next winter.

The cuts I made are completely through the bark and into the white of the wood. I rather expected to see sap oozing out of the cuts, but there is none.

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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

Girdling stops the flow of sugars from the top to the roots. The end result is that the tree starves.

With big trees, the starving part takes time. Sometimes several years.

The reason: the tree has large stores of sugars/carbohydrates in its trunk and roots.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2009 at 3:22PM
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pickler_gardener

jean001,

Thanks so much for your reply!

I feel like an idiot not knowing that. And so disappointed too. My garden layout was planned this year with the trees being leafless. I wish there was some way to kill them sooner.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   April 26, 2009 at 4:47PM
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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

Well, if it's of a manageable size, you could start removing branches.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2009 at 9:02PM
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lucky_p

If you'd treated the chainsaw cuts you made last year with an appropriate herbicide, like Tordon/Pathway, or some full-strength Brush-B-Gon, that sucker would be dead as a hammer. I'm not one for wholesale widespread herbicide spraying, but judicious, targeted use works wonders with minimal to no adverse environmental impact.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2009 at 9:16PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Speaker of sucker, if you didn't treat the fresh cuts with some type of herbicide, you're probably going to end up with a whole grove of these trees now because of root suckers.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2009 at 9:51PM
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pickler_gardener

Thanks for replies!

The trees are large and the thorns make them difficult to work with even when they have been felled. Also densely packed and right next to my house and spread over the 2nd floor deck.

I do have some Bayer Brush Killer Plus that comes in one gallon sprayer containers. If I girdled the trees again and applied to the cuts would the tree die soon? How soon?

Any tips?

Suckers! The pods produce enough little trees every summer as it is.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2009 at 10:35AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

If it were me, I think I'd try to re-girdle it lower down and apply full strength glyphosate or whatever to the freshly cut cambium. I'd guess that the results will be considerable less than they would have been if you had done this to start with, but that's water under the bridge. Once the vascular flow of the tree was interrupted, the whole vascular system in the trunk started shutting down. I would be surprised if the treatment had any effect on the foliage about the initial girdle, but maybe it will decrease the possible nightmare situation with suckers. If I were you, I'd keep a bottle of glyphosate handy and treat (cut and apply herbicide immediately) every sucker you see. What's left of the tree will eventually get the point and give up.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2009 at 11:02AM
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pickler_gardener

OK. I googled glyphosate and will search for some tomorrow morning when I go to KC.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glyphosate

The "injected into the trunk" caught my eye. Due to health problems its not all that easy for me to man a chainsaw anymore and I wonder what you think about possibly drilling holes into the trunk?

    Bookmark   April 27, 2009 at 11:28AM
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alabamatreehugger(8)

It's possible some of the leaves will start wilting when the summer heat arrives.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2009 at 11:31AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Drilling holes is much less effective. Only the chemical that comes in contact with fresh cambium is going to be sent to the roots. Drilling holes gives you much less surface area and wastes a lot of chemical. The chemical pored down into the heartwood won't be transmitted to the rest of the tree. You might be able to expose the cambium alright with a hatchet/hand-axe, but that may be even more work than using a saw.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2009 at 11:39AM
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esh_ga

I think the brush killer product you already have should be fine.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2009 at 1:53PM
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terrene(5b MA)

I had a buddy girdle one of my large Norway maples with a chainsaw. He made 2 cuts, about a foot apart, all the way around the trunk. The tree was girdled in May 2007, started to die back at the tips that fall, but then leafed out again the following Spring (although weakly). It finally died in August 2008. It was a slow death. I did not use herbicide and it has not resprouted below the girdle, but Honey Locust is apparently prone to root sprouts?

There was a thread sometime back, where Spruceman explained his method of girdling. He used an axe to strip the bark and cambium all the way around, but he did it in an irregular pattern around the trunk of the tree. This avoided creating a weak spot in the trunk where the tree would be prone to breaking and falling in the future. (Hope I've accurately explained that.)

Now I am worried that the girdled tree will break at the point where the chain saw cut into the trunk, although it would probably take years, and the tree is not at risk of falling on any structures.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2009 at 9:25PM
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spruceman

Terrene:

Yes, you have it right about how to avoid creating a weak sport when girdling a tree.

But, although I have girdled literally thousands of trees of 12 different species as part of my timber stand improvement work on my timberland, I never girdled any honey locust trees. In fact, I have never cut into a honey locust tree.

The thickness of the sapwood layer is an element in how a tree reacts when it is girdled. If the layer is thin, it is easy to cut through the sapwood to the heartwood, and that will cause the tree to die almost immediately. If the layer that carries sap upward is completely severed along with the inner bark, which carries the nutrients from the leaves to the roots, the tree is done for fast. But that doesnÂt guarantee that there will not be sprouts from the roots. Usually this doesnÂt happen, but it can.

The problem with girdling trees instead of cutting them down, is that after the tree is dead, it will weaken, branches will break off, and eventually the trunk will fall over. The technique I described, which terrene refers to, lessens the chance that the tree will break off at the point of the girdling before many of the branches have broken off, so the whole thing comes crashing down at once, potentially damaging a tree nearby.

So, after you girdle a tree, or otherwise kill it with some herbicide, you will have a hazard from falling branches, or worse, for some time to come. Not recommended. The early settlers in this country girdled trees to kill them and then planted their crops underneath. The trees were very large, hard to cut down, and hard to remove once cut down. So creating "deadings" was the easy way, and given the resources available, the only possible way to go. Unfortunately, according to some reports I have read, many homesteaders were killed by dead limbs falling out of these trees.

--Spruce

    Bookmark   April 27, 2009 at 10:39PM
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pickler_gardener

Well, the deed is done for now. I pounded a very large chisel(?) at a downward angle all around the trunks using the original cuts as starting point. Then sprayed my brush killer into the new cuts.

Here is one of the smaller trees:

Thanks all for your help! I'll report back when I see some change in the trees.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 7:38PM
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ahuehuete(z9)

Cut all the branches you can and insert a thick car lubricating-grease covered nail one up and one down the wound you made.
Good luck.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 8:10PM
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pickler_gardener

No branch cutting until the tree is on the ground. I'm too old for ladders and I haven't illustrated how dangerous and nasty these thorn trees are. If you stumbled into one of these trunks the thorns could do serious harm.

Strange how this tree evolved. The very numerous, large pods on the female trees make excellent fodder and literaly carpet the yard when they drop. The pods attract wildlife and the thorns keep them away. Cardinals nest in the thorn clusters.

Here is part of a pod that just happened to be in a picture I snapped yesterday in my front yard:

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 10:51AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

"Cut all the branches you can and insert a thick car lubricating-grease covered nail one up and one down the wound you made."

Huh??????????????

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 11:39AM
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ahuehuete(z9)

As I said it:
Step one: Cover a nail with car grease,
Step two: Insert it in the lower part of the tree.
Sorry if I wasn´t very clear, I was in a hurry.
Maybe it doesn´t matter if it still has some leaves, I don´t know, but it works quite well.
Try it anyway.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 1:04PM
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alabamatreehugger(8)

What's the nail and grease supposed to do?

Anyways, I just planted a few honeylocust seedlings that I started from seed. I planted them at the back edge of my woods to give the critters something to munch on. Hopefully they won't turn out to be pesky.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 1:16PM
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ahuehuete(z9)

I know it sounds like a strange solution from "ye olde tymes", but it just works.
Mabe it poisons it, I don´t know, it kills the tree.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 1:36PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

I don't know either, but I would think walking around the tree three times with you right arm above your head and your left eye shut would work better. Seriously, I can't think of any way that they nail method would do anything except maybe dull your chainsaw when you chopped up the wood.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 3:12PM
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pickler_gardener

Copper nails might work? Not sure where I heard that, but remember aproximately when. Am guessing Organic Gardening magazine in the 70s.

Car grease? I think it would get rubbed off when pounding the nail in.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 3:47PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Even if it didn't rub off, that amount of grease injected into the tree wouldn't accomplish much.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 3:52PM
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ahuehuete(z9)

Ok, ok, just a suggestion, but it would´t cost much for you to try. Sorry if I offended someone by posting a simple method that doesn´t involve expensive and complicated ways of doing the same.
It just works...

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 7:57PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Ahuehuete, it has nothing to do with offending anyone or anyone here wanting complicated or expensive solutions. On the contrary, we all look for the simplest and least expensive way to do things well. It's just that the solution you report sounds scientifically unreasonable. If there's more to it, I'm sure everyone would love to know. If you have more info to elaborate or clarify the suggestion, you should post it!

    Bookmark   April 29, 2009 at 10:55PM
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ahuehuete(z9)

It has worked for me, not for particulary large trees, but once it has no branches, the trunk can be killed so it doesn´t rebud, and it is easier to take out once the roots are dead.
I learned to do this when we had to call some crew to cut down a dangerous eucalyptus, and, as you probably know, these rebud once cut down. They put the nail with grease and it didn't make new shoootings, and the roots died, making it easier to take out. Then I tried it with some other trees, and it worked. I KNOW it sounds illogical, but it works. If you're not sure that enough grease penetrates, maybe you can make a hole and fill it up.
I should have been more specific...
My sincere apologies.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2009 at 3:15PM
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taz6122(N.W. AR.6b)

It does work. I've drilled holes in the stump on a huge eucalyptus and filled them with 90wt oil. I think any petro product will work but don't over do it.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2009 at 8:21PM
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julysun

Well, it has been a year now, how are your thorn trees doing? I am an old man now but when young my brother and I chopped down a whole grove of those trees on my father's farm. Quite a job. We burned them after they were down, those thorns live forever if left just laying around.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 8:09PM
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geneg69_a0l_com

I tried to girdle a privet in my back yard that was giving
the whole family allergies. It's been a couple months and i
haven't seen any change in the leaves. It has 5 large limbs
coming out of the main trunk. I girdled two of them with no
change.
I'm glad i found this forum it gives me better ideas on how
to kill this pest. I'm going to try regirdling all 5 and
paint roundup on the girdle. I just want to stop this tree
from blooming.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 4:10PM
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jocl

I have two red maples that are about 60 feet tall and 10 inches in diameter that I would like to kill via girdling and herbicide if needed such as with Brush B Gon and/or a 50% ai concentration of glyphosate. These trees are leaning toward a power line and cutting them down isn't an option. I cut one down and it cost me $650.66 for the power co. to repair the line. My question is, both trees are forked near the top so would the girdled dead trees likely "crumble" from the top vs having the entire dead tree fall across the power line?
I've girdled some softwood trees before but have no experience with red maples.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 10:39AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

well jocl ...

dead trees fall in power lines also .. so i dont know what you accomplish by killing them ...

if only you had the foresight.. you should have made them all fall down.. while the power line was already down ...

i am surprised the power company wont come butcher them for you ... as a precaution to your aspirations ...

i wonder what it would cost to have them come take down the line for the day .. if possible..

and i wonder what the original poster thinks bout getting emails on this 3 years later ....

and finally.. i have saved a lot of tree trimming money.. by having a tree guy ONLY make them fall down.. and then i do all the cleanup once they are on the ground... it is basically one hour of his work.. rather than eight hours ... with 2 other guys for chipping etc .... but i have the ability.. out here in the country.. to use a burn pile ... which is also not near power lines ...

frankly.. girdling is not the answer to your problems..IMHO ...

ken

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 11:25AM
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terrene(5b MA)

Personally, I wouldn't girdle any tree that is at risk of falling on structures or wires. Who knows how it will fall apart, due to possible weaknesses in the tree. You should save your pennies and have a professional trim the trees (or like Ken said maybe the utility will do it).

The girdled Norway maple in my yard (girdled May 2007) has been an interesting experiment. First, it took 1 1/2 years to die. After another year or two, it started dropping huge chunks of bark and smaller branches. Then we had tropical storm Irene that came through last summer, and her winds blew a bunch of large branches down from the canopy. About a month ago, I had a little tree work done, and had the larger of two co-dominant leaders cut down. The tree guy dropped it from the ground (planned it that way). After 3-4 years, the wood from that trunk is nicely seasoned.

Now there is just one leader and a few branches left. I like snags and think it looks pretty good, no longer a huge hulking eyesore, and makes a nice wildlife feature. The birds have always loved this dead tree, they are constantly hopping around on it looking for bugs, and the Crows and others like to use it as a lookout. I hope the woodpeckers will make holes sometime.

I expect that the upper branches will "crumple" as you say, likely in wind storms, before the whole trunk will eventually fall. But who knows. I don't worry about it because it's never been at risk of falling on anything.

Here's what it look like before T.S. Irene -

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 4:34PM
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jocl

Thanks for the responses,
The most logical option at this point is to contact a tree service and see what it would cost to drop the trees. There is an old expression that there are three directions you can fell a tree and if the tree guy can drop them a bit to either side of the powerline it should't cost much. Limbing and bucking up the trees isn't a problem as I heat our house almost exclusevly with wood.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2012 at 6:41AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Have you called the power company to see if they will take the tree down?

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 5:36PM
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jocl

The trees are well outside the power co. ROW and pose no threat (except from me) to their power line. There are many more larger mature poplar and hemlocks that are closer to the line. Two years ago the power co. did some maintenance by cutting a few "leaners" and overhanging branches. There was a large dead cherry near the line and I asked why they didn't take it down. Their response was it would crumble down from the top and therefore wasn't a threat. They were right.
I have girdled some large white pine and they're still standing (dead)30 years later so that's why I was thinking about girdling the maples. It's only the top 20' that threatens the line, so if the trees "crumble" from the top there shouldn't be a problem. Since the trees are only 10"-12" in diameter I would need to stagger the girdle cuts to maintain trunk strength. I don't think wind throw would be much of a threat as there wouldn't be leaves - little "sail" area.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 7:32AM
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asterglow(5)

I have considered girdling a mulberry tree which is next to the fence at the rear of my property. I am really sick of pulling mulberry seedlings everywhere, and have gotten rid of all the others of this species on my land. In the past my son has cut off branches on the near side of the tree (which have resprouted) but there are large limbs which hang over to the neighbor's property, and to cut them and clean up the debris would necessitate taking heavy equipment into their yard. I asked the professional tree guy that I use, and he was reluctant to do that. This is a large tree, and girdling would be a lot of work but may be worth a try. My son could work the chain saw (something I never do, being a smallish female) or I might try the hatchet method. Do you think the tree would resprout below the cut? Mulberries are very persistent.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 3:19PM
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alexander3_gw(6 Pennsylvania)

I've tried girdling small mulberry trees (finger thick), and they just sprout below the girdle.

Alex

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 9:08PM
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wisconsitom

Just to add to the consensus that trees can take a long time to die following girdling, I girdled a number of quite large balsam poplars in my woods, in areas where my chosen species, native Thuja occidentalis, were well-established underneath them and just needed more light to get going. These big poplars took three years to be completely dead. I accomplished this job in the manner described originally by Spruceman, using both hatchet and power saw.

I believe there's some aspect of timing that can make a difference too though I don't remember the particulars at the moment. Possibly fall, to interrupt conveyance of nutrients to the roots........not sure. I also don't remember what time of year I did mine. Probably mostly in the winter since that's when I'm most likely to be in the woods doing such work.

+oM

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 9:39PM
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soregon

I have a beautiful Purple Robe Locust in my front yard about 15ft from a plum tree. However, the locust tree sends up so many suckers all over my lawn that it's driving my nuts and very exhausting pulling maybe 20 to 30 suckers every couple of days! I want this tree gone!! It has two trunks coming out of the ground, each about 6-7 inches in diameter and the tree is around 20ft tall.

My question is: If I girdle and treat with poison, will this effect my plum tree? Also read somewhere that it is best to do this in the early fall just as the leaves are turning, as the sap is now running down to the roots more so than at other times of the season.

My biggest concern is the poison damaging the plum tree.... or worse yet, getting into the fruit.

Can anyone offer experience or advice? Thanks in advance.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 7:03PM
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soregon

I have a beautiful Purple Robe Locust in my front yard about 15ft from a plum tree. However, the locust tree sends up so many suckers all over my lawn that it's driving my nuts and very exhausting pulling maybe 20 to 30 suckers every couple of days! I want this tree gone!! It has two trunks coming out of the ground, each about 6-7 inches in diameter and the tree is around 20ft tall.

My question is: If I girdle and treat with poison, will this effect my plum tree? Also read somewhere that it is best to do this in the early fall just as the leaves are turning, as the sap is now running down to the roots more so than at other times of the season.

My biggest concern is the poison damaging the plum tree.... or worse yet, getting into the fruit.

Can anyone offer experience or advice? Thanks in advance.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 7:05PM
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wisconsitom

No, the herbicide will not translocate into the plum tree, and yes, this technique is probably the best way to handle getting rid of the tree and its suckers. Even then, it is possible that some suckers will continue to grow after the tree is gone, but your normal, broadleaf weedkillers will take care of those along with any dandelions, etc. that are present. The information about doing so (Treating the cut tree stumps with herbicide) in the fall is also correct.

+oM

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 8:12PM
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