You may have heard of the “tree killing myth”, which is the idea that, by placing a few copper nails into a tree, you will kill it. But is it a myth, or is it the truth? Let’s ask some experts!
The Shop Assistant
Whenever you go to a hardware store to ask for copper nails, you can almost guarantee that the shop assistant will ask you if you want to kill a tree. It seems that, within the DIY industry, it is accepted that the tree killing myth is true.
Tree arborists will tell you that there is truth and myth to the story. Yes, trees can get poisoned by being exposed to copper, but only if it is the right amount. All living things, including trees, need copper in order to survive. As such, putting a single copper nail in a giant redwood, for instance, won’t do anything. Putting it in a sapling apple tree, however, may do quite a bit of damage.
The Tree Surgeon
Tree surgeons will generally tell you that the story is an absolute myth, unless the shape of the copper nail happens to be the exact same shape as a huge axe. In fact, several tree surgeons have said that they have felled trees, only to find a ring of copper nails inside of them, where the bark and stem of the tree simply grew over the nails.
The Plant Scientist
Plant scientists explain that, if a tree is to be killed, its cell division has to be interfered with at the right part, which is where the root is and new shoots start to grow. If copper is inserted into the tree at the right spot, and the copper is therefore transported into the photosynthesis processes, then it is absolutely possible for the tree to die. However, this is a hugely complex process that involves disrupting the xylem tissues, which are protected by the phloem tissue, also known as the bark. Essentially, it would only work if, somehow, the copper from the nail would dissolve into the tree before the phloem takes over.
At the same time, a plant scientist will tell you that the acidity level in xylem and phloem is such that it would dissolve copper, albeit slowly. Furthermore, copper likes to bind with xylem. However, this process is so slow that it would be very difficult for a single copper nail to actually kill a tree. That said, multiple nails, and particularly in a tree that is debilitated, old, or disease, may absolutely work.
The Garden EnthusiastX
There are plenty of people who love to garden but don’t really know what they are doing. It is easy enough to find someone who nailed something into a tree using copper, and found their tree dead within days. But the reality is that they are the exception and not the norm.
So do copper nails kill trees? It all depends on circumstances!