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Recent entries

Kevin Hahn

Food Plotting

Hack and Squirt Method to Restore Timber Areas

Fri, April 19, 2013

I have an aerial photo of our farm which dates back to 1939 and by looking at this photo it is obvious that the land owner at that time was running livestock (cows and possible hogs) in a couple areas of the farm.  These areas consisted of rolling ground with hills and hollers and sparse stands of timber. Areas of significant erosion were clearly evident in the 1939 aerial photo as well.  Back in 1939, almost every farmer had livestock and fencing and running livestock in hilly ground and timber was a common practice.  After all, what good was this type of ground if it could not be tilled and planted to row crops?  This was also a time when the concept of conservation was in its infancy.  The Soil Conservation Service, which eventually became the NRCS, had just been formed in response to the dust bowl years of the mid 1930’s. 

With my 1939 aerial photo as my reference, I can go to these areas of the farm and easy find the remnants of wire fencing buried in the dirt which represents the outer boundaries of where the livestock was once allowed roam. Some of these old fence lines are also very obvious for there are still large sassafras and Osage orange (hedge) trees growing in perfect straight lines where they obviously sprouted up in the fence row years ago.  The sassafras along with wild cherry, and a few maples spread inward from the fence rows to eventually become the dominate species in these areas of the farm after the livestock was removed. 

It’s amazing to see how activities as far back as 1939 have left its mark on the land which is still clearly visible today.  It’s not what I consider pretty mark either, for these areas of the timber are a completely closed canopy from what I consider “trash tree species” and there is absolutely no understory growth for it is so heavily shaded.  These are also areas of the farm where there is very little deer or other wildlife sign.  For me personally, it sends a clear message to carefully consider all that I do on the farm and thus try to be a good steward of the land for my kids and future generations. 

Time to Restore These Areas
Working with a private forester and my local NRCS office, we developed a simple timber stand improvement plan (TSI) to restore these areas of the farm.  The TSI plan is simply to replace these “trash trees” with oaks. My TSI plan initially called for bringing in heavy equipment to bulldoze down the “trash trees” prior to planting oaks.  The idea of bringing in a bulldozer did not appeal to me for several reasons.  Of course there was the cost consideration, but my biggest issue with this approach was a concern I had with disturbing the soil and creating erosion problems for the area is somewhat hilly.  So instead of bulldozing, I decided to first try a kinder and gentler approach by using the “hack and squirt method” to kill the trash trees. I would then plant the oaks amongst the dead standing trees. 

Hack and Squirt Method

Hack and squirt is the process of using a hatchet or axe to make a 45 degree downward angle cut (the hack) through the bark of the tree.  Hacks are made around the truck at a frequency of one hack for every 3 inch diameter of the trunk at breast height (BHD).  As an example, a 12 inch diameter tree would have 4 hacks.

Then a small amount of a specific herbicide or herbicides is squirted into the hack.  The herbicide moves up into the canopy and down to roots to kill the top and roots of the tree.  The herbicides that I am using for my tree species are Arsenal and Garlon(triclopyr).  Arsenal has been very effective on sassafras and cherry, while Garlon seems to work much better on my maples.  Because these herbicides when applied by this method will kill both the top growth and the roots, no root sprouts will shoot up like you often get if you cut the trees off with a chain saw.

Picture taken two weeks ago of a sassafras stump from a tree that was cut down with a chainsaw in 2011. Note the new root sprouts coming from the base of the stump.

This is a picture of the equipment I use.  I like the landscape hatchets for they have a heavier head and a longer handle than that of a standard hatchet.  I got mine at Harbour Freight for less than $10.  I also like to use a veterinarian 5 ml adjustable syringe set at 1ml. I put one milliliter of herbicide per hack. The herbicide solution in the bottle is Arsenal mixed at 50:50 ratio with water.

So far so good
The hack and squirt method is a very quick process to perform—much faster than using a chain saw to cut trees down.  Last May, I did a test area of about 2 acres and it only took me about 2 hours to complete the job on these 2 acres.  Four weeks after doing the hack and squirt treatment, many of the trees had already begun losing many of their leaves.

2012 Photos
Picture taken in June of 2012 just about 4 weeks after making the hack and squirt treatment.  Note the amount of leaf drop on the forest floor already.  Also note how there is no understory growth due the heavy shading from the upper canopy.

Picture of same area taken in late July.  Almost all the leaves have dropped from the trees, the canopy opened up and the sunlight stimulated understory growth which the deer almost immediately began to browse.

2013 Photos
This spring, all the trees treated May 2012 appear to completely dead, judging from lack of leaf buds and no root sprouts forming.
These are pictures taken less than a week ago of one the largest sassafras trees which had a trunk diameter of over 24 inches and was hack and squirt treated with Arsenal last May.  The adjacent untreated sassafras trees already had leaf buds opening, but this large trees appears to be completely dead.

Oak Plantings 2013
Two weeks ago, I began planting oaks amongst the dead trees in the area I performed hack and squirt last May.  Trees are protected with 48 inch Tubex tree tubes.

Based on the initial visual results, I will continue with this approach for the rest of the areas this summer.  I still consider this an experiment even though results look very promising.  If this hack and squirt method works as it appears it is, the cost, time savings, and low impact on the land of this process will be significant as compared to bulldozing down the trees prior to planting oaks.  I’ll keep you posted

Word of Caution.  Before using hack and squirt method for killing trees,  read and follow the herbicide labels to understand all the directions, precautions, and restrictions for there are many considerations beyond what I have described.  Pay particular attention to the sections which discuss the potential for injuring adjacent desirable trees which may have root grafted with the tree you are applying hack and squirt treatments.




I got sections that are overrun with thorny locust trees, this sounds like a possible solution.  I have been little by little cutting them down - what a frickin mess when them thorn trees come down Do you think drilling holes would work just as good or does the 45 hatchet cut have something to do with it?

Posted by BIGPOND on April 20

  Be great if I could get rid of locust and honeysuckle and not have them, just send up sprouts again

Posted by joecarver on April 20

BigPond…don’t drill.  Stay with 45 degree hack for it exposes more of the trees living vascular tissue which is just below the bark.  Because of your comments about thorns, I am assuming you have honey locust vs. black locust.  Honey locust has the long thorns on the truck. Just knock them off the hatchet and then make your 45 degree hack to the trunk. Black locust has thorns as well but they are not long or on the trunk like HL.  With both of the locust species, Tordon herbicide is your best choice for hack and squirt.  Check this link out on hack and squirt for locust.

Kevin Hahn


Posted by Cooper on April 20

I have a real big tree in my backyard and don’t have the money to have it professionally cut down. It is very messy and my neighbor has complained to me about it and I get it I hate it too but don’t have the money to do it. Then I read your thread about hack n squirt and am excited that I can do this. I’m just wondering about the results. I just want to make sure that the tree won’t fall over on my house, it will just lose its leaves and die.

Posted by susiequ on August 28

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