Removing trees from forest stands is essential to creating good cover and forage by reducing canopy cover and allowing light to reach the ground. Commercially harvesting trees or removing them by hand will accomplish this and is most effective when followed by prescribed fire. If dealing with small stands that loggers are not interested in harvesting or with trees below commercial harvest size, removing trees by hand can be very effective. This will reduce the basal area of the stand and increase the amount of forbs and grasses on the ground. There are several hand removal methods like cutting trees down with a chainsaw, spraying a ring of herbicide around the base of the trunk, girdling and spraying herbicide in the cut, or hack-and-squirt, which we will discuss today.
There are several different herbicides that can be used for hack and squirt tree killing. Some of these include glyphosate (Roundp®), triclopyr (Garlon®), imazapyr (Arsenal AC®), etc. They range in price from cheap glyphosate (Roundup®) to pricier imazapyr (Arsenal AC®). However, it should be noted that while the price of imazapyr may seem expensive, it takes much less imazapyr by volume than glyphosate to kill trees, making it quite cost effective. To read more about common herbicides for hack and squirt application read our herbicide comparison article here.
The timing of your hack-and-squirt application is probably the most important part of the process. You must use this method while the tree will pull the herbicide into its roots. If you squirt herbicide into a tree in spring or early summer it will be immediately flushed out of the wound by water being pushed to the crown from the roots. Instead, use hack and squirt in late summer, fall, or winter. Timing your treatment when trees are pulling nutrients out of the leaves down toward the roots in preparation for winter dormancy is especially effective, as this will pull your lethal dose of herbicide straight into the roots, quickly killing the tree.
Your first step should be to identify the trees you want to kill, this may be mid-story sourwood, overstory sweetgum, understory invasive Chinese privet, or a variety of other species. Once you have identified the tree, swing your hatchet into its trunk at a comfortable height, angling down at a 45° angle. Make sure the hatchet buries into the tree through the bark and into the wood of the tree.
Now, keep the hatchet buried in the tree while twisting the handle and opening the top of the cut in the bark so that you can see down into the wood of the tree. Squirt a full spray from a hand-held squirt bottle of your herbicide down into the cut and then remove the hatchet. Usually on small trees under 4” in diameter you should only have to do this once, on larger trees add another hack and squirt for each additional 4” in diameter. Be sure to follow the herbicide label closely to know how much herbicide must be sprayed into each tree.
Removing undesirable trees in closed canopy forest stands in an excellent way to increase food and cover availability whitetails, turkey, and other wildlife. Hack-and-squirt allows you to do this easily without the hassle of a chainsaw and danger of falling trees. It also can be valuable to birds, squirrels, and bats that will use the cover created by a standing dead tree “snag”. Use this method carefully, as once you have treated a tree it is dead and you can’t bring it back to life!