Gents, something in your pocket kills trees – and it’s not a copper nail.

The Ranger has been involved in many neighbour disputes over trees and hedges. Trees and hedges are usually on boundaries, you see, and so that’s where the trouble starts. It’s very easy to underestimate the fury, rage and pain that courses through such seemingly storm-in-teacup matters. On at least two occasions in recent times people have died over these disputes, one of these being shot by his neighbour. So, not trifling matters.

What the protagonists almost invariably fail to recognise when they come to the Ranger for some assistance is that the authorities will rarely take one side or the other – in fact, they are more interested in the tree itself, because it is the tree which has amenity for the rest of us. What is one person’s nuisance is a beautiful addition to the landscape for many others. So, in many cases, the Ranger finds himself defending not the harassed householder, nor the hysterical neighbour, but the trees.

Copper nails

 

How many times has the Ranger heard this one? ‘Dear Ranger, how do I kill my neighbour’s nasty tree? I’ve tried copper nails and it dosn’t work’. So regularly the old ‘copper nail’ story is trotted out. No doubt there are innumerable midnight expeditions by surreptitious neighbours silently tapping copper into the trunk of the hated specimen – indeed, the Ranger has actually found these nails in disputed trees. Healthy, vigorous trees. Yes, friends, let an old Ranger reveal a terrible truth – copper nails do not kill trees.

Where this story originated is a mystery, but practical experience demonstrates that the supposed ‘magic bullet’ solution is simply false. Driving a copper nail into a tree does nothing. You might kill a tree if you bought enough copper nails to make a pile big enough to hide the tree, but short of that you’re wasting your time. And where do you get copper nails from anyway? Is this whole thing promoted by the Copper Nail Retailers Association? Perhaps they don’t have any other use for their product.

A tale from Berlin, where the 2006 World Cup fans filled the city, and the urinals, suggests a more enlightened alternative. It seems that all those fans peeing in the bushes were killing the bushes. We are wasting our time buying all these copper nails. Let’s just hold a big party, with lots of free beer, and no toilets. Then, even if the trees survive, the neighbours might just have chilled out enough to all be friends again.

Oh, and if you came to this page wondering how to kill a tree with copper nails, or even how to kill trees without them (yes, there is a way, and it’s even easier than copper nails) – sorry, that’s another story. You probably won’t be too surprised to hear that the Ranger won’t be telling it to you.

References

Still don’t believe me about the copper nails? Check these out:

39 thoughts on “Gents, something in your pocket kills trees – and it’s not a copper nail.”

  1. I used to be a general adviser in the UK fro the CAB. The training informed me that the branches of a tree or shrub which belong to your neighbour and the roots should not invade your porperty unless you want them to. You have a right in the UK to prune both roots and branches of your neighbours trees or bushes provided you do not kill them as a result of your actions and you should, as a point of curtesy, tell them you are doing it.

    You can dig down and put in root screens or concrete paving slabs to stop the root invasion. the hosrizontal roots are useually not that deap below the surface.

    I grow fruti trees in my garden and object to the invasive and fast growing cheeper species of tree some of my enighbours grow, which are not even attractive. I prun them back above my boundary and keep root barriers below..

    However, I have turned a developer provieded hedge into a fence to allow my fruit more water and resources and now need to ensure that the hedge doesn’t grow back after cutting it right down. This is to save the cost of grubbing out. Builders have suggested deisel fuel and copper nails on the stumps. I hope this works as we tried removing one or two of the small trees which made upt he hedge before and various herbicides did not work on the stups and they grew back.

  2. Ranger I do not understand you. If there is a much easier way to kill a tree then spit it out please, do not be so selfish. I give you my scenario. I have a recalcitrant neighbour. The only way out of my property is through his land and I have a full right of way in a shared drive. For 15 years he did not dare put trees there because both neighbours with a right of way would object to it. Now a very rough neighbour with a loud barking dog moved to my side. I had to take action with council (did not work) and then with police (did work) to quiet the dog down. I had to spend 20,000 GBP to make my house sound proof for I had to wait 3 years to get the police to take action. The neighbour at the end used this disagreement to become very friendly with my neighbour with the dog and to put up huge pines and hollies at the end of the drive to make this as his private drive. Now visitors are reluctant to come to my home, emergency services cannot easily find me. Now the drive is extremely dangerous. It nearly led to a fist fight with my neighbour and his rough wife telling me to “piss off” and threatening me with a broom stick when I asked them to cut the trees because the drive is dangerous. There is very poor visibility and an accident can happen any time. My lawyer tells me that if I go and cut the tree then the judge would dismiss any lawsuit they may bring against me when I explain I did it for safety reasons. The problem is that to go and openly cut it would be stressful to me and to the neighbour. They tried to go to police when we cut a tree that was scratching my car but the police dismissed it out of hand. The neighbour came to shout at me and threaten me. I taped him with CCTV. These are both neighbours with no education and very rough. I am a university professor with a daughter and son with Autism and a religious wife who is very sensitive. You should think of these situations when you say you love trees so much you will not publish an easy way to kill a tree!!! and make fun of those who absolutely need to poison the trees. If you are agreeable then reply to me with the required method. I would be grateful. I cannot move home and why should I?

  3. Hi, I’m worried that my neighbour has poisoned some trees nearby to make their land more saleable to a housing developer. I was wondering if you know how to prove it and how to save the trees, as I don’t like to see a whole grove of trees dying. I need a reply quickly if I’ve got any chance of saving them.

    P.s. Copper nails are also used for boatbuilding.

    Regards

  4. Got a tree related problem ?? contact your local council tree officer or a reputable local Arboriculturalist, chances are you will recieve free unbiast and “Educated” advise from both.
    want to kill a tree?? make sure you dont create a new “worse” problem whilst single mindedly trying to cure the current one. “get advise!”
    want to fix something to a tree?? Avoid any and all types of direct wounding if at all possible, however if you MUST drill holes or screw or hammer in fixings make sure you use NEW drill bits “sharp” and all fixings are clean. Dip drill bits, screws, nails etc in metholated spirit or 100 to 1 thin bleach dilution to help prevent infection. zinc plated fixings etc are fine,
    avoid drilling right through a stem if you can as this will reduce the “open” wound area by half, make sure that the fixings you use are “snug” fitting to reduce ingress of air into the trees vascular system (fungi will take advantage of this) hence drilling is the least favoured solution. the moment you break into the trees vascular system with a drill you allow in air, this breaks the flow of fluids in the “transporational pull” risking ingress of fungi spores or activating dormant spores already in the trees system.
    Copper nails?? I have seen trees with hundreds of nails hammered in around the entire stem,,, they are still alive!! And the vandalising neighbour in some cases ended up in court!!

  5. I’m kind of looking for the opposite information, what is Safe? I want to attach a camera to a Pine tree facing my house and I want to make sure I’m not harming the tree. So if I use a half dozen nails or screws (camera plus secure conduit) 2 inches long I should be OK?
    Is one type of metal better wor worse (aluminum, steel)?

  6. Regarding trees near houses, I was told (after tree roots damaged the foundations of my house necessitating partial demolition and rebuild) that a tree should not be allowed to remain at a distance from a house than is less than the height to which the tree is likely to grow.
    Also that a tree’s roots extend as far sideways as its branches do.

  7. Dear Ranger.

    I’ve been a tree surgeon or arborist for about 20 years or so now.

    I would like to respectfully ask you not to bandy the word ‘arboriculturalist’ around too much.

    Use of the word ‘surgeon’ is deemed pretentious, whereas arborist rolls off the tongue nicely with its flowing 3 sylables.

    The 7 sylables or so of your version of our job title are unsayable; I’ve never heard it used by anybody anywhere. Not surprising really.

    Perhaps ‘arborist’ is a shortened version of ‘arboriculturalist’ making the latter some kind of correct word. However I would respectfully ask that the 7 sylable version is allowed to sink into oblivion where it belongs.

    Best regards Paul

  8. My neighbor has a huge Chinese Elm tree in their back yard. Large branches have fallen on our fence twice. After the second time they said they would cut the tree down. That was several years ago and the tree is still there. In addition to having repair our own fence, we have to clean the gutters several times a year because small branches, leaves and seeds plug up the downspouts, pick us hundreds of broken branches in our yard after windy day or rain storm. Most recently we have sound roots invading our yard, very close to the top. This is our biggest concern because we have a septic system and the roots will absolutely cause us problems and money. We have explained the them what kind of a tree this is and all the problems it brings. The tree remains. Is there some way to kill the tree, maybe from the roots in our yard. We fill there is no other way. Thanks

  9. gday have just cit down a rather large palm tree from my back yard i was told by tree lopper that it was dying ,but it still looked ok upon removal i found 2 galvinised nails in the trunk , the tree is on a fence line was wondering if this was some sort of attempt to poisen tree any help would be greatly appreciated thanks

  10. Hi,
    I just stumbled across your site, and wondering if you could clarify something. We are discussing the best method for securing a horizontal 2×10 joist to the side of an oak tree. One arborist says to drill a 1 1/4″ wide hole completely through the 24″ diameter oak and insert a 1″ diameter threaded galvanized steel rod all the way through and bolt both ends with nuts and bolts, using a large square nut on the tree end. We just need to loosen the nut on the joist end once a year to allow for growth. My other arborist says, no, it would be best to drill a 1″ hole slightly less than half way in and drive a 1″ galv rod snug in, and bolt the joist on, He says the growth of the tree will freeze the bolt and we will still have to loosen the nut once a year.

    What do you think? Where are there guidelines on safely putting bolts, lags, etc. into trees? (for both the tree and the fastener system?)

    Thank you

    John
    http://FineTreehouseBuilding.com

  11. I’ve been advised to fix our bat and bird boxes high in the canopy with copper nails, so I was glad to find this article, it has put my mind at rest.
    Two little nails won’t do any (much?) harm will they.

    My only problem now is finding any long enough.

    1. My experience is that copper nails do kill trees. Our city decided to plant large pine trees in our view of the mountains. After many attempts to stop them, we pounded a large copper nail at the base of each one and several months later they were down.

  12. I believe you can inject many household chemicals into the tree and cause it to die of poisoning. Vhemicals such as, well, maybe bleach, ammonia, and fuels like kerosine ans gasoline.

  13. I have been reading about problem trees on many sites, as i need good solid information, mainly who do i talk to about “right to light” issues.
    I live next to a public path, (it runs along the entire 100 meters of my garden). next to this path is a public house, and i have ivy ridden, desiesed, 80 t0 100 foot high trees, over hanging and blocking 70% off my day light. There are about 10 trees in all and are seriously over hanging my garden. (no one looks after them) i am sure though that the council have chopped them back a little so walkers can use the foot path. (and i mean a little). i need to know if i am entitle to complain about the lack of light i get in my garden. who to (i’m a council tennant) and how. i get on average in summer, 5 hours of any light in my garden. my grass is suffering, and i cannot grow anything as it doesn’t grow, due to lack of light. the trees are hanging over my house as well. what can i do, please can anyone help, with info please? (i cannot afford a tree surgeon).

    The Ranger responds: if you’re a tenant of any sort really you must get your landlord to deal with the issue. As for the ‘right to light’, see this.

  14. Like you, I love trees. My neighbour has a lovely mature flowering cherry, a stunning laburnum several rose bushes and assorted shrubs in his front hedge. The previous owner, something of an idiot, planted one of the dreaded leylandii in the middle and this has taken over. The other species are being smoothered. The house is currently let and neither the landlord nor the tenant will do anything. I hate to admit this to you, but I would like to kill the leylandii! The wretched thing seems to be growing, upwards and outwards, by the day. What can I do?

    The Ranger responds: Well, you can’t take action directly as that would be illegal. Really, there’s no legal way to force a landowner to manage land or trees if they don’t want to, so your best bet is to work on the landlord. Unless you feel daring, in which case just go and cut the thing down, then face the consequences – or actually, if you’re going to do that, why not try this: I’ve been involved in this kind of neighbour dispute before and found that a friendly and non-threatening offer to pay for and arrange the work is often all that’s necessary in even the most recalcitrant cases – you’d be surprised how that can change people’s minds, and it might be only a relatively cheap job.

  15. Sometimes big old oak trees can be a worry. In the storms the uk have had would you want a big oak tree in your bedroom. That is why some have got to go THEY CAN BE DANGEROUS and property destroying if near to a house

    The Ranger responds: or if you put your house too near to a tree…

  16. copper nails do kill trees but you need a fair few of them. Also you an buy them from any DIY store such as B&Q. Ranger is just trying to fob you off so you dont try it.

  17. I don’t want to kill the trees, but….I have 2 30 yr old maple trees that the roots have invaded my foundation. Roots bigger than your leg were dug out and pillars installed to stablize the walls. The I-beams had to be adligned due to the roots. Now the true dilemma, I live in a free standing condo and the Home Owners Association “owns” the trees and they refuse to remove them. Plus, my yard is bare soil due to the roots being ontop on the soil. No Grass !! If anyone needed help (other than hiring an Attorney), it’s me. Can you give me some advice concerning the trees? Thank you !!!

  18. I just bought a house…a real nice one. The neibhour has trees right on the property line (which is stupid). One is a tall bush that greww to about 50 feet. There is one also on my property that seems attached by the roots to the neigbors. I love trees, but that one has to go. It is crocked and the previous owner has already cut some branches and it is just out of place. The neigbor has also planted more right on the line, but has complained about the triming of the other older trees from my side of the fence. I have asked him to replant them (5 stolen trees from the woods) at least 4 foot from the property line but he is being a real jerk. His house is also old and ugly. So I will trim the branches that go on my property and bring bugs (caterpilars…I know where to find them) that will eat his trees.

  19. copper nails work a treat. it is slow but works. its not the copper that does it but the chemical it is involved in creating

  20. I have never heard of a tree being killed by copper nails, but I have heard of one being killed by the superstitious practice of embedding copper coins into the bark for ‘luck’.
    Obviously, this method probably took many hundreds of coins, perhaps thousands and wouldn’t be economically viable for getting rid of a thousand chinese elms! I do work in conservation based forestry and killing off that many trees is definitely a professional job.

  21. Hi Ranger, thank-you. No trenching, the services are pre-existing. I am just worried that as the tree grows the roots may rupture the mains. (I still want a house to come back to and a tree to enjoy :) ).Thank-you also for supplying me with the correct term for an “arborist”. I will now look for an arboriculturalist now for advice and service.
    The Ranger responds: happy to help. If your pipes are not leaking and your tree is healthy it’s unlikely that the tree will affect them for many years. And don’t worry, you were right first time as ‘arborist’ is correct too, in American English. Enjoy your tree!

  22. I have searched high and low for an answer to this question. I am a new homeowner and I have an oak tree planted by the previous owner on the front lawn. I recently had the property marked for gas/hydro/water etc… My concern (before calling in an arborist) is this: the trunk of the oak tree is within roughly 12″ of the marking. Is it safe growing where it is now? Your advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank-you. [I arrived at this site because I was wondering why people would want to use a copper nail to kill a tree]

    The Ranger responds: if you mean you’re going to dig a trench 12″ from an existing tree, than that’s probably a bad idea. If you mean that the service ducts are already there and you’re not planning any further excavations, you’re probably OK to leave well alone for now. But either way get the advice of an arboriculturalist (that’s an arborist to you) anyway – it’s usually money well spent in such circumstances.

  23. He He a lot of funny comments here.
    If you really would like to kill a tree, just chop it down.
    But yeah if you urinate enough on your treeroots it probably would kill it. UREA can also be used as a fertilizer and mixed with water it has a low pH. Overfertilizing any plant would kill it.
    So guys drink beer and go out and have a jolly good piss. (Urea = Diaminomethanal)

  24. If you want to kill you’re neighbor’s tree, just “girdle” it. I’ve seen many dead trees on the fringes of clear cuts in Oregon that were killed by girdling (loggers anchor “choker” cables used to set up retrieval towers, free stuck equipment, etc). The process involves using a strong cable tightened around the tree that cuts 360 degrees into the inner/outer bark, cambium and sapwood layers (basically all the way through to the heartwood). Once this happens, the tree will no longer be able to get water to the leaves. If you do this just before summer starts in earnest, the tree will die.

    …but beware: if you neighbor refuses to chop the tree down, you’ve just lowered both your property values and you have the added benefit of a fire hazard in addition to a ideal new home for large insects populations.

    Personally… I can’t think of *ANY* good reason to kill a residential tree (regardless of who’s lawn it’s actually in)

    The Ranger responds: it’s a pretty good method but not foolproof. I’ve seen trees ringbarked like that bridge a 10cm gap to repair themselves over a couple of years or so. That’s unusual, to be sure, but it can happen. Sycamores are particularly hardy, but I’ve also seen a similar thing on young oak.

  25. Very humorous blob — I can talk until I’m blue in my face about this old myth to a co-worker and he will ever believe that the copper nail trick doesn’t work!!! Now I can win my bet with him by printing out your beautiful work!! ;(

  26. I had to look at this and it reminded me of something I was told in my much younger days when I followed the path of revolving metal at high speed and creating wondrous objects that sometimes fitted together.

    A lecturer at the technical college, yes remember those, regaled us with a story about a paper he claimed he had written about the disastrous effect of dogs urine on brass fire hydrants, he claimed that it was very corrosive and had led to failure of the hydrants. His only problem was for a joke he had put the author down as a Dr Urino Thebrass. Never did find out if it was true but it sounds good.

  27. Something in a gents pocket… I’m sure you set this title just to tease us into trying to guess what it is! well I know a friend peeing on my Clematis did it no good! That is my best guess!

  28. Hey, be cool, Schiller. If you read some other articles on this blog you’ll see The Ranger’s strong views on invasive species. But you’d be amazed how many people arrive at this blog with the search string “how to kill trees”. Whilst your case may be very worthy The Ranger has no intention of publicising any method of doing so. By the way, the method I had in mind is unlikely to be much use on the scale you are talking about – that’s more like a forestry operation than a neighbour dispute.

  29. Ranger,

    I highly resent the implication of your “nice try” remark. I am not an urban troublemaker.

    Invasive species are incredibly damaging to ecosystems, and your dismissive attitude–that you simply “encourage trees”–ignores the magnitude of this serious threat to biodiversity.

  30. Sorry, not telling. That’s not my job – I encourage trees. There are enough people on the other side without me joining in. Nice try though!

  31. Dear Ranger,

    If you won’t reveal the secret on your blog, please email me with the tree-killing method. I live in a wooded area and we have a serious infestation of Chinese Elm (Ulmus parviflora), which is considered to be an invasive species. And rightly so.

    I need a cheap, effective method of killing these trees in place. I could use the large ones for firewood, and it would be nice to have them standing dry.

    Regardless, I need to kill hundreds, probably closer to about a thousand of these things.

    The Department of Natural Resources recommends a combination of girdling and herbicide. I wasted an entire week on this method three years ago, and the trees don’t seem to have even noticed. And there’s more of them now.

    Help!

  32. What my bottom is made of, young Kenny, is a secret known only to myself, my aged mother, and one C@. But, sure, I’ll give you my solomn promise that everything I ever write is true, except this comment, which is entirely false. ;)

  33. You are taking the p*** out of us with this, aren’t you ?? I mean, do we have a copper bottomed promise that your story about the nails is true ?

Leave a Reply