How to Kill a Palm Tree With or Without Chemicals

Though some people associate palm trees with beach vacations and luxury resorts, in many parts of the world a palm tree is just another plant. They sometimes need to be cut down to make room for other projects or because the tree itself is no longer healthy.

In several ways, killing a palm tree is just like removing any other type of tree. Since palms belong to a different plant family than true trees, however, there are also a few differences.

This article will teach you the basics of how to kill a palm tree in the safest and most efficient way possible. 

DIY Palm Tree Removal: Risks and Safety Precautions

You may be tempted to remove a nuisance palm tree on your own — it’s certainly cheaper and generally quicker than calling in a professional. It’s important to understand the ins and outs of DIY tree removal, including what could go wrong if you mess up. 

Palm trees are particularly tricky due to their height, as well as the heavy fronds that can cause injury or property damage when they come crashing down.

Safety equipment is a must. At a minimum, get a good pair of gloves, safety glasses, and some type of head protection. 

Before you start, make sure the area around the palm tree is clear of bystanders, pets, and any movable objects. Even if you think you can handle the tree in question on your own, I highly recommend having an extra set of hands at your disposal.

Best Ways to Kill a Palm Tree Yourself

There are several ways to kill an unwanted palm tree. While you can always cut the tree down at the base, that certainly isn’t your only option.

Other effective ways to get rid of a palm tree include girdling the trunk or applying chemical herbicides to kill the plant from the inside out. You can also remove the apical meristem to stop the tree from growing.

Keep in mind that some palm species have multiple trunks, and you usually need to treat each trunk separately to kill off the entire tree. 

1) Girdling the Trunk

Tree girdling, also known as ring-barking, is a process by which a continuous ring of bark is removed from the circumference of a tree’s trunk. It’s commonly used in forest management to kill off unwanted trees.

Girdling typically works by severing the vascular system located just below a broadleaf or coniferous tree’s bark. Without a functioning vascular system, the tree can’t transport things like water and nutrients from the roots to the rest of the tree. 

Palm trees, however, are a bit different. They don’t have ring-shaped vascular structures like broadleaf and coniferous trees. Instead of being aligned in a thin layer beneath the bark, palm trees have numerous vascular bundles scattered throughout their trunks.

Girdling may not sever the bulk of a palm tree’s vascular system. But it can make the tree much more vulnerable to pests, diseases, and the environment as a whole. This is because (unlike true trees) palms are incapable of healing their ‘bark’ once it’s been damaged.

2) Applying Chemical Herbicide

Hack-and-Squirt Method

The easiest way to kill a standing palm tree with herbicide is to use a modified ‘hack-and-squirt’ method. For this strategy, you’ll need a powered hand drill and a liquid herbicide containing the active ingredients triclopyr or picloram.

Using a 5/16-inch drill bit or larger, make several holes in the trunk of the palm tree. Space the holes evenly around the trunk — you can place them at different heights if desired — and try to reach the center with each one.

Fill each hole with the liquid herbicide. I’ve found that the simplest way to do this is by using a (disposable) funnel or a narrow spray nozzle. Try not to spill any of the herbicide on surrounding plants.

Depending on the size of the palm tree, you may want to refill the holes two or three times over the course of a few days. The tree should show signs of decline within a month.

3) Basal Bark Treatment

Another option is to treat the unwanted palm tree with a herbicide suspended in oil. This technique is known as basal bark treatment.

When you apply this type of herbicide formula to a good portion of the palm tree’s trunk, it slowly seeps through the outer layers. Once the herbicide reaches the tree’s vascular system, it begins spreading throughout the entire plant, eventually killing it.

Note that basal bark treatment is usually only recommended for trees that are under 6 inches in diameter. It won’t be effective on larger palms.

Foliar Spray

If you can reach the fronds of the palm tree, you can also just spray the leaves with a herbicide containing triclopyr or picloram. 

Foliar herbicides work by infiltrating the stomata (small openings) in plant leaf tissues. This strategy is most effective on young palm trees. It can take a very long time for the herbicide to travel from the fronds throughout the rest of the plant.

4) Cutting Down at the Base

If quick and dirty palm tree removal is your goal, cutting the plant from its base is the most straightforward option. The main drawbacks of this method are the equipment required and the potential to cause serious property damage if the tree is particularly large.

Is cutting down a palm tree easy? Yes.

Is it easy to do correctly? Only if you have the right experience, knowledge, and tools to do the job safely and efficiently.

Unless you have hands-on experience with this method and already own the proper tools (including what you’ll need to securely anchor and lower the palm tree if it’s above a certain height), I strongly recommend hiring a professional to get the job done instead.

5) Removing the Apical Meristem

Now, you can also kill a palm tree by cutting it but leaving the bulk of the trunk where it stands. This technique involves removing only the apical meristem, or the part of the tree where new growth occurs.

A palm tree’s apical meristem is located at the very top of the trunk. The easiest way to find it is by looking for the spot where young fronds emerge.

Cutting off this growth point will prevent the tree from getting any bigger or putting out new fronds. Without leaves to photosynthesize with, the palm tree will eventually die.

Yes, you will still be left with a trunk where the living tree once stood. However, you can always remove the rest of the plant at a later date after the trunk and root system have dried out.

How to Kill Palm Tree Seedlings or Offshoots

It’s quite common for palm seedlings to pop up around mature trees. Some species of palm tree even send out pups or offshoots from the base of the parent plant.

You can prevent these unwanted sprouts from growing by removing the fruit or seed pods from mature palm trees. According to the University of Florida, pre-emergent herbicides containing trifluralin or oryzalin are also effective.

The safest way to kill existing seedlings or offshoots is to hand-pull or cut them from the parent tree. Any herbicide that works on mature palm trees — i.e., one containing triclopyr or picloram — can be used as well.

Proper Palm Tree Disposal and Site Repair

The next step is to dispose of the palm tree (or, at least, what remains of it). Depending on your location, this may mean scheduling a pickup with your local garbage company, renting a wood chipper, or hiring a professional tree disposal service.

You may even be able to put the palm tree remnants to good use — e.g., if the tree was pest- and disease-free, it can be chipped down into mulch for gardening.

Once the tree is removed and the debris is all cleared, it’s time to restore the original planting site. Use a palm grinder to remove a palm stump and its roots for the best results. The process is really no different from grinding out a broadleaf or coniferous tree stump. Fill any remaining hole with high-quality topsoil, preserving as much of the native soil as possible in the process.

If you plan to replace the old tree with something new, keep in mind that removing a large tree can alter the soil composition in the surrounding area. It’s best to plant any new tree or shrub at least 3 feet from the old one’s location (ideally, it should be even further). You’ll want to wait several years before planting something in the exact same spot so that the soil has time to recover.

When Should a Palm Tree Be Killed or Removed?

Removing any tree can be a hard thing to stomach. Palm trees, in particular, tend to be associated with a certain type of curb appeal that’s not easily replaced once they’re gone.

There’s also the fact that tree growth doesn’t happen overnight! A large palm tree can take decades to reach that size, and it’s a true shame when otherwise healthy plants are cut down to make way for something like an inground pool or new deck.

Even so, there are some situations where killing or removing a palm tree is 100% the right decision. Understanding these circumstances will help you make the most responsible choice possible when it comes to your own nuisance palm trees.

Damaged or diseased trees. A palm tree might warrant removal if it’s sick or physically damaged. Diseases like lethal yellowing are untreatable and can quickly spread to nearby plants. Things like severe weather and pest infestations can also damage palm trees beyond repair.

Personal safety or property risks. One of the most common reasons palm trees are removed is that they pose a risk to nearby people or property. For instance, a tree planted too close to a building can cause foundational damage over time. Structurally damaged trees might pose a risk of falling, particularly in areas prone to high winds or storms.

Invasive species. Not all palm trees are desirable. Many native palm species are at risk of extinction in part because introduced trees have outcompeted them for resources. You may want to remove a palm tree on your property to prevent its spread or so that you can plant a more suitable species in its place.

Hiring a Professional Arborist

I strongly advise consulting with a certified arborist or ‘tree doctor’ before attempting to kill any tree on your property. If you live in an area where palm trees grow outdoors, it should be very easy to find someone with professional experience in their removal. 

An arborist can provide valuable insight into the tree’s current condition and the best methods for removal given its size and nearby structures. In some cases, they may even offer better alternatives to simply killing the tree where it stands.

Keep in mind that tree removal specialists and arborists are not always the same people. While some tree removal services are only concerned with cutting down unwanted trees, arborists tend to focus on maintaining a healthy landscape overall. If your primary goal is to grow strong, healthy trees, a skilled arborist can be worth their weight in gold!

FAQs How To Kill a Palm Tree

Can you kill a palm tree with glyphosate?

Though glyphosate (popularly sold as RoundUp) is a broad-spectrum herbicide that works on nearly all plant types, it’s largely ineffective on palm trees. Even young palm seedlings can survive applications of this herbicide. Herbicides with active ingredients like triclopyr or picloram are most effective on palm trees.

Will a palm tree stump regrow?

Palm trees only grow from their apical meristems, which are located at the top of the trunk amid the fronds. If you cut down a palm tree so that only a stump is left, the apical meristem will be removed and no new growth can occur.

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.