How to kill a tree (that’s become a nuisance)

When there’s no alternative but to kill a tree (and you’re on the right side of the law), here’s what you need to do

How to kill a tree
(Image credit: Future/Abigail Rex)

Let’s get this straight right from the start: we aren't telling you how to kill a tree because we are advocating tree destruction. We’re all for as much tree-growing as possible. However, sometimes there are legitimate reasons why you might need to kill a tree.

For instance? Well, sometimes trees self-seed in your garden, but the tree species is totally inappropriate for the size of your plot. Or the tree might just not be what you want in a particular position – or at all.

A tree might also cause damage to your home either with its roots, or its branches in some circumstances. Do note, though, that we’re talking substantial trees here and, for the most part, trees near buildings don’t cause damage.

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There’s one other thing to consider when you’re contemplating killing a tree. It’s possible that it’s subject to a tree preservation order (TPO). These are made to protect trees that bring benefit to the local area and, if this is the case with your tree – and you can check with your local planning authority – you would need permission to go ahead.

Even if a tree isn’t protected by a TPO, if you live in a conservation area, you’ll need to inform the local planning authority before you work on a tree if its diameter is greater than 7.5cm. Find out more from your authority.

So, that all said, if you need to kill a tree and can legitimately go ahead, here’s how to do it.

How to kill a tree

1. Chopping down the tree

You’ll need to chop the tree down first. Only use a chainsaw if you’re confident to operate it; the alternative is an axe but for either you will need to take every safety precaution, wearing gloves and safety glasses. You‘ll also need to make sure that when you fell it the tree won’t hurt anyone or damage your house or other structures or planting in the garden. Any doubts? Call in a qualified tree surgeon. Tree much bigger than you are? We'd suggest a tree surgeon again. The potential for accidents is high. 

Chopping the tree down is only part of the job, though. With the stump and roots left in the earth, some trees will respond by regrowing with vigour so you’ll be back to square one. 

2. Tackle the stump

If it’s small enough, you can dig up the stump. Alternatively, consider using a stump killer like Vitax SBK Tree Stump Killer, which can be painted on, sprayed on, or applied with a watering can. 


Vitax SBK Tree Stump Killer kills at the root to stop regrowth. Use it during autumn and winter, and be aware that a repeat application after six weeks may be required. 

3. Use ring-barking or girdling to kill the tree?

Heard about ring-barking, otherwise known as girdling, as a method of killing a tree? This isn’t a strategy to use in your garden. The technique, which involves deliberately removing the bark around the trunk of the tree, can kill the tree. However, it won’t do so immediately, so you’ll be left with a standing tree for a while to come plus you’d still need to fell it with due care and attention after that before it toppled of its own accord.

Sarah Warwick
Freelance Editor

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She’s spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes – long enough to see fridges become smart, decorating fashions embrace both minimalism and maximalism, and interiors that blur the indoor/outdoor link become a must-have. She loves testing the latest home appliances, revealing the trends in furnishings and fittings for every room, and investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement. It's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house revamper. For, Sarah reviews coffee machines and vacuum cleaners, taking them through their paces at home to give us an honest, real life review and comparison of every model.