How to get rid of cottonwood trees

How to Remove a Cottonwood From the Lawn | Home Guides

By Amelia Allonsy

The three common cottonwoods, Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii), black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) and eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9, zones 5 through 9 and zones 2 through 9, respectively. Cottonwoods provide plenty of shade, but branches break easily, and the trees have aggressive roots that can damage walkways. Large cottonwood trees should be removed by professional arborists, but you can take out small cottonwoods, such as saplings, yourself.

Cutting Down the Cottonwood

  1. If you have a young cottonwood tree less than about 6 feet tall, you should be able to safely cut it down yourself, but larger trees should be left for only professional arborists to remove. Even when the tree is 6 feet or less, you must check the surroundings in all directions to make sure it won't fall on anything and cause major property damage. Mature cottonwood trees can grow 80 to 100 feet tall and up to 60 feet wide and should only be removed by professional arborists with insurance against property damage. If the branches extend over another property, coordinate with your neighbors before forging ahead with the tree removal because the arborist will likely need access to the other property.

Stump Removal

  1. A large cottonwood stump left in your yard can be a major nuisance with potential for tripping or lawnmower damage, but there are several ways to rid the yard of the stump. The fastest and easiest method is to pull the stump out of the ground, but this often requires heavy machinery or a large vehicle. Machine rental companies often rent out stump grinders, which can be used to grind away the wood well below the surrounding soil line. Hand digging can be done with shovels, mattocks and other hand tools, but that's generally practical only for small stumps. If you're not in a hurry to remove the stump, you can drill several holes in the stump and fill them with stump remover chemicals that speed up decay.

Removing Roots

  1. Cottonwood tree roots can easily spread across your entire yard, often extending far outside the canopy's drip line. There's no need to remove each and every root from the ground -- this would require digging up the whole yard -- but you can remove many of the roots in the area immediately around the stump. The roots are severed from the stumps, but pulling on them can uproot large portions of the stumps. Some large, shallow roots might grow under walkways. The roots stop growing when you remove the tree, preventing further damage to the paved surface. It might be best to break up the paved surface and dig up the roots if the surface is severely damaged. Always call a utility locator service such as 811 before you dig to avoid expensive and dangerous damage to utility lines. Root removal also means fewer root suckers, but these can be treated without having to dig up all the roots.

Persistent Root Suckers

  1. Cottonwood tree roots remain active in the soil and will try to stay alive by sprouting root suckers from the roots throughout the yard. If you are persistent in removing the root suckers, the roots will eventually die and rot in the ground. Cut the root suckers with pruners as far below soil as possible. A solution of 2- to 3-percent glyphosate or triclopyr herbicide can be used to kill the roots faster and help control rapid root suckering. Clip the tips of the root suckers and insert them in a jug filled with the herbicide solution. Leave the suckers in the solution for about two days, allowing the suckers to translocate the herbicide to the roots. Clip them below soil level and repeat with any new suckers as they develop.


  • Cal Poly Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute: Fremont Cottonwood
  • Cal Poly Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute: Black Cottonwood
  • Missouri Botanical Garden: Populus Deltoides
  • North Dakota State University Extension: Questions on: Cottonwood
  • New Mexico State University Extension: Trees Removed but Sprouts Develop From Roots
  • This Old House: Removing Tree Stumps
  • Fine Gardening: Removing Root Suckers
  • Southern Living -- The Daily South: Bradford Pears Must Die

Writer Bio

A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor's degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.

How to Kill Cottonwood Trees: Effective Methods

by Pam Flowers

Cottonwood trees can be a nuisance as their roots travel far and wide, which can severely damage sidewalks and underground pipes. Let’s look at how to kill cottonwood trees safely and effectively.

If you find yourself dealing with unwanted cottonwood on your property, here’s how to kill cottonwood trees.

Banding or Streaking

Banding, otherwise known as streaking or lacing is a process where you apply a special tree-killing solution to the soil around the plant. The chemical moves to the root, delivered by watering or rainfall, and kills the roots of a tree over some time.

The concentrate is added in lines spaced every two to four feet, then watered in to take effect. Banding is particularly effective and time-saving if you are dealing with several cottonwood trees.

Cutting and Grinding

Cottonwood trees can be removed from a yard or garden with a classic maneuver called ‘cut and grind’. This generally works on smaller cottonwood trees and saplings that are less than six feet tall.

Cutting involves using a hand saw or chainsaw to lop off the tree down to the stump, then grinding the stump until it is removed from the ground.

Alternatively, you can dig up the stump and its surrounding roots so the cottonwood won’t have a chance to regrow. Fortunately, cottonwood stumps are unlikely to regenerate if the tree has been cut down, but you’ll have to deal with the wide-spreading roots.

Remove the Roots and Suckers

Common tree removal methods should take care of cottonwood, but you should also make sure to remove as much of the leftover roots and suckers to prevent regrowth.

You can start removing the roots by digging up around the drip line, or where the canopy lines up on the ground. Once cut, the roots will try to form suckers as a form of natural propagation. Keep a close eye out on these root suckers and remove them on sight using a pair of sharp pruners.

A good way to chemically kill cottonwood tree roots is to use triclopyr or glyphosate herbicide on the ground where you saw them. Alternatively, you can remove the tips and pull them out to get rid of cottonwood suckers organically.


With girdling, you cut a section of bark around the trunk to ‘cut off’ nutrients and moisture to the branches and leaves. You will need to girdle a whole circumference or it won’t be effective.

To start, you will need an ax or hatchet to carve through a layer of bark that is around two inches deep. For young and small trees you should girdle a minimum width of two inches, while for older and established cottonwood trees, it is recommended that you make it around eight to ten inches wide.

Once complete, girdling eventually kills the cottonwood tree, and all you need to do is to cut it down and dispose of the debris.

Go with a Foliar Spray

Spraying the cottonwood trees with an herbicide is another effective way to kill them. It’s an applicable solution for trees that are 15 feet or lower. The process involves mixing an herbicide and spraying it directly on the leaves of the cottonwood. The leaves absorb the harmful chemical and bring it down to the roots, eventually killing the whole tree.

Foliar sprays are recommended on a calm day where there is not much wind. Do not spray on a hot day or during noon as it will be less effective. Also, you should water the tree well before spraying for the best results.

The roots will be easy to dig up and dispose of with a foliar spray application. You should also keep an eye out for root suckers, which you can remove using garden shears.

Injecting Tree Herbicide

Lastly, you can treat the cottonwood tree with herbicides injected directly onto the vascular tissue. To start, you can drill a hole or two into the trunk, then inject one to two doses of the herbicide. Wait until the tree has absorbed the chemical before reapplication.

Afterward, wait until the herbicide takes its toll on the cottonwood trees before disposing of the plant. This can take anywhere between a week or so. As always, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and wear protective clothing when handling harmful chemicals.

Related Article: How to Kill a Palm Tree

How to get rid of poplar fluff - Nauka - Kommersant

Poplar is an indispensable plant for megacities: it is unpretentious, easily propagated, grows quickly, effectively purifies the air and, thanks to its large leaf surface, releases oxygen several times more than other trees that plant trees in middle-sized cities. stripes of Russia. However, poplar has a serious drawback: mature trees form fluff, and it is fire hazardous, clogs drains and ventilation systems, collects and transfers pollen and dust - allergens.

Male (top) and female (bottom) generative organs (catkins) of poplar

Photo: RIA Novosti

Male (top) and female (bottom) generative organs (catkins) of poplar

Photo: RIA Novosti

Poplar refers to dioecious plants: on some trees only female generative organs are formed, and on others only male generative organs. If for animals such a division of the sexes is habitual, then in plants it is quite rare - only in 5–6% of species. What we call down is actually the downy seeds that only female trees produce, and it is these that bring harm to cities and their inhabitants. For the effective use of poplar in landscaping, it is necessary to grow exclusively male plants, and they must be selected at the initial stages of development, and not after seven to ten years, when poplars begin to bloom and are already large trees, and this requires knowledge of the mechanisms of sex determination and genetic differences between male and female plants.

Establishment of the molecular mechanisms of poplar sex determination and assessment of its genetic diversity are among the main areas of research conducted by us at the Institute of Molecular Biology named after. V. A. Engelhardt RAS. High-throughput sequencing is a key technique used to quickly generate nucleotide sequence data of genomes, transcriptomes, or individual genes with high accuracy. We obtained high-quality assemblies of poplar genomes, which made it possible to identify the differences between male and female plants at the molecular level and supplement our knowledge of the mechanism of sex determination.

In addition, nucleotide sequences of sex-associated regions of the poplar genome were determined on a representative sample of samples, and DNA polymorphisms found only in male trees were found. Based on the data obtained, as well as studies performed by research teams from other countries, we have developed a test system for determining the sex of poplar, which is based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method. Our development allows you to choose plants of the desired sex even among annual seedlings, which makes it possible to use only male trees that do not form fluff for landscaping the city.

We have also shown the high polymorphism of poplars growing on the territory of Moscow, and proposed genetic markers to create a collection of trees highly adaptable to urban conditions, maximally covering the existing diversity and suitable for further propagation and effective use in landscaping. Thus, our work, in addition to being of fundamental importance, led to the development of DNA markers that will allow us to select poplar seedlings that are most suitable for landscaping megacities and get rid of fluff, making the most of all the benefits of this plant to improve the ecology of cities.

Measures to combat poplar fluff are very ambiguous. Cardinal pruning of trees is mainly used, but this method, at significant financial costs, does not bring positive results: while poplars have branches cut off, they form few leaves and are not able to effectively purify the air and release oxygen, and when they are restored, female plants begin to bloom. re-form fluff. It has been said for a long time that only male poplars should be used for landscaping cities, but no significant steps have been taken in this direction.

There is an opinion that poplars can change sex and it is useless to plant male plants, because anyway after some time they will turn into female ones. However, large-scale studies in recent years, conducted by scientists in various countries and published, including in the journals of the Nature publishing house, have shown that the sex of a poplar is determined genetically, so its change cannot be a ubiquitous phenomenon. Most poplar species are characterized by the XY-system of sex determination. Our studies on representative samples of plants, including those subjected to cardinal pruning, from various districts of the city of Moscow demonstrated complete correspondence between the genotype and phenotype: all trees with the Y chromosome formed male generative organs, and without it, female ones. The conclusion suggests itself that the reason for the spread of female poplar plants in cities, which form fluff, is associated with the use of planting material of both sexes.

It is difficult to find a substitute for poplar for landscaping the most ecologically unfavorable areas of central Russia, and the use of the achievements of modern science can solve the problem of fluff by planting only male seedlings. The implementation of such a project will improve the environment, reduce morbidity, improve the quality of life of the population and increase its social and labor activity, which will have a long-term economic effect. It is in the coming years that there will be an acute problem with the natural aging of poplars growing now, which is associated, among other things, with an increase in the fragility of wood of trees older than 40 years. The issue of replacing old poplars with new ones cannot be ignored, because if the old plants are simply removed, the city will be left without its “lungs”, which will harm the health of residents. Tree planting and replacement must be done in stages to ensure a consistently high level of middle-aged green space, and replacement poplar wood can be used industrially and is highly valued in plywood and paper production. At the same time, the implementation of such a large-scale project requires support at the federal or regional level, primarily from Moscow, the largest metropolis.

Photo captions

1. Male (top) and female (bottom) generative organs (catkins) of poplar

2. Hairy seeds on a female poplar plant RAS



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