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How to Kill a Chicken Tree

Chinese Tallow tree removal: from invasive nuisance to birdhouse and habitat

An ANPP member asked me recently about the poison free process Neil and I use to kill Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera) trees on our property. We use this method to turn tallow trees into nesting habitat for birds. The trees must be away from structures and parking spaces because eventually, they will fall. This method can be used on other trees also. An old mimosa tree sprayed by a power company because of its nearness to the power line has been standing (dead) for 8 years, and its horizontal branches are a condominium for red bellied woodpeckers. Because of the hardness of the wood, it has not decomposed as quickly as tallows, which usually fall within 3-7 years.

Start by ringing the trunk using either a handheld battery powered cordless “sawsall”, chainsaw, or hatchet to cut into the trunk. The sawsall is our favorite because it is lightweight and is great for cutting small limbs too big for loppers, but too small for a chainsaw. The first cut rings the tree at 6 inches to 1 foot above the ground. Cut deep enough to pass the cambium/bark layer or it will heal over. If the cut is too deep, the tree will become unstable and fall sooner without giving you a birdhouse Make the second cut 3-6 inches above the first and cut at the same depth. Take out the bark between the cuts to ensure that you killing the tree and not just wounding it. The wound will start healing over if it isn’t deep enough. We encountered this the first few years we tried this method, and had to repeat the process, eventually killing the tree. There will be some sprouts around the base of the tree, just remove them when they are young so they don’t provide nourishment to the tree.

The higher branches will fall first. I pick them up and layer them, larger branches first, followed by smaller branches loosely stacked. These brush piles are used by birds and other wildlife for habitat and cover. As the tree dies, red bellied woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, Carolina chickadees, and yellow bellied sapsuckers will build their nests in the main trunk. I have seen blue birds move into a cavity made by woodpeckers. We use bluebird boxes now, so we can monitor the nests. Since woodpeckers make several entrances, the tree may become weaker at this level as they make new entrances and allow high winds to break the trunk. This seems to occur during storm season in the fall (August to October) which is after nesting season and after the young have fledged. I have observed that the birds will just build another entrance lower in the same tree the following nesting season, until the tree finally melts! I use the partially decomposed trunks to line walkways and flower beds. Let me know if this works for you! -DonaWeifenbach

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I do agree with what was written above, but the statement about root sprouts coming up is not exactly complete. For each Tallow Tree killed there will most likely be dozens of root sprouts. Those root sprouts and all that will follow will have to be remove over several months. If you cut the sprouts and walk away for a few months you will most likely find several new Tallow Trees in that area. That information is from my own attempts to kill Tallow Trees on my property east of Arnaudville.

Bobby Keeland PhD

Research Forest Ecologist

Retired from the National Wetlands Research Center, 2008

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Phyllis Griffard
Phyllis Griffard
15 may 2023
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Thank you for your helpful comment. Others of us have resorted to chemical treatment of the girdle or cut edges, which is the only thing that works to prevent those sprouts on our tallows in Sunset.

Stop by our greenhouse some time! We'd love to meet you.

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