As your tree surgeon successfully brings down a tree in your backyard there’s a great sense of satisfaction as you reshape your skyline or create space for landscaping. That joy can soon turn to frustration as you try to figure out how to remove that stubborn tree stump that’s firmly rooted into the earth.
You can either throw more cash at it and recruit the help of a tree surgeon to extract the stump and roots, or you can take the DIY route and follow our actionable advice on how to kill a tree stump and remove it for good. Read on to find out which of our 6 easy to follow methods will suit you best and solve your tree stump problem.
How To Kill A Tree Stump Fast
If your main objective is to get that tree stump out as fast as possible then you have several different options, but each has a trade-off. Let’s skim over each process to give you some idea of the pros and cons of each approach.
This will help you decide what may work for you. Then you can shoot down this article to the section that provides actional advice or video demonstration on how to carry out that task effectively. So ranked in order of speed:
1. Hire A Stump Grinder [1+ day]
Hiring a professional 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 competency to operate them safely.
Jump to How To Use A Stump Grinder
2. Dig The Trees Roots Out [2+ Days]
For smaller tree 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 timeframe. 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 in the practicalities of digging out. This is why most people opt for killing the stump and leaving the roots in the ground.
3. Burn Stump Out [4+ Days]
Burning is a great method of killing a tree stump. The burning process will take around 24-48 hours depending on the size of the stump. But you will also need to spend a few days preparing the tree stump 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 hazard warning when working with fire and its unpredictability.
Jump to How To Burn Out A Tree Stump
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 required less hard work. 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 Sales are an organic mineral compound that performs in a similar way to a chemical stump killer. Albeit you won’t get the speed of 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.
Use A Chemical Tree 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 your stump, and its roots. So it stands to reason that it is also the most popular DIY approach. So Let’s start here.
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 1/2-1 inch holes vertically into the remainder of the stump. Drill the holes approximately 1-2 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 tree will take longer to for the stump to rot than a softwood tree. But you can take some proactive extra steps to accelerate stump rot.
The type of soil you have and how compact 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 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. The 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?
- 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 woods surface area
- Water the stump and surrounding soil once per week during the rotting cycle
- If possible loosen the soil around the tree roots to improve soil aeration
What Is The Best Tree Stump Killer
So I’ve explained how to use chemical stump killers, but with so many products available out on the market, which is the best product for you?
Comparing stump removal chemicals can be time-consuming as you’ll need to sift through dozens of options. So I’ve tried to make the task easier for you by selecting 4 high-quality, premium-brand stump killers to suit all budgets each with pros and cons listed. I’ve tested each of these over many years of trial and error and all of them will do the job effectively. So let’s take a look…
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 effect in killing other tough and persistent weeds around the garden, gravel areas, fences, and paths, including Japanese Knotweed and Ivy. Both of which can otherwise be very difficult to kill. Check the latest prices on Amazon.com.
How to apply: mix one 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, follow our guidance on how to Apply Stump Removal Chemical, before applying the product and covering it 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.
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 root and accelerates the decomposition process. This chemical stump killer is in granule 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. With active ingredients being potassium nitrate it will work to rot your tree stump and kill it in the process. Find Spectracide online here.
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.
- Not harmful to the surrounding plants
- Best all-round value for money stump remover
- Not as effective on larger trunks
- The decomposition process takes slightly longer
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 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 from Amazon.com.
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.
- Ready to use
- Can be applied directly on the stump using the convenient squirt bottle
- Very potent
- May kill surrounding grass or plants
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 to combat microorganisms.
It’s the clean and easy applicator cap that wins its place on our shortlist. Simply pour the granules deep into tree stumps and keep your hands clean. Check the latest price here.
It’s worth noting this product is designed to be used on old seasoned tree stumps of 12 month+ for rotting. It is fine to use on fresh-cut stumps to prevent re-sprouting. Then a second application can be made after 12 months to rot the stump down by breaking down the stump cellulose layers and making the wood porous.
How to apply: drill 4 holes into the tree stump and pour the mix into each hole. Fill the holes with water and leave it 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 as it goes all the way to the root of the problem.
- Penetrates deep into the stump’s roots
- Ready to use granules
- Needs multiple applications to work
- Rots seasoned stumps 12+ months old
Killing Tree Roots With Epsom Salts
There will be many of you who prefer to now 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 but instead use a natural product.
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. Because it is ‘of the earth’ in terms of natural minerals it is classed as 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.
how to remove a tree stump 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 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 it will work.
How To Burn Out A Stump
Tree stumps don’t burn as easily as you think so you’ll have to prepare them before attempting to set them alight. There are several different methods of burning the 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 2x2 inch wooden uprights.
This provides a great way of getting the fire to penetrate deep down into the tree stump for a very fast and effective but.
The burning process we recommend is basically the same as for all of these approaches.
Drill and Burn
The drill and burn technique is trying to achieve the same effect as we used for saw and burn. The main difference being you are drilling 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, and therefore connect.
This allows for excellent airflow to fuel the fire, and also improve your options in terms of getting the fire started. You can use choose one of these two methods, both are effective:
- 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.
- 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 alight, leave it 24 hours to cool, before you attempt to start again.
Consider the surrounding area. Fire is difficult to control so be aware of potential bush fire risk. Ideally only perform burning techniques in open areas, after rainfall.
how to get rid of a tree stump with charcoal
Prepare your tree stump using either the drilling technique or sawing technique describes in the previous methods. This will give you a must faster burn when using charcoal.
Place your BBQ close to your tree stump and light up some coals just like 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 breakup, allowing them to fall into the grooves or drill holes that you have prepared in your stump.
Leave the coals to smolder and work their way through the stump until you are left with a pile of burnt wood and ash.
General 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 damp tree 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 4-8 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 reversed 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.
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. So let’s touch on how to go about using them.
What you’ll need is…well just copper nails. I usually pick these up in 4″ long nails so it provides deep penetration into the tree trunk. I would suggest picking up about 12 nails for a stump up to 6″ in diameter. 1 nail per inch or so, as you go around the circumference of the stump.
Make sure the nails are full 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 in 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.
Step 2: After you’ve completed this process, cut off any visible sprouts and roots. This method tricks the tree to draw its nutrients from the copper nails instead of the soil.
Step 3: Leave the copper nails in the trunk for as long as possible. A small tree of around 3 inches in diameters will rot within a month. For medium-sized trunks, it may take up to 3 months or more. But you will see the stump dying within a matter of weeks, but leave them in place until the stump feel 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. Plus the run-off effect that bleach may have on surrounding vegetation or wildlife. It 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 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.
How To Use A Stump Grinder
The quickest way to remove the 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 it will need a truck or van to transport it.
Plan ahead and make sure you can move the stump grinder from the delivery point curbside, to where the tree stump 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, 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.
Using a Stump Grinder
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 and repeat until the entire perimeter is around 3 inches below the ground.
Step 5: Backfill the hole and treat is as required with top soil or other top layer of organic material.
Round Up How to Kill A Tree Stump
By now you should be well versed on how to kill and tree stump 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 our 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 tree surgeon or arborist, to get the job done safely.
Frequently Asked Questions
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