Let the tree die off – this is how you let it die in a targeted manner

The protection of trees in Germany is expressed in country-specific tree protection statutes, which are among the strictest in the world. However, by no means all tree species and sizes meet the criteria and fall through the tightly knit mesh of legal regulations. Furthermore, one of the few exceptions that make removal unavoidable can apply to a tree that is actually protected. If an immediate felling is not an option, affected gardeners decide to let the tree die. This guide explains how to target him.

Disregarding the tree protection statute can be expensive

The suffering caused by an unwanted tree should not lead to ignoring the regional tree protection statute. First, please consult the legal requirements under which the removal of trees is permitted in your municipality. Since the tree protection statute in Germany is a matter for the federal states, the regulations can differ significantly locally. Violators are punished with high fines of up to 50,000 euros.

Usually fruit trees are not protected, apart from chestnut and walnut trees . In some federal states, birches, poplars and willows are not covered by the protection regulations. In principle, protected tree species are only subject to the tree protection statute if they have reached a specified size. In North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, the decrees only come into effect from a trunk circumference of 80 cm, measured at a trunk height of 100 cm. Removal of multi-trunk trees is prohibited if a single trunk diameter is 50 cm or more. If a tree worthy of protection poses a risk, you can apply for a special permit.

Ringing – a method from forestry

Ringing is traditionally used in forestry to remove unwanted trees from the stand. With this method, an approximately 10 cm wide strip of bark and the underlying cambium wood is removed from the lower trunk area. In the period that follows, the tree gradually dies because the flow of sap is interrupted. Specifically, the substances obtained from photosynthesis are no longer transported from the crown to the roots. However, because this approach still allows water and nutrients to flow from the roots to the crown, the process takes anywhere from 12 to 36 months for the tree to die. This is how the procedure works:

Best time is in summer

The months of July and August are particularly good for letting a tree die off due to ringing. By this time, the affected tree has invested much of its reserves in growing new shoots. The roots only gradually begin to replenish their supplies, leaving the tree weak at this stage. Because this method is silent, focuses on the lower part of the trunk, and a ringed tree is left standing for several months, nesting birds in the crown are not disturbed in any way.

Appropriate tools

Ringing involves neither risky climbing maneuvers nor the use of machines. Only the following tools are required:

  • Drawknife (double-handled knife)
  • Drahtbürste
  • Ripping hook or grafting knife
  • working gloves

Since this technique does not require the use of a helper, ringing is widespread in small forest operations due to the low personnel requirements. As soon as chainsaws are used, a second man is always required for safety reasons.


Proceed as follows to let a tree die by ringing:

  • Use the drawknife to peel off a strip of bark 5 to 10 cm wide
  • Remove inward-curved pieces of bark with the ripper or grafting knife
  • Use the wire brush to scrape off the cambium underneath

Please ensure that you only remove the bark and cambium. The cambium is the cell division layer between the bark and the wood that overflows the wound in the case of cut injuries. If the wood is damaged, a rotting process starts, which makes the decaying tree a potential source of danger.

A visible sign of the gradual death of a tree are the ever smaller leaves. As the tree continues to stand, the smaller branches will fall off first, followed by the larger branches. Within 1 to 3 years the entire tree collapses.

Advantages and disadvantages at a glance

As archaeological finds have shown, ringing was already used in the Neolithic Age to allow trees to die in a targeted manner. Considering the following advantages, it is understandable that the method has survived to this day:

  • There is no abrupt change in plant society
  • There is no stick rash like after clearing
  • The whole process is comparable to a natural tree mortality
  • Neighboring trees and shrubs can gradually adapt to the changed wind conditions
  • No use of heavy, noisy machinery and therefore no disturbance to nesting birds

Notwithstanding the numerous advantages, there are still some disadvantages to consider when curling a tree:

  • A long duration of action of 1 to 3 years, sometimes longer
  • Falling branches pose a hazard
  • Ringing too deep turns a tree into an uncontrolled source of danger
  • If the cambium is incompletely brushed out, the tree will remain
  • Conifers weakened as a result of ringing attract bark beetles
Tip: It belongs to the land of urban legends that a tree can die on copper nails. The self-healing powers of trees triumph over an attack with nails made of copper, lead or other toxic substances by sealing off the injured regions without further ado.


In addition, the high level of effort tempted to use the chainsaw anyway. This entails several dangers that call into question the success of ringing. Either cambium bridges are left, allowing the tree to recover, or the wood is damaged, allowing the tree to fall suddenly. Furthermore, in the midst of the breeding season, the Federal Nature Conservation Act is disregarded, which prohibits any disturbance of birds and small animals between March 1st and September 30th.

Tip: Are you aiming to just let a stubborn tree stump die? Then the specialist trade has a granulate with calcium cyanamide (calcium cyanamide) ready for you. The well-known fertilizer causes tree stumps to decay along with their roots within 3 to 12 months.

If unwanted trees are not subject to the Tree Protection Ordinance or may be removed according to a special permit, clearing is not always the ideal solution. As an alternative, affected gardeners decide to let the tree die in a targeted manner. They copied a traditional method from forestry. In order to let a tree die gently and gradually, you remove a strip of bark about 10 cm wide together with the cambium. The flow of sap then comes to a standstill and the tree collapses. This process can take up to 3 years.

Kira Bellingham

I'm a homes writer and editor with more than 20 years' experience in publishing. I have worked across many titles, including Ideal Home and, of course, Homes & Gardens. My day job is as Chief Group Sub Editor across the homes and interiors titles in the group. This has given me broad experience in interiors advice on just about every subject. I'm obsessed with interiors and delighted to be part of the Homes & Gardens team.

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