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How To Kill a Tree Stump (2021 Guide)

From home remedies to professional solutions, here’s everything you need to know about getting rid of a tree stump in your yard.

A large yellow machine removing a tree stump in a green yard. iStock

Cutting down trees in your yard is a great way to improve the natural lighting for other plants and make way for new trees to grow. If you’ve removed a tree in your yard, you know how pesky its leftover stump can be. While you could leave it alone, it could start to grow, sprouting annoying shoots from its roots, or it may take years to naturally rot and decompose. Try the following techniques to kill the tree stump and remove it from your yard.

Home Remedies for Tree Stump Removal

Here are a few ways you can get rid of a tree stump before getting your hands dirty with physical removal.

Epsom Salt

This is a common DIY method for killing tree trunks, as it accelerates the decomposition process to 6–12 months, as opposed to three to seven years for natural rotting. Epsom salt contains magnesium and sulfur, which are beneficial to plants but deadly in large quantities. Overdosing the stump with Epsom salt pulls the moisture out of it, killing it and accelerating the decaying process.

Here’s how to use Epsom salt to kill a tree stump:

  1. Drill deep holes in the stump about an inch wide with a power drill and a wide drill bit.
  2. Sprinkle the stump with water after covering the top of the stump with Epsom salt.
  3. Cover the stump with a tarp to keep the rain from washing away the substance.
  4. Repeat this process every few weeks to ensure its success.

If this process is successful, the stump will die within two to three months and be close to full decay after a year. This is a great solution for homeowners who want a slower, natural approach to killing their tree stump.

Rock Salt

Similar to Epsom salt, rock salt can help kill and decay a stump with minimal effort. Here’s how to kill a tree stump with rock salt:

  1. Drill holes into the stump.
  2. Pack the holes with rock salt.
  3. After all of the holes are packed and the stump is covered in salt, pour soil and mulch over the stump.
  4. Then, pour water over the mulch—this will dissolve the salt, help the roots absorb the solution, and pack the soil.

Keep watering the stump every few days for one to two months to keep the stump moist with the saltwater solution, promoting absorption and the growth of fungi that can accelerate the stump’s decomposition. You can also add a potassium nitrate fertilizer to further support the growing fungi.

Plastic Bag or Tarp

Perhaps the easiest method to kill a tree stump is forcing darkness on it. Without sunlight, the tree stump will die, accelerating the decomposition process. Rotting should start to take place in two to three months.

Here’s how to kill a tree stump with a plastic bag or tarp:

  1. Similar to other methods, cut the stump as close to the roots as possible with a chainsaw, hatchet, or handsaw.
  2. Cover the stump with a black trash bag.
  3. Weigh the bag down with heavy rocks or bricks. For a smaller stump, use a dark-colored bucket or container to cover the stump.

This technique requires little to no effort, but it can be slower compared with the physical removal methods.

Boiling Water

You don’t need to purchase any substance or solution to try this remedy—all you need is hot water.

  1. Expose as much of the stump’s root structure as possible.
  2. Drill holes into the roots and on top of the stump—this will help the scalding water reach as much of the root system as possible and kill the roots with heat.
  3. Once all the roots are exposed, pour boiling water over them. The heat from the water will shock the root system, severely damaging it and killing it.

Once the stump and roots are dead, the natural decomposition process can begin.

Techniques To Physically Remove a Tree Stump

If you have the time and resources to use physical methods to kill and remove your tree stump, consider the following techniques. Compared to home remedies, they are much quicker but take a bit more effort, tools, and money to perform.

Use Fire To Kill a Tree Stump

Use some kindling or kerosene to burn the stump so that it doesn’t protrude from the ground. This method will kill the tree, but it won’t completely get rid of the tree roots and stump. Keep in mind that this may not be an option if you live in an area with a dry climate that’s prone to wildfires. Check with your local fire department to see if burning a tree stump falls in line with the local fire code.

Once you have approval to burn your tree stump, there are a few ways you can move forward. You can drill holes into the trunk, pour kerosene into each hole, light scrap wood on the surface of the stump, and carefully monitor the wood as it burns. This method is slower, but it burns the wood from deeper within the stump.

You can also cut criss-cross lines in the wood that are about five to six inches deep with a chainsaw, then simply light some kindling on top and monitor the stump until it’s burned down below ground level.

Dig the Tree Stump Out of the Ground

Digging out a tree stump is one way to remove it from your yard, but it can require time-consuming work that can be potentially destructive to your yard or garden. This method allows you to remove as many tree roots as possible and ensure that the stump doesn’t continue to grow. To save time and effort, consider hiring a professional with digging equipment to handle the job.

Here’s how to dig a tree stump out of the ground:

  1. Dig around the stump, exposing as many roots as possible.
  2. Use a chainsaw, hatchet, or handsaw to cut the larger roots. As you continue digging, you may find smaller roots that can be cut with clippers or loppers.
  3. Once you’ve cut all of the roots around the stump, lift and remove the stump from the ground.
  4. Fill the hole with dirt and cover it with topsoil or mulch.

Note: This process can take multiple hours of labor, depending on the size of the tree stump and the root structure.

Grinding the Tree Stump

This is the quickest method for killing and removing tree stumps. It involves hiring a tree removal specialist or renting a stump grinder machine to break apart the wood in the trunk and tree roots. Typical prices for this job are around $100–$400. Stump grinder machine rental costs typically fall between $80 and $150 for a four-hour window.

To grind a tree stump, start by trimming the stump with a chainsaw, digging around it and removing any rocks. Then, use the machine’s cutter blade to chip away at the wood and cut any roots that are connected to the stump. This process can take anywhere from two to six hours depending on the size of the stump. Once you’re finished, spread dirt in and over the hole, adding topsoil or mulch if desired.

What To Avoid When Killing Tree Stumps

Here are a few factors to consider when removing or killing tree stumps to ensure safety and effectiveness:

  • Bleach—Bleach can be used to kill a stump when poured over it in high quantities, but we recommend avoiding this method since it can be detrimental to the surrounding plants. It would be much healthier for the environment of your yard to use a more natural method like Epsom salt, as this can be beneficial to plants and soil.
  • Diesel fuel—Avoid using diesel fuel or gasoline to burn tree trunks, since these solutions don’t offer a slow, effective burn needed to properly break down the wood. Diesel fuel and gasoline can also be toxic for the surrounding plants in your yard. Instead, we suggest using minimal amounts of kerosene and kindling wood for your stump fires.
  • Potential dangers—Even if your city allows for burning a stump, monitor and maintain the fire until it’s finished burning to keep it from spreading beyond the controlled area. You should also take safety precautions when using tree removal equipment, such as a chainsaw or stump grinder, and wear the proper protective gear.
  • Proximity to other plants—If your stump is located near plants that you wish to protect, be careful when adding chemicals to the stump and keep them off any surrounding plants. For example, even though the magnesium sulfate in Epsom salt can be good for plants, too much of it can dry them out.

The Bottom Line

If you’re trying to remove a tree stump from your yard, try one of the above methods. While we recommend the DIY techniques if you’re not in a hurry, renting a machine or hiring a professional to help grind the stump is the fastest solution.

If you’re looking to plant more trees in your yard, we recommend checking out Fast Growing Trees as a one-stop-shop for your plant needs. You can order from a wide range of plants online and get them delivered directly to your doorstep.

Frequently Asked Questions About Killing Tree Stumps

How long does it take for tree stumps to naturally decompose?

It takes about three to seven years for tree stumps to naturally decay on their own. However, the actual time will depend on your location, environment, climate, and type of tree. Generally, the lower the stump is cut, the quicker it will rot.

What are the best tree stump remover products?

Popular herbicide brands, including Spectracide, Stump Stop, and Bonide, make tree stump killer solutions to use on your pesky stump. You can also use natural solutions, such as Epsom salt, saltpeter, and rock salt, to remove your tree stump.

Can I remove a stump without professional help?

If you’re considering removing a stump on your own, you can rent a stump grinder to break up the wood and cut off the roots. You can also start a controlled fire to slowly burn the stump down. However, hiring a professional can save you time and effort, since they’ll have the proper equipment and expertise needed to take care of your stump.

What is the best way to kill a tree stump?

The best way to kill a tree stump depends on how much time you’re willing to wait. If you need to remove the stump as soon as possible, hiring a professional to dig it out of the ground may be the best option. If you don’t mind waiting for a few months to a year for the stump to completely decompose, we recommend using Epsom salt to accelerate the natural rotting process.

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