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Do Copper Nails Kill Trees?

Do Copper Nails Kill Trees?

For those wondering, copper nails really do kill trees. In fact, this method has actually been used by many gardeners for years. 

We’ve explained the science behind how they do it along with a step-by-step guide on how you can correctly use copper nails to effectively get rid of your tree.

To boot, we’ve answered a couple of FAQs to provide you with everything you need to know to perform this project.

What causes copper nails to kill trees?

What causes copper nails to kill trees?
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Copper nails kill trees by oxiziding into copper sulfate, a process that happens over time. This toxic substance damages the plant cells, hindering their cell production and ability to photosynthesize, which blocks nutrient absorption.

Having said that, using copper nails to kill a tree is only effective if you use pure copper nails. Otherwise, this method won’t work as other nails don’t produce copper sulfate, which is the key ingredient.

Once the copper sulfate begins to travel through the tree, it causes injury to the tree’s active cells. The tree will gradually no longer be able to keep up with the consistent elimination of its cells.

As a result, the tree will have difficulty performing basic tasks such as photosynthesis and absorbing nutrients. Eventually, this will cause it to die.

How to kill a tree with copper nails

How to kill a tree with copper nails

To successfully kill a tree with copper nails, ensure that you’ve driven the nails deep enough through the bark and into the phloem and cambium cell layer.

Other than that, you’ll need to ensure that you’ve drilled enough nails according to the size of your tree. A nail should be driven at every half inch throughout the perimeter of the trunk.

Here’s a simple step-by-step guide to correctly killing your tree with copper nails:

Step 1: Measure out the circumference of the tree.

To determine where you’ll be drilling the copper nails, plot a half-inch mark circling around the base of the tree. 

For extra measure, you can repeat this step an inch above your first layer. This will increase the concentration of copper oxidizing in the tree.

Step 2: Hammer the nails into the tree.

Drive the nail down vertically into the base of the tree or onto a tree stump. Ensure that you’ve hammered the entire length of the nail into the tree to ensure optimal oxidation.

In addition, you can drill the nails into any exposed roots. This will help boost the amount of copper sulfate that the tree absorbs.

Step 3: Cover up the exposed nails.

Copper is usually a bright, orange-brown color, which doesn’t often match the bark of your tree. While it may be quite easy to look past, there are some who’d prefer to hide it.

If you don’t like the appearance of copper nails sticking out of your tree, you can temporarily cover them up with mud. However, this isn’t a long-term solution as it can be easily washed away.

For a more long-term alternative, you can paint the nails with a color similar to the bark of your tree. 

It’s important to take note of the location of your copper nails as they’ll need to be disposed of properly once your tree has died.

Step 4: Patiently wait for the tree to die.

Depending on how well-established your tree is, it can take anywhere from a few months to years for your tree to die. 

Hence, it’s best to add more copper nails to increase the toxicity that your tree receives so that it dies much faster. 

Step 5: Remove the nails with caution.

Once your tree has died, it’s time to remove the nails embedded inside. Avoid using heavy and powerful tools, like a chainsaw, as these could cause the nails to shoot out.

You’ll want to first cut above the line where you embedded the nails. This way, you’ve got a clear top view of the stump and what’s inside.

You can leave the stump to rot as this will provide rich beneficial organic matter for the surrounding plants.

How long does it take for copper nails to kill a tree?

How long does it take for copper nails to kill a tree?
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It can take a few months to multiple years for copper nails to kill a tree. This makes it one of the most inefficient methods available because of how long it takes to see results.

There are various factors to consider to gain a better idea of how long it’ll take for your tree to die from copper toxicity. These include:

  • Health
  • Environmental conditions
  • Root system
  • Species

If you’ve got a small, skinny, or unhealthy tree, results can take anywhere from 4 weeks to a year. 

Meanwhile, larger, healthier, or more established trees often take many years to die. It’s interesting to note that sometimes they don’t die. 

How many copper nails does it take to kill a tree?

How many copper nails does it take to kill a tree?
Image: Sring Woods on Tumblr

The total number of copper nails it will take to kill a tree ultimately depends on how big your tree is. For instance, if your tree’s circumference totals 20 inches, you’ll need roughly 40 copper nails to successfully kill it.

Generally, you’ll need to hammer in a copper nail every half inch around the base of the trunk. Hence, it’s important to calculate the circumference of the base to figure out how many copper nails you’ll need.

Keep in mind that the larger the tree, the more copper nails it will take to ensure enough copper sulfate toxicity. This is why most people tend to add another layer of copper nails. 


Can a rusty copper nail kill a tree?

Since rust is the result of oxidation, it’s somewhat considered copper sulfate and could kill a tree. Even then, it’s recommended to use rust-free copper nails.

What kind of nails kills a tree?

You’ll need pure copper nails as they oxidize into copper sulfate, which is key to killing a tree. They’ll also need to be long enough, at least 2 to 3 inches, to penetrate through the bark, stumps, and roots.

Is killing a tree with copper nails a more environmental approach?

Using copper nails to kill a tree is a somewhat more environmentally-friendly approach as it doesn’t entail the use of harmful chemicals, which are typically present in herbicides.

Is it recommended to kill a tree with copper nails?

Since copper nails take a long time to kill a tree, it’s a recommended method given how slow it’ll take.

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