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Do you have a tree in your garden that doesn't meet your expectations or takes up more space than you would like? Many property owners wonder how they can kill unwanted trees without incurring high costs or having to comply with tree protection regulations. This is where the copper nail comes into play. In German-speaking countries it is known that copper nails driven in slowly but surely cause trees to die. But is it really possible and if not, which method works?

copper nail in the tree

The idea that a single copper nail could destroy an entire tree is simply absurd. However, many people believe that by doing so they can kill unwanted trees that either cannot be felled or can only be removed at great expense. If you really have to kill one of the big plants in this way, neither copper nails nor other materials like the following will help you:

  • iron
  • lead
  • Brass
  • aluminum

The reason for this lies in the regeneration ability of the plants. In fact, all tree species have high self-healing powers, which can even cope with higher amounts of copper without any problems. Because even very large copper nails are only a one-spot injury, not enough copper can penetrate the tree to slowly kill it. However, a discoloration of the spot where the copper nail was hammered into the tree is typical. This shows that the tree has reacted with the copper. Nevertheless, the copper nail cannot and will not be enough to endanger the trees.

Favorable Factors

Copper nails can only be harmful if trees have the following characteristics:

  • weakened by disease, pests or care errors
  • old and weakened
  • too harsh cutting measures

Since an already weakened plant giant can no longer fight the copper in the organism as effectively, the nails cause more damage. However, in most cases it is not enough to kill the plants. Even a completely different case occurs: the trees eat the nails. This means that over time so much new wood is formed around the wound site that the entire copper nail is surrounded and either only a small part or nothing of it can be seen anymore. This is possible because the tree separates the wound site from the rest of the organism and, depending on the species, forms new wood. So using copper nails just isn't enough to kill trees effectively.

notice: If you want to damage a tree with a copper nail that is not on your property, you are committing an offence. If you are disturbed by the neighbor's large shady oak tree and you drive copper nails into the trunk, the owner of the property can demand damages of several thousand euros

Alternative blue water nail?

Have you ever heard of the blue water nail? This is a vial into which a copper nail is inserted. At the same time, it is filled with a solution of copper sulphate, which turns the water blue and increases the intensity of the procedure. With this method, users expect an effective solution to let the plants die off. Despite the ability of trees to regenerate, do bluewater nails have enough toxic properties to actually harm them? no According to some field reports, blue water nails should work much better than pure copper nails and even let the giant plants die. Just as many report that the nails do not help at all. So, despite the higher amount of copper, you are not guaranteed to kill the trees. There are other methods for this.

Killing Unwanted Trees: Ringing

Since nails do not work in any way to kill trees without a permit, you will have to switch to other methods. An environmentally friendly variant that is not prohibited by law and does not disturb other plants, tree dwellers and the soil is the so-called ringing. Ringing is a forestry method in which the sap flow of a tree is stopped by removing the internal cambium. Depending on the species, age and condition of the tree, this leads to its death in twelve to 36 months after the procedure. Although this process is time-consuming and laborious, the method is all the more suitable for allowing young and old trees to die. Ringing is particularly effective against conifers. Unfortunately, conifers, apart from spruce (bot. Picea), tend to attract bark beetles after ringing.

tip: You can also use your tree as a base for a creeper and let it die off over the course of several months, as this drains a lot of energy from the trees without negatively affecting the surrounding nature. Fast-growing climbing plants such as ivy (bot. Hedera helix) or the self-climbing wall vine 'Engelmannii' (Parthenocissus quinquefolia 'Engelmannii') are particularly suitable for this purpose, which you can then remove together with the remains of the tree.


Undesirable giants in the garden are best ringed in midsummer from July to August or, depending on the species, after a bud break during the summertime. Since the trees lack many nutrients at this time, they can no longer adequately supply the branches and trunk and weaken them. Over the next few years, the plants will wither and rot, leaving only a stump, some deadwood, and roots that can be easily removed. You do not need to repeat ringing in subsequent seasons because trees are unable to re-form the cambium during this period. You just have to wait after ringing.

materials and utensils

In order to effectively implement the ringing, you need the right tools. Ringing is a task that you can only do by hand, as using equipment such as a chainsaw would be too imprecise. But that doesn't necessarily make it more difficult, because with the right utensils, the task is actually quite easy to do. The following list gives you an overview of what you need to effectively kill off unwanted trees:

  • robust work gloves
  • grafting knife or ripping hook
  • wire brush
  • drawknife
  • cloth tape

When choosing the fabric ribbon, you need to make sure that it can be tied around the entire trunk, as it will make an important mark. Drawknives are known from forestry and carpentry. These two-handled tools make it possible to remove bark quickly and effectively. That's all you need to kill the tree in the garden.

notice: If you are not very strong yourself, consider asking a friend or family member to help you with this project. Using the drawknife in particular is not exactly easy if you cannot exert enough physical strength.

Ringing: instructions

As soon as summer has arrived and you have the right tools at hand, you can start ringing. It is best to choose a day with good or dry weather, as ringing in bad weather conditions can quickly become exhausting. The following instructions explain the steps in detail how to do ringing effectively:

1. Cloth tape

First, take the fabric ribbon and tie it tightly around the trunk. To do this, stand directly in front of the trunk and place the band at about hip height. This amount should be sufficient in most cases. If you are shorter or taller than average, you should estimate corresponding centimeters.

2. Remove bark

Start by removing the bark. From this point on, put on the gloves to prevent injury and blisters. The drawknife is used for this, which you grip firmly with both hands and guide over the bark. The strip must be five to ten centimeters thick and must not yet reach into the cambium. You may only work on the bark with the draw knife. You have to work each spot several times to remove the bark.

3. Proceed with caution

Sapwood or heartwood must not be damaged during this step, otherwise rot will follow. This in turn represents ideal living conditions for pests of all kinds, which can spread not only to the tree but to the entire garden. The ringing should ensure that the tree slowly rots from the inside out, but does not rot.

Sometimes you will encounter pieces of bark that curve inwards. For these you will use either the Grafting Knife or the Ripper, depending on what you have available. Remove these as well.

4. cambium

Last but not least is the cambium. As mentioned above, this must not be cut away. For this use the wire brush and rub it down to the actual wood. This step can take quite a long time depending on the tree species and trunk diameter. But give yourself enough time and take small breaks in between if it gets too strenuous. Don't worry, this step generates little noise and can be performed even on weekends or late in the evening.

5. Discard bark

Dispose of the bark on the compost. The tree must now be left alone over the next few years. Cutting or care measures are no longer used here.

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