How To Kill a Tree Stump: The Complete Guide

By Lora M. Novak

How To Kill a Tree Stump: The Complete Guide

Tree stumps are unsightly annoyances for many homeowners. Unfortunately, most tree stumps will not die on their own. Instead, they continue to exist in our garden or yard, constantly sprouting new plants. These new shoots are a result of the extended root system, which often still thrives underground even after the tree is cut down. The most challenging tree stumps to get rid of are often black locusts, maples, cottonwoods, Russian olives, Lombardy poplar trees, and the tree of heaven 

It may be challenging to rid your home of the tree stump. However, you can remove the tree stump through various methods, including the use of chemicals, natural removal techniques, and physical removal methods.  

In this article, you’ll learn about the following ways to kill a tree stump and more: 

  • Natural tree stump removal techniques
  • Physical tree stump removal techniques
  • Chemicals for tree stump removal

Natural Tree Stump Removal Techniques

Here are a few natural tree stump removal techniques that you can use to take care of the tree stump while avoiding the need for physical or chemical removal steps.

Epsom Salt

Epsom salt is a great DIY method for killing off tree stumps because it speeds up the decomposition process. Typically, a tree stump takes three to seven years to die off naturally. However, you can speed this process up to six to 12 months with Epsom salt. 

Epsom salt contains sulfur and magnesium, which are healthy minerals for plants but are fatal in large doses. To use Epsom salt to kill a tree stump, take pure Epsom salt and water to create a potent mixture to kill the stump’s root system. Then, drill at least a dozen deep holes, about 1 inch wide and 10 inches deep, in different parts of the stump. 

Pour the Epsom salt mixture into the drilled holes and cover the stump with a tarp to prevent rain from washing the mixture away. Repeat this process once a month to poison the stump and its roots continually.

When successful, this method will kill off the stump within two to three months and be fully decayed after a year. 

Forced Darkness

We recommend the forced darkness method if you’re looking for an easy and inexpensive way to kill a tree stump. Tree stumps need sunlight to continue growing, and preventing sunlight from reaching the tree stump will eventually kill it. 

Cover the tree stump with a light-resistant cover, like an opaque trash bag, plastic bag, or dark tarp. Your chosen cover should be made of a waterproof material. 

This technique is easy and inexpensive. However, it can take more than six months for your tree stump to die off, and your yard will have an unsightly tarp present the whole time, so take that into consideration when choosing this method to kill your tree stump.

Boiling Water

Boiling water can shock the root system, resulting in intense damage and eventual death. This method is excellent because it’s reasonably quick and inexpensive. 

Start by uncovering as much of the tree stump’s root structure as you can. Then, drill holes in the roots and on top of the stump to expose the tree stump to the boiling water. Once the roots are exposed and your holes are drilled, pour boiling water on top of them. The boiling hot water will shock the tree stump and its root system, resulting in severe damage and eventual death. After the stump dies, natural decomposition will begin. 

Rock Salt

Rock salt is similar to table salt, except it’s much less refined and comes in large chunks. The rock salt method is similar to using Epsom salt to kill a tree stump. However, rock salt can be harmful to plants near the tree stump, so we recommend only using rock salt if other methods have been tried and failed. 

To use rock salt to kill a tree stump, start by drilling holes into the tree stump. Then, pack the holes with rock salt and cover the stump with rock salt. Add a thick layer of soil and mulch on top of the stump, then pour water on top of the soil and mulch layer. 

The water will help the rock salt dissolve and encourage fungi growth, accelerating the tree stump’s decay. 

For this method, continue watering the stump every couple of days for the first one to two months to keep the tree stump damp and ideal for fungus growth. 

Physical Tree Stump Removal Techniques

If you’re interested in taking a quicker, more direct approach to killing your tree stump, here are some of the most popular physical tree stump removal techniques. 

Digging

Digging a tree stump out of your yard is effective but hard, time-consuming work that can destroy your yard or garden in the process. 

When you dig out a tree stump, you’ll also need to remove the tree roots, which can be deeply buried and widespread throughout your yard. If you choose this technique, we strongly recommend hiring a professional or renting pro digging equipment to help you complete the job because this can be back-breaking work. 

To dig out a tree stump, start digging around the stump and find as many roots as possible. Then, use a hatchet, handsaw, or chainsaw to chop the more extensive roots. You can cut smaller roots with loppers or clippers. After dealing with all the roots, you should be able to lift the tree stump out of the ground. 

Afterward, repair your yard by filling the large hole with dirt and covering it with mulch or topsoil. 

Burning 

Burning a tree stump is a quick and cost-effective way to get rid of the unsightly stump sitting in your yard. However, this method can be dangerous and is illegal in some areas due to fire codes. So, if you plan on burning your tree stump, first check with your local regulations, then assess how safe it will be for you to burn the tree stump. If you have many nearby plants, this will not be the ideal method for you. 

If you choose to burn the tree stump, start by clearing any plants, leaves, brush, and other flammable materials away from your stump. Then, using a drill bit, drill many holes into the stump. Every hole should be at least 2 inches wide and 8 inches deep, even deeper if you have a very long stump. These holes will allow the fire to burn deep into your stump. 

Next, drench each hole with kerosene to ensure that the fire reaches the bottom of the stump. Place flammable materials, like scrap wood, wood chips, or leaves on the surface of the stump and ignite them to begin the fire. Continue adding flammable materials to the top of the stump until you have a healthy fire, then wait for the fire to turn the stump into ashes. This process could take several hours, and the stump must be monitored the entire time to ensure that the fire doesn’t spread. We recommend keeping a fire extinguisher on hand during this process. 

After the stump becomes ashes, allow it to cool, then remove the ashes. Fill the hole where the stump once was with soil and mulch.

Grinding

Out of all the methods we’re talking about today, stump grinding is probably the fastest way to get rid of a tree stump. However, you’ll need to rent a stump grinder or hire a tree removal specialist to complete this work, which may cost you several hundred dollars. 

If you choose to grind the tree stump yourself, begin the process by trimming the stump as much as possible with a chainsaw, then dig around the stump and remove all visible rocks. 

Next, use the stump grinder machine to wear the wood away and chop any roots still connected to the stump. Keep in mind that this process can take many hours depending on your tools, general fitness, and the stump’s size. After removing the stump, fill the hole in with dirt and top with mulch or topsoil.  

Exhausting the Tree’s Food Reserves

One way to physically kill the tree stump is by exhausting the tree’s food reserves. This method may take years, depending on how large the tree was and its current health. If you continue cutting the tree’s sprouts off, you can eventually exhaust the tree’s food reserves, resulting in the tree’s death. This method is effective, but you must be very consistent and immediately remove all spouts for this technique to work. 

Chemicals for Tree Stump Removal

Here are some of the best chemical stump killers for tree stump removal: 

  • Tree stump remover: Purchase a tree stump remover product for the best results. Many tree stump killer products have potassium nitrate, which naturally reduces the decaying process to as little as four to six weeks, rather than the years which a tree stump would generally need to decay. These products are also designed to be safer for the environment. You can easily find these products at your local garden supply store or on Amazon.
  • Insecticide-based tree stump removers: If your dead stump is from a freshly cut tree, try a tree stump remover that uses insecticides to kill and limit sucker regrowth. Apply this product immediately after a fresh cut so that it absorbs into the stem and roots quickly. 

Please make sure that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely when using any chemical product to remove large stumps.

Chemicals You Should Never Use for Tree Stump Removal

  • Bleach: Bleach presents many dangers to the environment surrounding the tree stump because it’s not meant to be a herbicide. A high concentration of bleach may kill the tree stump. However, nearby flowers, grass, trees, and shrubs may also be exposed to the high levels of chlorine found in bleach. Bleach can also raise the pH levels of the soil, which can result in your surrounding plants withering away. 
  • Diesel: Diesel may be a tempting option if you’re considering burning your tree stump. However, it’s not ideal for creating a long, consistent burn needed to kill the tree stump. 
  • Motor oil: Motor oil is not designed for killing tree stumps. Not only this, but the cost of motor oil is comparable to many stump killers, so you wouldn’t be saving money or time. 
  • Weed killer: Weed killer is not designed to kill tree stumps and should be used as intended. 

Final Thoughts

Tree stumps can be an eyesore in your otherwise beautiful yard. We hope our article on killing a tree stump gave you some great ideas on how you can go about killing the tree stump using a simple and easy technique. Don’t forget to consider what you may want to plant in place of the tree stump after it’s removed. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Tree Stump Removal

What Is the Fastest Way To Get Rid of a Tree Stump?

The fastest way to get rid of a tree stump will be a physical tree stump removal technique, such as burning, grinding, or digging. These methods can be accomplished within a day, especially if you rent professional equipment to get the job done quickly. Digging and grinding can be performed using specialty tools, ultimately resulting in the dead tree stump and its roots being removed entirely from the ground. On the other hand, burning the tree stump will kill the plant itself and allow you to remove its ashes. Please note that burning a tree stump is illegal in some areas due to fire codes, so always check your local laws before attempting to burn a tree stump. 

What Is the Cheapest Way To Get Rid of a Tree Stump?

The cheapest way to get rid of a tree stump is by forced darkness, otherwise known as starving the tree stump of sunlight. A tree stump needs sunlight to thrive, so covering it with an opaque, waterproof tarp or garbage bag will prevent the tree stump from getting sunlight. Without sunlight, the tree stump will die quickly. Other cheap ways to get rid of a tree stump include burning it or using boiling water to shock and kill the plant. 

What Is the Average Cost of Professional Tree Stump Removal?

The average cost of professional tree stump removal ranges from $200 to $500, depending on where you live, the size of your tree stump, the type of tree, and the method used. 

How Long Does It Take To Remove a Stump?

The time it takes to remove tree stumps depends mainly on the method you’re using. Grinding or digging the tree stump out may only take one day, depending on how large the stump is, the equipment used, and how extensive its root system is. Natural methods, like Epsom salt or forced darkness, are effective but take months to kill the tree stump off fully. Chemical tree stump removers can accelerate the process and usually take four to six weeks. Consider hiring a tree stump removal professional if you’re looking for the fastest results. 

Can a Tree Regrow From a Stump?

Yes, a tree can regrow from a stump, which is why you must act quickly to kill the tree stump if you don’t want the tree to grow back. Regrowth can happen because a tree stump can still receive nutrients from its many roots, resulting in a tree growing from the sprouts around the stump. 

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