Killing A Tree with Bleach – Yes it is possible!

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Bleach is one of the most common household items in the world. By some, it is also regarded as a tree killer. How effective is bleach really is in controlling the growth of unwanted plants?

Bleach is not designed to control tree growth, but it will harm them. It is not an effective compound to kill trees or tree stumps because it is not systematic in nature, but in some cases, it can be used successfully.

If you are looking to remove a tree, a stump, or trim a tree, use the form on our tree & stump removal page to get estimates from a local company.

Let’s take a look at whether bleach should be used for killing plants and trees and what is the correct method for doing so.

How Does Bleach Affect a Tree?

Bleach is not systemic in nature – this means that it doesn’t get absorbed as well as herbicides designed to kill trees. Because of the low absorption, enough of it is not transported throughout the tree to affect it. Bleach only affects the most vulnerable areas it has been applied to like like leaves or exposed cambium layer. This limits Bleacher’s effectiveness as a tree killer.

Bleach works by sucking out the moisture from an area it has been sprayed on. If you apply bleach on the leaves of a tree, the leaves will become dehydrated, turn brown, and eventually fall off.

Can You Kill A Tree with Bleach?

Bleach is not really effective at killing trees. It only affects the area it has been applied to, as opposed to some of the herbicides which get transported throughout the tree and directly affect the roots. 

If you are using Bleach on smaller plants or very young trees, bleach can harm them beyond repair and kill them. If you are using bleach on plants that require a lot of care or on plants that are not native to a particular climate, then it can be effective. Even in these cases, you have to apply bleach multiple times to increase its efficiency.

If you are using bleach on any native species of woody plants that are hard to kill, there is a high probability that they do not show any sign of dying. Even if you effectively damage one part of the plant, the roots will start growing new shoots from other parts of the plant.

How Much Bleach Will Kill A Tree?

Bleach is not a recommended chemical to control tree growth, but if used in big enough quantities, beyond the amount we would consider normal, it would be effective on any tree I believe.

That approach would create another set of problems like contaminating the surrounding area and spending a lot of cash on Bleach. In short, it would be cheaper and faster to just buy a proper herbicide.

But how much bleach would you need to kill a tree or a tree stump?

This depends on a lot of factors, the first being the size of the plant. The optimal amount is should entirely cover the foliage of the plant or tree a couple of times over plus then some more. This way you can spray the foliage multiple times to increase the chances of success.

On the other hand, if you are just applying it on a stump, then the required amount would cover the entire stump 3-4 times over. With most small plants and trees, one or two 14oz bottles will be more than enough for a stump.

Concentrated bleach

There are two types of bleach you can use, the first one being a regular diluted bleach which we talked about in the previous section. You can use this straight out of the bottle and there is no need to further dilute it. The advantage of this is that it won’t affect the soil and the surrounding area as much, but the disadvantage is obviously that it won’t be as effective.

The other variety is a more concentrated version of chlorine bleach which is used for industrial uses. For example, this Clorox concentrated bleach.

It is recommended to dilute this in a 50-50 ratio with water (but I have not tested it). This Bleach is much more effective and can cause a lot of damage to even medium-sized trees. The disadvantage of course is that this will damage the soil and surrounding area a lot more and it can even cause skin irritation, breathing difficulties, and other health issues if you are not careful.

Will Bleach Kill A Tree Stump?

Bleach does not invade a tree’s system which means that it won’t be able to reach and kill its root system.

Therefore, if you use it on a tree stump, it slightly affects the area, but it won’t stop the roots from sprouting new shoots from other parts of the tree. You should think of bleach as a drying agent – while it will effectively pull out the moisture from the area it won’t attack trees’ biological system.

How to Use Bleach for Killing Trees?

If you have a concentrated solution of Chlorine bleach, mix it with water in equal proportions. You will also need a backpack sprayer or a handheld sprayer if you are dealing with small plants. This Field King Sprayer from amazon is a good choice.

If possible, cut the plant down to its stump and treat the stump with the solution while also spraying the roots if possible.

If you are dealing with a bigger tree, then after you cut the tree to its stump, make some gashes along the circumference of the stump and spray the solution to cover the entire stump along with the gashes. This method is also known as the Cut Surface Treatment.

If you do not want to cut the tree down, spray the leafage and the trunk of the plant with the solution. If the roots of the plant are accessible, spray the solution on the roots as well. As an extra step, using an ax, make gashes along the entire circumference of the tree and apply bleach into the gashes.

If you want to take it even a step further, you can remove a 4-8 inches wide strip of bark around the entire circumference of the tree. This alone should kill the tree in the long haul, but using bleach will slightly speed up the process.

How to Save A Tree Which Has Been Exposed to Bleach?

If a tree got exposed to bleach by accident, simply hose down the tree or plant to dilute the chemical. Most of it will just end up running off. Simply cleaning the foliage or the exposed area with water will get the job done.

What Can You Use Other Than Bleach to Effectively Kill A Tree?

There are a ton of herbicides and chemicals that are way more effective in killing trees, plants, and stumps. For example, Relegate, Trycloper and Tordon are good choices.

For stump killing, Tordon RTU would be the best tree-killing chemical to use followed up by concentrated Roundup, which a lot of people use.

You can read my other article about killing trees without cutting them down here.

Conclusion

Bleach can be used if you have to get rid of small plants, but it is not an ideal choice for plant control. Bleach is not a systemic chemical which means it does disturb the nutrient flow within the tree, thus it will not affect the growth of trees.

Bleach can damage some areas of woody plants but there is a high chance that a tree will survive regular bleach treatment.

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