25 Ways to Kill A Tree

Kill a Tree

Yes, I drew this. Meh, better than a 5th grader… 😉

Mechanical damage and improper tree maintenance kills more trees than any insects or diseases. This how-to guide will hopefully teach you how NOT to treat your tree friends. .. However, if you’re the sadistic type and love spending money replacing trees, this is a great read for you also!

1 – “Top” the tree which promotes watersprouts that weaken trees and encourage pests and disease.

Do not top trees. Tree heights can be lessened by proper crown reduction that doesn’t stimulate watersprout growth.

2 – Leave co-dominant leaders to promote “V” growth and splitting during winds and storms.

When a tree is young, select one or the other of the competing upright branches to be the main branch and cut the other off. Do not buy a tree with these characteristics.

3 – Leave crossing branches to rub protective bark and create wounds.

Prune branches that cross and rub in order to prevent bark wounds.

4 – Ignore insect or disease damage.

You should be out, enjoying your trees on a daily basis, so monitor for pests and treat appropriately if they are found.

5 – Coat pruning cuts with paint or sealer to slow healing and promote pest problems.

Do not use anything to cover pruning cuts or wounds– trees seal their own wounds, it’s called compartmentalization. CODIT for short in the arborist world.

6 – Leave broken branches unpruned to invite pests and disease.

Prune branches off correctly at the branch bark collar.

7 – Spray unapproved herbicides over tree root area to weaken tree.

Read labels thoroughly!! Spray lawns with herbicides that will not damage trees. Better yet, don’t spray and herbicides at all!!

8 – Damage roots and trunk with lawn equipment.

Apply mulch around the tree to avoid hitting the tree trunk with lawn or edging equipment and to protect surface roots.

9 – Rip through roots when digging trenches.

Dig around roots whenever possible, however if this is not possible, make a clean pruning cut on the tree side of the root.

10 – Plant close to the house or an obstacle to reduce adequate tree and root growing space.

Know how big a tree will grow (height and width) and space accordingly away from houses and other obstacles.

11 – Attach items to tree to damage bark and girdle branches with wire and rope.

Insert a nail or screw into your tree to which a wire or line can be attached. The tree will seal around the small wound made by the nail or screw.

12 – Prune between lateral branches to leave stubs.

Cut branches back to laterals so you don’t leave stubs to which the branches will die back.

13 – Prune flush cuts to reduce wound closure.

Do not make flush cuts. Cut on the outside of the branch bark collar.

14 – Leave tree staked until guy wire girdles trunk.

Stakes generally aren’t needed on small residential trees, but if they are, remove them after one year to avoid any damage.

14 – Leave wrap on to constrict trunk growth and rot bark.

Do not wrap the trunk with anything except a wide wire cage if animals are a problem. This also invides borers into the protected space under the wrap.

15 – Pile up excessive mulch to encourage rodent damage and bark rot. MULCH VOLCANO!

Do not put mulch in contact with the trunk, and then pile mulch only 2 to 3 inches over the roots.

17 – Put non-porous black plastic under mulch.

Do not put any type of fabric or plastic material under your mulch. Wind will bring soil and seeds in on top of the fabric, and there will be weeds growing in no time.

18 – Stack items atop roots to cause soil compaction.

Do not stack items atop the roots as it causes soil compaction.

19 – Leave ball roping on to girdle trunk.

Take the ball roping off around the tree trunk. If the tree is in a container, remove the container before planting. Yes, I have seen full containers in holes before.

20 – Plant near a downspout to assure excessive water or water lightly to encourage shallow root growth.

Divert water from the roots of trees that don’t like wet soil. However, when watering, water deeply to encourage deep root growth. Better to water less often, but longer – than more often and shorter.

21 – Leave top of wire basket in place to girdle roots.

Remove the top horizontal round of wire from the basket as least. Try to remove as much as you can.

22 – Leave treated or synthetic burlap on to prevent root growth.

Remove the burlap, (regardless of type) from atop the ball and at least as much on the sides that it is buried by several inches. If left above ground, it will wick away all the moisture from the area of the tree and essentially dry it out.

23 – Dig hole too narrow and over amend backfill to discourage proper root spread.

Dig the hole at least twice as wide as the root system to encourage lateral root growth out of the root ball. Do not amend backfill for individual tree holes, use native soil.

24 – Dig hole too deep and/or fill with gravel to collect water and drown roots.

Dig your hole only as deep as the root system (Top root of ball) and do not put gravel in the bottom of the planting hole.

25 – Remember that trees give us all of the air we breath on this planet. If no one plants trees, none of us will continue to breath!!

57 thoughts on “25 Ways to Kill A Tree

  1. we did #10 , but we learnt our lesson and we rather think twice before we plant a little tree too close to the house or the fence… the bigger they grow the bigger is the problem you will get :o(


  2. Ahh, we spend so much time trying to kill trees here that your clever list of ways to avoid tree death falls on deaf ears! We have a forrest of self-seeded Ash. Great for heating but keeping on top of it takes a number of months each year 😉


  3. Interesting! I’m definitely guilty of one of these, and my “tree guy” is guilty of another as far as planting. I didn’t dig the hole wide enough and I think he left the burlap on it telling me it would disintegrate. This was probably 10 years ago.
    Thank you!


  4. What a huge amount of information! Would you consider breaking these up into one or two at a time, and explaining your arborist terms for us dummies who know nothing about tree husbandry? That would be a big gift both for us and the trees that depend on us for their lives and comfort…


  5. I think if you saw what our neighbour did to the tree in his backyard, you would cry.

    The city of Toronto has a bylaw preventing unauthorized removal of trees. A permit is required to cut down a tree – even on your own property. We’ve learned from experience that this permit is not always granted – even armed with an arborist report.

    Sometimes people take actions – like our neighbours – to get around these permits 😦


    • Many municipalities here require permits, yes, even on your own property.
      This is part of my job doing new construction, where they clear a wooded lot. I get a list of how many inches at DBH (diameter at breast height) of trees were removed. I then have to replace that amount of inches with ‘good’ trees like oaks, spruce, hackberry.. Lists are different in all villages. If the client doesn’t want to plant that amount of trees, they pay a fee which generally goes to planting trees within the particular village, like street trees, parks etc.
      I had a client receive a letter the other day from her village. Her rear yard, 36″ DBH (huuuuge) elm had Dutch Elm Disease and needed to be removed or the village would do it for her and charge her a stupid high price. It was a $1800.00 removal, even with our cheapest tree killer guy.
      Now, at my home in an unincorporated area. We should get a permit, but usually don’t. We also don’t have the replacement rules like the hoidy-toidy neighborhoods I work in.


  6. I knew it was going to kill me to scroll back and for to the picture. So I opened the pic in another window, put the windows side by side and enjoyed the read. Maybe it’s because I used to teach 5th grade. lol Had to be some reason.


  7. We were horrified this evening on our drive homeward to see that the city crews had cut down a whole quarter-mile’s worth of flourishing 12-14′ crape myrtles in the median on a nearby main drag. This, in a city that prides itself on tree-huggery. YIKES! I can only guess that they’re putting new sprinkler systems in the medians as they did a mile or two closer to us, but why on earth they didn’t try to save the myrtles, or at least offer them to people who were willing to dig them up and remove them, is beyond me. What on earth were they thinking??? (((Insert mortified emoticon here.)))

    Thank you for promulgating better practices!!


    • I can’t imagine that the crews couldn’t mitigate the situation without digging then up. So sad. I’m also surprised they put irrigation into a median! That actually sounds a tad irresponsible in the ‘wasteful water’ department. 😯 The city should use drought hardy plants and come by with a water truck if things get tough.


      • I don’t know that such an installation was the actual reason, though it’s what it looked like they did in the previous removal/replacement. Drip systems, at least, I think, and they did seem to do lots of native/xeric stuff in the first ones, so I haven’t given up hope entirely. But to sacrifice those myrtles!!! I couldn’t see any sign of infestation or diseases, at least in our drive-by looks. 😦


        • That is a bummer! While in southern Illinois, I was in awe of the myrtles. They are so so close to being able to grow by me. Just one zone away! Darn!
          I wish there were some better practices used in cities. One Craigslist ad could have had all of those dug and moved with no city equipment or time! Haha! I’m sure liability prevented that. Oh well.


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