Everything you need to know about getting rid of the invasive Tree of Heaven trees: How to identify them, and why and how to kill them.
The Tree of Heaven is the BANE of my existence. It might be unpleasant for people with small properties, but when you have 8 acres, you don’t just have one or two. You might have 50-60. We initially took out a large forest of them for our lower horse field and didn’t go through the proper steps. It worked out fine because we were mowing the field. But there is a better way to kill them FOR GOOD if you are willing to put a little time in. Doing this the correct way keeps these trees from sending suckers out to make LOTS of baby Tree of Heaven trees. This is especially important if you plan to leave the stumps and/or won’t be able to mow that area.
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Identifying the Tree of Heaven
Once you know what you’re looking for, identifying the Tree of Heaven is quite easy. I recommend starting with a plant identification app, however. I like PictureThis.
The tree has a smell to it if you touch the leaves or trunk of the saplings, and the leaves are fairly distinctive. The larger trees don’t have as much of a smell to them to the touch, at least in my opinion, but I also don’t touch the big trees as much (seeing I can’t weed a 15′ tree by hand and poison ivy seems to love growing up our TOH trees).
The leaves of the tree look like this…. they aren’t always quite this shiny. They can be more of a plain green too. But the shape is right. The ones that have shiny leaves always make me think of poison ivy.
Why Kill the Tree of Heaven?
The Tree of Heaven is an invasive tree in our area which means that it isn’t healthy for the natural environment. It is also host to the invasive Spotted Lanternfly whose population has EXPLODED in our area over the past two years. We only saw two last year and this year I scooped off this many into a bin of soapy water in only 30 minutes. THAT is bad news- especially when the bug tends to eat plants that are food for people and native bugs and other animals.
Getting rid of the tree gives these bugs one less spot to lay eggs and hang out. I doubt my tree removal will solve the problem by itself- but hopefully others will remove these trees too.
There are other reasons that it’s beneficial to remove these trees, however.
- It reproduces VERY quickly… it sends up suckers underground and I think dropped branches will also sprout. It also GROWS very quickly… if you don’t pick the seedling fairly quickly, you’ll have a much harder to remove sapling within a month.
- It is a space hog and can even kill native trees and plants. It tends to crowd out the native species. It also produces a chemical that enters the soil and is toxic to surrounding plants.
- It has an offensive smell, and it’s unpleasant to pick the seedlings by hand (because your hands WILL smell bad afterwards and the smell doesn’t wash off well).
- It is more prone to falling than other trees… I’m not sure if this is because it’s prone to poisoning other plants, therefore giving it fewer plants to intertwine root systems with, or if it’s just a weak tree… I’m guessing the quick growth means that it sacrifices some initial root growth, but I’ve also tried to dig up the root system of these trees and it’s a massive pain in the butt. So I’m not sure. But they fall. Limbs fall. Trees fall. They grow back. It is miserable.
The one question that I had was— is it usable in any way? The answer is… yes… sort of.
- It takes longer to dry than some wood.
- It’s prone to cracking during the drying process.
- It’s not the best for producing heat, but it’s not bad: a pound of wood can deliver a heat output of up to 8,300 British thermal units.
So it may be possible to sell the wood after cutting it down. I didn’t explore this option, but I got a good quote for removal so maybe they offset my bill by selling the logs. They woodchipped the smaller pieces into the woods on our property.
How to Get Rid of Tree of Heaven
To truly get rid of the Tree of Heaven, you need to kill the root system, something that a tree company cannot do when they’re purely cutting down the trees. You need to poison the tree, let the poison get absorbed into the tree so it gets sucked into the trunk and roots, and then chop the tree down a few weeks later.
If you wait too long to chop the tree down after it’s dead, it MAY fall (ask me how I know)… so if you have anything fragile that the trees may fall on, keep a good eye on everything and schedule your tree company ahead of time.
- Hatchet: https://amzn.to/41fgfgK
- Inverted Marking Spray Paint: https://amzn.to/47TIVyG
- Herbicide, Triclopyr 4 EC Compare to Garlon 4 and Remedy 1 Quart: https://amzn.to/3RdvB0V
- Protective Gear: Quality mask to protect against inhaling the herbicide, gloves, jeans/long sleeves.
Step 1: Use a plant ID app and go through your trees, marking each Tree of Heaven (TOH) with spray paint. This allows you to identify these trees more easily as you go through to poison them.
I HIGHLY recommend doing the rest of this project with two people. One person can use the hatchet and work ahead of the person with the poison. They shouldn’t need any protective gear (against the poison anyway). The person with the poison needs to gear up because it’s better to be safe when working with chemicals.
Step 2: The person with the hatchet needs to go around each TOH and use the hatchet to chop down on the trunk. This creates a wound on the tree that is angled so the poison can be squirted into the gap, sucked up by the tree, and not drip to the ground.
Make these wounds ALL THE WAY AROUND THE TREE. They can be spaced a few inches apart. They don’t need to be super deep. Repeat with all of the trees. With smaller saplings, you don’t need that many cuts to the trunk.
Step 3: The person with the poison should have the poison mixed per the instructions in a squirt bottle. Use the squirt bottle to squirt poison into each of those wounds. MORE IS NOT MORE. You want just enough that the poison doesn’t overflow the cut. The tree will suck this poison up like it would water… you could probably apply more poison if you want to go back through again after an hour, but it’s really not necessary.
Step 4: Wait. Within a few weeks, you should see the trees begin to die. They will lose leaves. They may start to “bleed” (seep?)… trees tend to “bleed” gooey stuff when they’re sick. Apparently bugs love this goo so you may have ants or wasps that start hanging out on the trees.
Step 5: After a couple of weeks, you can reapply the poison if you think it’s necessary. It probably isn’t a bad idea.
Step 6: Once the trees are dead, you can use a chainsaw to remove the trees or hire a tree company to remove them. Due to the size and quantity of our trees, we hired someone. I do a lot of the farm work myself and my husband isn’t super interested in the experience so I didn’t want to push my luck by leaving him 30 trees to cut up into firewood. Haha.
This is the tree line that has a lot of these trees. They seemed to have predominantly grown on the exterior of the woods so we didn’t need to go into the woods to find them (which was nice). Hopefully removing them will allow the native trees to grow stronger and provide a nicer backdrop here!
WHEN to Get Rid of the Tree of Heaven
Apparently the Fall is the best time to get rid of the Tree of Heaven: I’m not sure if this is because it has less effect on the native pollinators during this time, or if it’s because the tree is in the best stage to suck up the poison and not easily recover (trees are usually trying to conserve resources to survive the winter). It could be a combination of both.
Video: How to Get Rid of the Tree of Heaven Using the Hack and Squirt Method
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