How To Kill A Tree Stump – Plus Best Stump Killers Reviewed

Watching a tree removal service or arborist take down a tree in your backyard can be a sad occasion. But there can also be a great sense of satisfaction as you think about reshaping your skyline or creating space for new landscaping. In my experience, though, that joy can soon turn to frustration when you realize you still need to remove the stump that’s firmly rooted into the earth.

You could throw more cash at it and recruit the help of another professional to extract the stump and roots. Or you can take the DIY route and get your own hands dirty. In this article, I’ll teach you how to kill a tree stump using 6 different at-home methods.

How To Kill A Tree Stump Fast

If your main goal is to get that stump out as fast as possible, you have several different options. However, there are pros and cons to each. Here’s a brief explanation of 6 effective strategies to help you narrow down which method is right for you.

Hire a stump grinder
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1. Hire A Stump Grinder [1+ day]

Hiring a commercial stump grinder is the fastest way to remove a tree stump. It also causes the least damage to your garden soil structure. The downside of this approach is the physical nature of the job itself and the cost of hiring such a large and potentially dangerous tool. Stump grinders are heavy, noisy, and require a certain level of know-how to operate safely.

Jump to How To Use A Stump Grinder

Dig tree stump by hand
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2. Dig The Trees Roots Out [2+ Days]

For smaller stumps, digging may be an option. It’s fast in the sense that you can get straight to it, and the job will be finished as soon as you run out of steam or remove the tree stump and roots. You’re in control of the time frame. The condition of the soil will play a role in the effectiveness of this tactic. Hard, dry, or stony soil can make digging really challenging. The spread of tree roots will also play a significant role. This is why many people opt to kill the stump and leave the roots in the ground.

How To Get Rid Of A Tree Stump With Charcoal
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3. Burn Stump Out [4+ Days]

Burning is a great method of killing a tree stump. The burning process will take around 24 to 48 hours, depending on the size of the stump. But you will also need to spend a few days preparing the surface by cutting burning slots or drilling out holes, and soaking the stump with fuel or oil to assist the burning process. Clearly, this method comes with a blanket warning about working with fire and its unpredictability.

Jump to How To Burn Out A Tree Stump

chemical stump rot
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4. Use a Stump Killer Product [2-6 months]

There are lots of chemical compounds readily available that make the process of killing tree stumps very easy. The downside is that it takes longer than the other processes. But it is much safer and require less labor. Chemical products such as RoundUp, organic compounds like Epsom salts, or alternative methods like copper nails are all options worth exploring.

Jump to Chemical Stump Killers

5. Use Epsom Salts [1-6 Months]

Epsom salt is an organic mineral compound that acts in a similar way to a chemical stump killer. You won’t get the speed or absolute effectiveness of a chemical compound. But, for those of you who prefer to go with a natural approach, this would be a good option to explore. It’s relatively simple and clean.

Jump To Killing Tree Roots With Epsom Salts

6. Use A Chemical Stump Killer

Using chemical tree stump killers is often the slowest method but also the least labor-intensive and safest way to get rid of a stump and its roots. So it stands to reason that it’s also the most popular DIY approach.

Applying Stump Removal Chemical

Step 1: Use a chainsaw or good-quality saw to remove as much of the stump as you can, cutting low to the ground. Be sure to wear protective gloves and goggles for this task. Remove the tree bark, as it contains a sort of waterproofing that can slow down decomposition.

Step 2: Drill 1/2 to 1-inch holes vertically into the remainder of the stump. Drill the holes approximately 1 to 2 inches apart, and drill as deep as possible around 6 inches. Aim to drill down below the level of the surrounding soil deep into the trunk.

Step 3: Still wearing your safety goggles and protective gloves, fill each drill hole with your chosen chemical stump killer. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the bottle before use.

Step 4: If your stump killer is granular, the manufacturer will most likely recommend adding water to the drill holes to allow the granules to dissolve and soak into the wood fibers of the stump.

Step 5: Check on the rotting progress regularly and add more stump killer if necessary. After a few weeks have passed, your stump should become spongy. At this stage, it is ready to be removed with a pickax or by digging it out.

Accelerating Stump Rot

The speed at which your tree stump will rot is dependent on a number of factors, some of which you won’t be able to influence. For example, a hardwood stump will take longer to rot than that of a softwood tree.

The type of soil you have and how compacted it is will affect the rate of decomposition, as this process needs oxygen. If you have well-aerated soil around your tree roots, this will assist in root and stump decay.

Air temperature and moisture will also play their part in creating an efficient rotting environment for wood. You will no doubt be familiar with damp wood rotting and softening. Well, similar rules apply to stump rot.

Finally and most importantly, the preparation of the stump is critical. Science clearly shows that larger surface areas of moist wood with good aeration are optimum conditions for rotting. So how can you create these conditions?

  1. Expose the maximum surface area possible. Cut the stump as low to the ground as possible. Remove the bark. Separate any shallow roots from the stump using an ax or shovel. Saw, slice, or hack the surface of the wood to create deep grooves to increase the stump’s surface area.
  2. Water the stump and surrounding soil once per week during the rotting cycle.
  3. If possible, loosen the soil around the tree roots to improve soil aeration.

What Is The Best Tree Stump Killer?

I’ve explained how to use chemical stump killers. But with so many products available on the market, which is the best product for you?

Comparing stump removal chemicals can be time-consuming. I’ve tried to make the task easier for you by selecting four high-quality, premium stump killers to trial and review.

1. Roundup Tree Stump And Root Killer

Best Tree Stump Killer

Round Up Tree Stump Killer


  • Penetrates deep into the stump’s roots 
  • Ready to use granules


  • Needs multiple applications to work
  • Rots seasoned stumps 12+ months old

Killing a tree with Roundup is extremely easy, even for first-timers. This non-selective herbicide kills the trunk’s roots through systemic action. You can also put this product to good use when killing other tough and persistent weeds around the garden, gravel areas, fences, and paths, including Japanese knotweed and ivy.

How to apply: Mix 1 cup of the liquid killer with 9 cups of water. The diluted concentrate is then ready to spray on the freshly cut stump. The mixture will quickly spread through the roots and prevent them from regeneration.

For optimal results, applying the product and cover the stump with a black plastic bag. The tree stump should begin dying within 2 to 4 weeks depending on its size. 

Note: After killing and removing the trunk and its roots, wait for at least 7 days before planting new grass or shrubs over the same area. 

2. Spectracide Stump Remover

Spectracide Stump Remover


  • Penetrates deep into the stump’s roots 
  • Ready to use granules


  • Needs multiple applications to work
  • Rots seasoned stumps 12+ months old

Here’s a budget-friendly stump killer that does exactly what it says on the bottle. The easy-to-pour Spectracide Stump Remover goes straight to the roots and accelerates the decomposition process. This chemical stump killer is in granular form and, depending on the size of your tree stump, it can take several weeks or months for the decomposition process to complete.

The easy-pour nozzle is a useful way of getting the formula straight down into the drill holes with very little fuss. It uses active ingredients like potassium nitrate to kill and rot leftover tree stumps.

Good to know: For freshly cut stumps, you should use a brush killer first before applying the granules. The 16-ounce product works well on small or medium stumps that are completely dry.

How to apply: After drilling the holes in your stump, you can then pour in the solution. Use hot water to break down the granules to make the dissolving process easier. 

3. Gordon’s Tree Stump Killer 32 Oz

How to kill a tree stump


  • Penetrates deep into the stump’s roots 
  • Ready to use granules


  • Needs multiple applications to work
  • Rots seasoned stumps 12+ months old

Gordon’s Tree Stump Killer is a ready-to-use product designed to rot stump all the way down into its roots whilst preventing any regrowth. Combine it with a brush killer and apply it inside drill holes. With 32 ounces in a bottle, you have more than enough for repeat applications or for killing several stumps.

The best part of this stump killer is that it comes in a handy squirt bottle. You can easily apply the liquid directly on the stump or drill holes through the outer layer to get the product deep into the tree core. This popular product is available from general hardware stores and you can get it online.

How to apply: Pour the formula into the stump. The product is highly concentrated so you can dilute it with water to make it last longer. 

4. Bonide Stump Out, Stump & Vine Killer

Bonide Stump Killer Out


  • Penetrates deep into the stump’s roots 
  • Ready to use granules


  • Needs multiple applications to work
  • Rots seasoned stumps 12+ months old

Unlike most other stump killers that are made of potassium nitrate, the Bonide Stump Out is made from sodium metabisulfite, which is an inorganic preservative that combats microorganisms.

It’s the clean and easy applicator cap that won my heart. Simply pour the granules deep into tree stumps and keep your hands clean.

It’s worth noting this product is designed to be used on seasoned tree stumps that have been rotting for at least 12 months. However, it’s fine to use on fresh-cut stumps to prevent re-sprouting. Then a second application can be made after 12 months to further break down the stump cellulose layers and make the wood more porous.

How to apply: Drill 4 holes into the stump and pour the mix into each hole. Fill the holes with water and leave them for 6 weeks.

What I love about Bonide Stump Out is that it has several uses, including killing vines and other woody plants. The precise applicator allows you to get the product onto the stump without much effort so it goes all the way to the root of the problem.

Killing Tree Roots With Epsom Salts

There will be many of you who prefer not to use synthetic chemical products on your landscape. Maybe you follow an organic approach and need to find more natural alternatives. Epsom salt is a good option in these circumstances. You can use the same application methods as you would with the chemical stump killers.

Note: The natural process of killing your tree trunk may take longer and repeat applications are necessary. Plus it may not work on large stumps.

What Is Epsom Salt And Is It Organic?

Also known as magnesium sulfate, this compound is made up of sulfur, oxygen, and magnesium. Epsom salt is naturally occurring but — since it is a mineral —is not technically organic.

Because it has a similar appearance to table salt, you can use it in baths or treat ailments such as insomnia. However, Epsom salt tastes bitter so you won’t want to add it to your food. 

Epsom salt can be successfully used to kill tree roots and rot tree trunks, but it can harm surrounding plant roots, so be extra vigilant when using it. 

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Epsom Salts

Removing Tree Stumps With Epsom Salt

Step 1: Start by drilling holes with a 1-inch diameter drill bit. Drill 8 inches deep into the trunk before pouring the Epsom salt mixture deep into the stump core and around the stump itself. Drill the holes a few inches apart. Make sure you use a power drill — we recommend a 10 Amp drill.

Step 2: Apply a thick layer of salt for the best results. This natural method prevents the roots from absorbing water and nutrients. Pour some water over the salt to dissolve it so it soaks into the stump. Cover the stump with plastic to prevent rain from washing off the salt.

Step 3: Reapply salt once a week for as long as it takes for the trunk to become brittle and dry. If the color of the trunk is still light, reapply the mixture for a further week or so. 

Step 4: When the trunk is brittle enough, remove it from the ground with an ax or shovel, or similar tool. This is a slow technique but will work.

Possibly The Easiest Way To Remove A Tree Stump! Using Epsom Salt!! Part 1

How To Burn Out A Stump

Tree stumps don’t burn as easily as you might think! You have to prepare them before attempting to set them alight. There are several different methods of burning a stump, so before you get your matches out, decide on your method:

Saw and Burn

The saw and burn method involves cutting a grid on the top of the tree stump with a chainsaw or pole saw. Cut down deep to create a grid of 2×2-inch wooden uprights.

This provides a great way of getting the fire to penetrate deep down into the wood for very fast and effective results.

burn out a tree stump

Drill and Burn

The drill and burn technique is meant to achieve the same effect as above. The main difference is that you’ll need to drill down vertically and across horizontally with a 1-inch drill bit. Your aim is to create drill holes that intersect where the vertical and horizontal drill holes meet.

This allows for excellent airflow to fuel the fire, and also improves your options in terms of getting the fire started. You can use choose one of these two methods, both are effective:

  1. Soak strips of rag or cloth in a flammable liquid such as BBQ lighter, white spirit, or similar, and push the cloth through the drill holes, deep into the tree trunk.
  2. Pour flammable liquid onto the dry tree stump allowing it to soak in. Repeat this process for a few days, building up a good level of flammability within the wood. Just like preparing coal for a BBQ, let it soak in for a good, steady burn. Remember to cover the stump to protect it from rainwater or any other form of moisture whilst you go through the soaking process.


Safety is paramount. If you use flammable liquid, under no circumstances try to reapply the liquid once the fire has been lit. Even if you think the stump is not fully ignited, leave it for 24 hours to cool before you attempt to start again.

Consider the surrounding area. Fire is difficult to control so be aware of potential brush fire risks. Ideally, only perform burning techniques in open areas after rainfall.

How To Get Rid Of A Tree Stump With Charcoal

  1. Prepare your stump using the drilling technique or sawing technique described above. This will give you a much faster burn when using charcoal.
  2. Place your BBQ close to the area and light up some coals as if you were preparing to cook. When the coals are ready and glowing hot, carefully move them onto the tree stump surface. The coals will burn and break up, allowing them to fall into the grooves or drill holes that you have prepared in your stump.
  3. Leave the coals to smolder and work their way through the stump until you are left with a pile of burnt wood and ash.

Tips For A Safe And Successful Burn

  • Make sure the tree stump is seasoned and dry. You won’t be able to burn a fresh stump. It’s best to leave it for 12 months.
  • Cut off any excess stump to get the horizontal stump surface lower to the ground, leaving around 4 to 8 inches of the stump protruding.
  • Drill deep holes into the stump around 8 inches deep, with a 1-inch drill bit. Drill from the top, side, and down into the roots. The aim is to create a hollow area where air and flames can penetrate and envelope the stump
  • Cover the stump between drilling sessions to prevent damp ingress from rainwater.
  • You can cut into the stump with a chain saw to fray the edges and penetrate the wood to create tinder-like surfaces.
  • Fill the holes with flammable liquid. Ideally, let it soak into the dry tree stump. Or you can use a cloth soaked in flammable liquid and run it through the drill holes to act as a wick.
  • If possible, surround the stump with a bottom-less metal bin to help contain the fire.
  • If you want strong flames, you’ll need oxygen to speed up the burning process. Use a leaf blower or a reverse vacuum cleaner to do the trick. It won’t take long for the fire to blaze but be aware of the risk of floating embers landing nearby.
  • Once the stump is alight, it should burn down to a very slow burn from the inner cavity holes you have created and effectively burn from the inside out. This process will take around 24 hours of slow burning.
How to Remove Stumps Three Different Ways

Will Copper Nails Kill A Tree Stump?

Copper is a metal that interferes with the tree’s growth metabolism so, yes, it will kill a tree over time. Using the copper nail method has proven to be quite effective when it comes to killing small and medium-sized tree trunks, whilst keeping serious chemicals out of your yard.

What you’ll need is, well… just copper nails. I usually pick up 4 inch long nails for deep penetration into the tree trunk.

I would suggest picking up about 12 nails for a stump up to 6 inches in diameter, or one nail per inch or so as you go around the circumference of the stump.

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Copper Nails

Make sure the nails are 100% copper not just copper-coated. Otherwise, the coating will soon wear off.

Using Copper Nails To Kill Tree Stump

Step 1: Hammer the copper nails to the base of the trunk. Go as low as you can by placing the nails at a downward angle as close to the roots as possible. Continue hammering the copper nails at 1- or 1.5-inch intervals around the circumference of the stump. 

With small trees, cut the stump as low to the ground as you can, then nail downwards from the top of the cut stump.

Copper nails in tree stump

Step 2: After you’ve completed this process, cut off any visible sprouts and roots.

Step 3: Leave the copper nails in the trunk for as long as possible. A small tree of around 3 inches in diameter will rot within a month. For medium-sized trunks, it may take up to 3 months or more. You might see the stump dying within a matter of weeks but leave them in place until the stump feels rotten.

Step 4: Once the stump is dead, you can begin the removal process. Make sure all the nails are removed first. For the safest and quickest nail removal solution, use a nail puller or spike. 

Killing A Tree With Bleach

I have been asked about the effectiveness of bleach a number of times recently. In short, killing a tree with bleach is possible but you need to consider a few things.

The application of bleach is a little more awkward than using chemical tree killer granules, as it’s a liquid. That’s not to mention the run-off effect that bleach may have on surrounding vegetation or wildlife. It’s just a crude way of handling a tree stump. But it will work on smaller trees.

The primary difference with the bleach method is in the timing of the application. You cut the small or medium tree down and apply the bleach immediately to the wet trunk surface, right across the fresh cut. This will allow the bleach to flow into the tree trunk and throughout the root system, ultimately killing it.

You may find the bleach application has not been successful. In this situation, cut the tree trunk lower to the ground and reapply the bleach in the same way. Then, be patient, leave it for at least a few weeks, and look for signs of a dying tree stump.

Using bleach won’t give you the cellular changes that you get from chemical stump killers. So it is doubtful the tree will rot and become brittle as fast as a purpose-made stump killer like RoundUp.

Using A Stump Grinder

The quickest way to remove a stump is to rent a tree stump grinder. They are readily available at tool hire stores for around $100-$200 USD per day, or in the UK prices are a little bit higher at £120 GBP per day. Then you need to consider if you can collect the stump grinder or need to pay for delivery. You will not fit a tool of this size in your car. You will need a truck or van to transport it.

Plan ahead and make sure you can move the stump grinder from the delivery point to where the tree stump is located.

You don’t want to push this lump of a machine across your front path to find you cannot fit it through your garden gate to where the tree stump is located. Your neighbors will have a good laugh about it …but I’m not sure you will find it all that funny.


Safety is paramount when handling a heavy-duty tool like a stump grinder, so you will need ear defenders, steel toe-cap boots, and goggles, and be sure to take the operational instructions seriously. All power tools come with a safety manual. Don’t skip reading it as mistakes will be costly or, worse still, dangerous.

Step-By-Step Stump Grinder Instructions

Step 1: Dig out and clear rocks and debris away from the trunk using a shovel to avoid them being propelled into the air, through the motion of the grinder.

Step 2: Position the grinder a few inches above the trunk and turn on the machine.

Step 3: Lower the grinder and move it from side to side, gradually lowering it across the trunk — similar to using a router tool take small movements — and let the machine do the work.

Step 4: Grind up the trunk using the wheel of the grinder. Repeat until the entire perimeter is around 3 inches below the ground.  

Step 5: Backfill the hole and treat it as required with topsoil or other layers of organic material.

Final Thoughts On Tree Stump Removal

If you cannot find a creative use for the tree stump in your yard, you at least should be well-versed on how to kill it and get it out of the ground. Please remember: Whether you’re using chemical stump killers, burning, or operating heavy machinery like a stump grinder, safety must come first.

Follow my guidance by taking all of the recommended precautions and you can get the job done, and turn your garden or backyard into that beautiful landscape you have been dreaming of!

If you are in any doubt, seek professional help from your local arborist to get the job done safely and efficiently.

Frequently Asked Questions

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