Do Copper Nails Kill Trees? The Real Facts – Not The Myths

There are many myths out there and one is that copper nails kill trees. I have had a sawmill, and the amount of copper that I have found in trees allows me to categorically state that if a nail does kill a tree – it is not the copper that does it – it is where you place the nail that does it!

Do Copper Nails Kill Trees?

I have heard this say that copper kills trees, that copper nails kill trees, and that nails kill trees. I have also heard people say that if you hit a copper or zinc nail into an avocado tree it will make it flower, and all sorts of other weird garbage. We need to use logic to get to the bottom of this and work out how to use copper nails to kill trees.

I used to run a sawmill – and in that time, I have cut two trees that actually had swallowed copper garden taps, copper pipe, brass taps, and all. The trees literally surrounded and engulfed these copper items. I have also cut up countless trees that contained copper-jacketed bullets. If copper killed trees, then we would expect to find dead trees in every forest where there has been a battle somewhere in the world.

Copper bullets are a major problem for sawmill companies as these bullets are embedded in the wood and then mess up sawmill blades when trees are cut. This is a reason why old-growth pine trees from parts of Europe are such a pain to cut up – they contain copper bullets from many wars – Crimean, First, Second, and so on. Europeans periodically go nuts and fight with each other about something, and this makes a mess of trees – but the trees survive the shooting mostly.

So from this above, we can see that trees can easily tolerate copper – but how will copper kill them? Do copper nails kill trees? No, not necessarily, but maybe in the right place they can?

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Do Copper Nails In The Right Place Kill Trees?

Do copper nails kill trees? If you look at the placing of copper nails, if you place them close to the soil line, and cover the nail with soil, it will begin to have galvanic effects – in other words, it will become a little battery in the soil, and it will oxidize and ionize, and this may release copper compounds into the tree. Copper salts are generally toxic to life in large concentrations, hence this should in theory kill a tree. If you have enough nails, close together, they should kill the tree.

Why Do Copper Nails Kill Trees?

As we have mentioned in previous paragraphs, copper nails will not automatically kill a tree. If they are placed close to the ground and covered with soil that is wet, the nails will “rust” and release copper compounds into the phloem of the tree and in theory, this should slowly poison the tree.

There are a lot of factors that will impact how and if this will work, such as the species of tree, the acidity of the tree, the type of soil, and so on, but in theory, it should be able to work. Just smacking nails into a tree above the soil will probably just include a nail in the tree’s wood and result in you spoiling somebody’s saw blade in future decades or centuries. If you place them in the right place, however, you may be able to kill the tree.

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Do Copper Nails Kill Trees

Really, Why Does Copper Kill Trees?

Copper itself is not particularly toxic to trees. Copper chemicals – made by reacting copper with other chemicals, will however be toxic to trees. Copper sulfate for example is toxic to trees. It is toxic to many things. Copper ions in large quantities can kill humans too.

Hence the rate at which your copper oxidizes and reacts with acids in the tree will determine the rate at which copper ions will enter the tree, and kill it. In this regard, you would require a large surface area of copper metal, and this would translate into a lot of nails.

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How Many Copper Nails To Kill A Tree?

You would need to place them around the base of the tree close to the soil. There is in fact no correct number, but the more nails, the greater the rate at which copper compounds will leach into the bark of the tree and poison it. In this regard, I would suggest that you would want to place a nail every inch around the tree.

This will be a very difficult question to answer. As a rule of thumb, measure the circumference of the tree in inches, and get that many nails. I am sure you could get away with less, but with all these sorts of random methods, more tends to be better.

How Do Copper Nails Kill Trees?

Do copper nails kill trees? Copper nails on their own will not kill a tree. However, if you place these nails close enough to the soil that you can cover them with soil, they will get wet, and the chemicals in the soil and the chemicals in the tree will create a galvanic effect – this will cause the nails to oxidize and release copper ions into the tree. Copper in large concentrations is toxic and in theory, this will kill the tree.

How Do Copper Nails Kill Trees

In Conclusion – Do Copper Nails Kill Trees?

Do copper nails kill trees? Placed in the right place – close to the soil line, copper nails can kill trees. You will need a lot of nails – copper nails are soft, so you have to drill guide holes, and somewhere along this process, you will probably ask yourself if there is not an easier way to kill the tree – such as ring barking it.

Copper nails are expensive, and personally, if I had to kill a tree, I would just cut it down, remove the wood and if the tree did not die naturally, I would make a few holes in it and put caustic soda in the holes. If you wanted to you could put copper sulfate in the holes as it is actually toxic. If that did not work I would burn the stump, and if that does not work, you can use garlon. This is not the nicest chemical on earth, but leaving oxidizing copper in the environment is also questionable.