How to Kill Poplar Trees: The 5 Best Ways

How to Kill Poplar Trees The 5 Best Ways

If you think taking down an ordinary tree is tough, wait until you have to deal with a poplar. What makes them so difficult to kill is that they grow suckers from the bottom of their trunk and extensive root system.

As a result, there are only a handful of ways to effectively kill them and make certain they don’t grow back. Luckily for you, we’ve prepared the best ways to kill poplar trees along with easy-to-follow instructions. 

Best Way to Kill Poplar Trees

Best Way to Kill Poplar Trees
Image: WUKY

If you have a large and tall poplar tree, the best way to kill it is through the basal bark technique, which is done by putting strong herbicide onto the base of the tree, or girdling, which entails removing the bark around the tree.

If you have a small and leafy poplar tree, you can use the foliar spray technique. This entails spraying the foliage with a herbicide.

Ways to Kill Poplar Trees

Ways to Kill Poplar Trees
Image: The Dirt Doctors

While poplar trees are generally well-liked for their beauty and size, they can be quite a nuisance if they’re in unwanted places.

Since varieties of poplar trees can grow anywhere from 50 to 150 feet tall, getting rid of them isn’t easy.

To help save you time and money, here are the best ways to kill poplar trees:

1. Foliar Spray Technique

Foliar Spray Technique
Image: Cornell University
DifficultyEasy ●●○○○
SpeedFast-acting
Things You NeedPersonal protective equipment
Backpack sprayer or spray bottle
Glyphosate or triclopyr-based herbicide
Dye

What’s great about the foliar spray technique is that it’s pretty straightforward. As the name suggests, it entails spraying the leaves of your poplar trees with a liberal amount of herbicide. 

This method is the most ideal for polar trees that can easily be reached with a backpack sprayer.

Apart from that, you’ll also want to use glyphosate or triclopyr-based herbicide for maximum effectiveness. It’ll be absorbed through the leaves and eventually travel to the roots.

Having said that, this method may take a while to yield results and may also require multiple applications. Nevertheless, its effectiveness is nearly unbeatable.

Foliar Spray Technique
Image: Haifa Group

It’s important to keep in mind that glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide. This means that it’ll damage any plant that it comes into contact with, so you’ll have to apply it carefully to avoid casualties.

When doing the foliar spray technique, it’s important to be mindful of the weather conditions. To be specific, you’ll want to perform this method on days when you can expect no wind or rainfall.

The wind can easily carry away the herbicide, which could harm nearby plants. Meanwhile, rainfall can cause the herbicide to run off, which could flow into nearby bodies of water.

Other than that, make sure that the foliage is dry before application. This way, the herbicide can easily latch onto the surface of the leaves for optimal absorption.

How To Do

1. Wear protective personal equipment such as goggles, masks, face shields, and clothing that completely covers the skin.

2. Prepare a glyphosate or triclopyr-based herbicide as directed by the instructions.

To be able to tell where you’ve already applied the product, it’s often recommended to add a dye to the solution. This way, you can easily identify trees that have already been treated.

3. Spray an even coating of herbicide directly onto the foliage of your poplar trees.

Keep in mind that multiple applications may be necessary to be effective. Even then, you don’t want the leaves dripping with herbicide as this could prevent proper absorption.

Instead, it’s best to apply an even coat of herbicide and allow it to completely dry before the next application. 

4. Pay attention to any signs that your poplar tree is dying. Keep an eye out for these signs: 

• Yellowing leaves
• Wilting leaves
• Thinning foliage
• Leaning

2. Basal Bark Treatment

Basal Bark Treatment
Image: Brewer International
DifficultyEasy ●●○○○
SpeedFast-acting
Things You NeedPersonal protective equipment
Backpack sprayer or spray bottle
Triclopyr-based herbicide
Oil-based solvent
Dye

For the basal bark treatment, you’ll need to create a solution using a triclopyr-based herbicide and oil-based solvent.

What’s great about triclopyr is that it’s a selective herbicide, which means that it only affects certain types of plants. Namely:

  • Broadleaf weeds
  • Woody-stemmed plants
  • Tree stumps
  • Hardy ivies

Hence, you don’t really have to worry about it damaging nearby plants such as grasses. Even then, it’s still not advisable to apply it willy-nilly because it’s still a chemical herbicide.

Basal Bark Treatment
Image: Corteva.us

For the most effective results, you’ll need to use an oil-based solvent as this helps the triclopyr herbicide penetrate through the poplar tree’s bark. This also boosts the absorption rate and uptake into its system.

The oil carrier can be any of the following:

  • Basal oil
  • Diesel fuel
  • Fuel oil (No. 1 or No. 2)
  • Kerosene

Luckily, there are commercially available triclopyr herbicides that are in a ready-to-use formula. However, these are typically more expensive.

Nevertheless, it’s important to read the label properly as store shelves often have several different kinds to choose from.

Basal Bark Treatment
Image: Alabama Extension Cooperative System

It’s also important to make certain that the weather is clear throughout the next few days. In other words, schedule your application on days when you can expect no rainfall or wind.

This is because you’ll want each application of the triclopyr and oil-based solvent solution to be completely absorbed before applying the succeeding coats.

How To Do

1. Wear protective personal equipment such as goggles, masks, face shields, and clothing that completely covers the skin.

2. Prepare your mixture by combining 1 part triclopyr and 4 part oil-based solvent. This gives you a potency of about 20 to 25% triclopyr.

To be able to tell where you’ve already applied the product, it’s often recommended to add a dye to the solution. This way, you can easily identify trees that have already been treated.

3. Spray an even coating of your mixture onto the bottom half of your poplar tree, about 20 inches from the base.

Keep in mind that multiple applications may be necessary to be effective. Even then, you don’t want the leaves dripping with herbicide as this could prevent proper absorption.

Instead, it’s best to apply an even coat and allow it to completely dry before the next application. 

4. Pay attention to any signs that your poplar tree is dying. Keep an eye out for these signs: 

• Yellowing leaves
• Wilting leaves
• Thinning foliage
• Leaning

3. Girdle or Ring Bark

Girdle or Ring Bark
Image: 8 Billion Trees
DifficultyHard ●●●●●
SpeedSlow-acting
Things You NeedPersonal protective equipment
Glyphosate or triclopyr-based herbicide
Dye
Sharp carving tool such as a hatchet, chisel, or chainsaw

If you’ve got a tall and thick poplar tree, the best way to get rid of it is by girdling or ring barking.

This technique involves cutting around the circumference of the tree deep enough to remove a couple of layers of the bark in order to inhibit essential transport systems.

To be specific, your cuts need to be deep enough to pierce through and remove these layers:

  • Bark, which is the outermost layer of the tree
  • Cambium, the succeeding layer that’s responsible for keeping the tree’s supply of food and nutrients
  • Xylem, the next layer that’s also one of the main transport systems responsible for moving water and minerals from the tree’s roots to its leaves
  • Phloem, the following layer that’s another main transport system in charge of delivering the tree’s food from its leaves to its roots
Girdle or Ring Bark
Image: Prairie Heaven

Removing these layers blocks the tree’s ability to transfer nutrients from the leaves to the roots and vice-versa. Over time, the tree will starve and die.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that your cuts need to be deep and wide enough to cause significant interruptions in the tree’s transport systems to work. 

Hence, make your gashes about 2 to 4 inches deep and around 4 to 8 inches wide all over the circumference of the tree.

Girdle or Ring Bark
Image: AweSci

For maximum effectivity, it’s suggested to girdle various parts of the poplar tree such as any exposed roots and branches. On top of that, you can create several lacerations around the tree just inches apart from one another. 

While this step is typically enough to work, most gardeners prefer to take the extra step and apply herbicides onto the exposed strip. You can add a glyphosate or triclopyr-based herbicide to hasten the deterioration process.

Even then, the overall rate of decline still varies on how well-established your tree is, the depth of the gashes, the strength of your herbicide, and environmental conditions, among others.

Though in most cases, it only takes about 24 to 48 hours before sights of wilting can be noticed.

Otherwise, this could mean that your cuts weren’t deep enough. As a result, you’ll have to redo them.

How To Do

1. Wear protective personal equipment such as goggles, masks, face shields, and clothing that completely covers the skin.

2. Prepare your glyphosate or triclopyr-based herbicide as directed by the instructions.

To be able to tell where you’ve already applied the product, it’s often recommended to add a dye to the solution. This way, you can easily identify trees that have already been treated.

3. Using a sharp carving tool such as a hatchet, chisel, or chainsaw, steadily remove chunks of the poplar tree’s bark. 

Start slow as you chisel away the outermost layer and carefully work towards the innermost layers. 

Make certain that your cuts are around 2 to 4 inches deep and about 4 to 8 inches wide all over the circumference of the tree’s base.

After making your first girdle, you can make another layer parallel to the first one. You can also girdle any large, exposed roots.

4. Paint a liberal amount of herbicide onto the newly made lacerations.

5. Pay attention to any signs that your poplar tree is dying. Keep an eye out for these signs: 

• Yellowing leaves
• Wilting leaves
• Thinning foliage
• Leaning

6. If your poplar tree isn’t exhibiting any signs of deterioration, it could mean that the cuts weren’t deep enough. 

In this case, make deeper cuts around the circumference of the tree and reapply the herbicide.

4. Chemical Herbicide Injection

Chemical Herbicide Injection
Image: Woody Invasives of Great Lakes Collaborative
DifficultyHard ●●●●●
SpeedSlow-acting
Things You NeedPersonal protective equipment
Glyphosate or picloram-based herbicide
Dye
Hatchet
Heavy-duty plastic sheet

This method entails drilling several deep holes across various parts of the tree, such as the trunk and roots. Afterward, pour a generous amount of strong herbicides.

For optimal results, look for herbicides that have either picloram or glyphosate as their primary active ingredients.

If you don’t have a drill, you can use a hatchet to make deep incisions, similar to the girdling or ring barking technique, then apply herbicide on the exposed areas. 

However, this may not be as effective as drilling. This is because it’s essential that the herbicide makes direct contact with the tree’s innermost layers to kill it.

Chemical Herbicide Injection
Image: Rutgers Plant and Pest Advisory

It’s worth noting that this method is best done on a clear, sunny day. Rainfall could cause the herbicide to wash off or become diluted, which can affect its potency and efficacy.

Hence, double-check what the weather will be like in the upcoming days. For extra measure, you can also use a heavy-duty plastic sheet to cover the holes.

Keep in mind that this method may be one of the most time-consuming ones. This is because you’ll need to constantly reapply herbicide into the holes, allowing the tree to properly absorb the poison. 

Even then, this method is one of the least laborious ones as you’ll simply need to drill several holes. 

How To Do

1. Wear protective personal equipment such as goggles, masks, face shields, and clothing that completely covers the skin.

2. Prepare your picloram or glyphosate-based herbicide as directed by the instructions.

To be able to tell where you’ve already applied the product, it’s often recommended to add a dye to the solution. This way, you can quickly identify trees that have already been treated.

3. Using a power drill, carefully puncture several 2 to 7-inch deep holes all throughout the circumference of the tree. Space them about an inch or so apart from one another.

When drilling, ensure that your holes are slanted downward. This way, the herbicide won’t spill out as the tree slowly absorbs it. 

Apart from the tree’s trunk, you can also drill any exposed root system. 

4. Afterward, pour the herbicide directly into the holes and allow the tree to absorb it. 

Reapply herbicide after an hour or so, supplying more for the tree to soak up.

5. Next, cover up the holes with a heavy-duty plastic sheet to prevent any water from getting inside.

6. Pay attention to any signs that your poplar tree is dying. Keep an eye out for these signs: 

• Yellowing leaves
• Wilting leaves
• Thinning foliage
• Leaning

7. If your poplar tree isn’t exhibiting any signs of deterioration, it could mean that the cuts weren’t deep enough. 

In this case, make deeper cuts around the circumference of the tree and reapply the herbicide.

5. Grind 

Grind
Image: Poplar Mechanics
DifficultyEasy – Normal ●●○○○
SpeedFast-acting
Things You NeedPersonal protective equipment
Grinder
Shovel
Heavy-duty shears

If you’re in a hurry to get rid of your poplar tree and don’t mind spending a bit on a professional service, then this method is for you.

Grinding a tree involves breaking it apart into smaller pieces and then crushing the stump and any large, exposed roots. As a result, this is a full-proof technique that can get rid of even the most established poplar trees.

Grind
Image: DH Tree Services

This method typically involves hiring a professional arborist to do the job. However, there are some places that rent out grinding equipment. 

Even then, these usually aren’t as heavy-duty as the machines the pros use. We also don’t recommend that gardeners use tools they aren’t familiar with.

Hence, we highly suggest simply hiring a professional, especially since the removal process can take a long while depending on the size and toughness of your tree.

How To Do

1. Wear protective personal equipment such as goggles, masks, face shields, and clothing that completely covers the skin.

2. To start, cut away all of the tree’s foliage and branches. Afterward, remove its trunk until only a stump remains.

3. Clear the perimeter of debris such as plants, rocks, and the like.

4. Next, dig away as much of the excess soil as possible using a shovel or a spade. Continue excavating until you’ve exposed as much of the poplar tree’s roots as possible.

5. Afterward, use the grinder to break down the stump and exposed roots. Clear up the perimeter as necessary.

6. Next, fill in the ditch with sawdust or loam soil.

How to Remove a Dead Poplar Tree

How to Remove a Dead Poplar Tree
Image: Forbes
DifficultyModerate – Hard ●●●●○
SpeedFast-acting
Things You NeedChainsaw
Shovel
Pruning shears
Sawdust or loam soil
Wood chipper (optional)

Now that your poplar tree is officially dead, the next thing on your agenda is to get rid of it right away. 

It’s recommended to remove dead trees ASAP as they could attract pests and wood-boring insects.

It’s usually acceptable to leave small trees to gradually rot since they aren’t big enough to become a hazard if they topple over. 

However, larger trees must be properly removed since they’ll begin to lean and crumble under their own weight. This could cause severe damage to nearby structures.

In this case, it’s best to contact a professional arborist, especially if your poplar tree is near powerlines, houses, cars, and similar obstacles.

Though if you’re up for the challenge, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it.

How To Do

1. Wear protective personal equipment such as goggles, masks, face shields, hardhat, and clothing that completely covers the skin along with closed-toed boots.

2. Clear away any object that may be damaged if the tree ever collapses. You’ll want to make certain that there aren’t any buildings, power lines, structures, pets, or people in the way.

If you’re troubled about where your tree is, you can get a second opinion from a professional arborist.

3. To start, cut away all of the tree’s foliage using pruning shears.

4. Step back far enough to get a good look at the natural lean of your tree. This helps predict where your tree is going to fall.

Apart from that, this helps you identify which way to go when your tree goes down. In other words, your escape route.

If you can’t really tell where your tree is leaning, we recommend getting in touch with a certified arborist. 

5. Next, use an ax for small trees or a chainsaw for bigger trees to cut away the lower branches closest to the ground. Then, slowly make your way up to the higher branches.

Keep in mind that when using a chainsaw, you want to ensure that the diameter of the tree you’re taking down is smaller than the length of your tool.

When cutting thick branches with a chainsaw, make two incisions from the top and bottom, meeting halfway. This prevents your chainsaw from getting stuck in the middle of the branch.

6. You’ll now want to make a notch. Using your chainsaw, make a 70-degree angled cut on the side where you want the tree to fall. 

For example, if you want the tree to fall to the right, make the cut on its right side. 

Make sure that the cut is made at the trunk of the tree, no more than 2 feet from the ground. 

Apart from that, stand to the right of where you’re cutting through.

7. After, complete the cut by slicing horizontally underneath your 70-degree angled cut. Once the two cuts have joined together, a triangle-shaped chunk can be removed.

8. Position your chainsaw where you made your last horizontal cut, then carry on with slicing through the trunk, keeping the tool perpendicular to the base of the tree.

9. As the tree begins to tip over, engage the chain break of your chainsaw and remove it from the tree. Then, quickly follow your escape route to a safe distance.

10. When the tree begins to fall, yell out “timber” to alert people nearby to move away and that a tree is falling.

11. Now that you’ve only got a tree stump left, begin digging out the soil using a shovel. Expose as much of the root system as possible.

12. As you dig out the soil, wiggle the stump to see how loose it has gotten. This way, you’ll be able to feel how fastened it is to the ground and how much more soil you need to get rid of.

13. After you’ve got a substantial amount of soil removed, use a chainsaw and cut the stump away from its roots. 

At this point, the stump is already an obstruction. Hence, removing it will give you a better view of the remaining roots and ample space to dig out the soil.

14. Using your shovel, continue to remove excess soil and any remaining roots.

15. Once you’ve gotten all of the dead poplar tree’s remnants out, fill in the ditch with loam soil.

FAQs

How do you deal with a poplar tree’s stump?

To deal with a dead poplar tree’s stump, allow it to fully dry out to make the removal process easier. This can take anywhere from about 6 months to a year.

To speed up the dehydration process, you can drill holes into the stump and add a solution of 1 part Epsom salt and 2 parts water.

What’s the most effective way to kill a poplar tree’s root system?

The best way to kill a poplar tree’s root system is by treating it with a chemical herbicide. This is a quick and easy method that ensures the poplar tree won’t regrow. 

What are the best herbicides to remove poplar trees?

The most effective herbicides to tackle poplar trees are ones that contain either glyphosate, picloram, or triclopyr as their active ingredients. 

Keep in mind that some formulations of herbicides require dilution and specific application methods. Hence, be sure to double-check the variant and instructions. 

What can you use poplar wood for?

Poplar wood is great for construction because it’s highly rot-resistant. Hence, it’s commonly used in woodworking projects to make various furniture such as cabinets and drawers.

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