Killing Tree Roots With Bleach – Is It Safe?

Trees are a large part of many landscapes. Naturally, trees sometimes die or need to be cut down due to disease or pest infestation, or perhaps they are simply casting an unwanted shadow. Whatever the reason for cutting down a tree, one of the remaining problems is the stump that gets left behind and its determination to regrow.

Some people grind the stump away. However, others may want to use methods that are less labor intensive. Killing tree roots with bleach is a potential solution for getting rid of the stump and its root system. But is it effective or even safe? I’ll tell you everything you need to know about this DIY herbicide below. 

Killing Tree Roots With Bleach

Yes, it sounds like an unlikely solution. I’ve only heard about it recently. It seems strange that a chemical like bleach will get rid of a tree stump and its roots.

The idea is that the bleach blanches and dries out the wood. Essentially, the stump and its roots are no longer able to use and retain moisture from rainwater or irrigation systems. 

When plants are deprived of moisture, they eventually die off. That being said, experts disagree on whether you should use bleach to get rid of tree roots and stumps. Some believe bleach is safe to use and is effective when applied in specific ways. Even in an ideal case, however, it’s a process that takes time and might require more than one application. 

Other experts state that there is a lack of evidence that bleach kills leftover tree roots and stumps. That’s because it’s not considered inherently harmful to a tree’s system.

Mature trees, in particular, are less likely to respond to chemicals like bleach, primarily due to their size, which means using bleach as an effective treatment is challenging.

That doesn’t mean that bleach won’t have some damaging effects. However, you’re more likely to damage surrounding vegetation that efficiently kill off the unwanted tree stump.

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Will Bleach Effectively Kill a Tree?

Bleach is more likely to damage young trees or those that were recently planted. That’s because younger trees have not established extensive root systems. Bleach is unlikely to effectively kill a mature tree.

What you’ll probably see are leaves that turn yellow, brown, or black and fall to the ground. You might also notice some branches or twigs that start to lose their normal coloring. But if the tree is established or mature, bleach by itself is not going to kill the entire root system. With time and proper care, the tree will bounce back in later growing seasons. 

It is much more effective to dig the stump and the root systems out after cutting a tree down. Grinding the stump down will also get rid of the underlying root system and any future potential growth. If you want a chemical solution, high concentrations of weed killer that contain glyphosate can effectively kill a tree and its roots. 

This is why you’ll often see warnings on these products, including RoundUp, about use around trees. While some formulas are selective weed killers, non-selective mixes can eventually kill a tree. If you don’t want to kill or harm a tree and surrounding foliage, avoid spraying non-selective weed killers near the root system.

How Does Bleach Affect Trees?

Bleach has the most impact on areas of trees it comes in contact with. If you spray bleach or chemicals containing bleach on a tree’s leaves, they will die. Bleach dries out the leaves and causes them to turn brown. Because the leaves can no longer use moisture, they will start to fall off. 

While the leaves won’t grow back that season, they will return next spring. You can also prevent some of the damage by spraying the leaves with water after they come into contact with bleach. This will dilute the effects and possibly save some of the leaves. You have to do it as soon as possible though. 

Will Bleach Kill a Tree Stump?

It is technically possible to kill a small tree with bleach. However, it’s not recommended. That’s because it’s not considered a systemic killer where trees are concerned.

So, while you’ll often see and read about some people painting tree stumps with bleach, it probably won’t work. At most, it will blanch out the color of the wood.

Is It Safe To Use Bleach To Kill Trees?

If there is nothing else near the tree, you may not see any further damage to nearby foliage and plants. However, you will probably run into difficulties planting other foliage in the area to replace any cut-down trees.

Bleach can alter the pH of the surrounding soil. Plus, the bleach from the soil and stump can come into contact with nearby grass.

Effects of Bleach on Soil

Bleach can alter the PH of the soil and kill off microorganisms. This means you’ll notice grass and any other living plants slowly dying off.

You’ll also have a hard time getting anything to grow successfully in soil that doesn’t have a good pH balance. You may need to water or flush out bleach from the soil or restore its pH before you can grow anything.

Effects of Bleach on People

According to the National Capital Poison Center, bleach is toxic to humans. In mild cases, it can cause skin irritation and a rash. However, exposure to bleach can irritate the lungs and eyes. You could experience migraine headaches, nausea, vomiting, stomach problems, and respiratory issues.

Effects of Bleach On Surrounding Plants and Organisms

As I previously mentioned, bleach can kill off surrounding plants and microorganisms. This includes bunnies, birds, and worms. Dogs and cats that come into contact with bleach in the soil or on grass can also experience some of the same symptoms humans do.

Best Ways To Kill Tree Roots or Stump

Instead of using bleach, there are more effective ways to kill tree stumps and roots. Here are some of the best ways. 

Burning Tree Stumps

When tree stumps are already dried out, burning them can help remove them. Keep in mind this method does not always kill all of the roots underneath. You’ll also want to check with your local fire department and HOA if your property is governed by one. It’s important to follow any local rules or regulations in place. 

Burning a tree stump involves building a fire on the exposed part of the stump. Be sure to keep other objects clear of the stump and have a garden hose or water source nearby in case. 

Grinding Tree Stumps

A tree stump grinder is a machine that breaks up the stump. After the fact, what’s left of the tree stump is just wood shavings. This method removes the stump and cuts off the root system. You can rent a machine or hire a professional. Hiring someone else is recommended for safety reasons unless you have previous experience.

Pulling Out a Tree Stump

This method is effective because you’re digging out the stump and root system. It doesn’t take as much expertise as a stump grinder. However, you’ll want to be mindful of underground utility lines and in-ground sprinkler systems.

Final Thoughts On Treating Tree Roots With Bleach

Using bleach in hopes of killing tree roots and stumps is not the best decision. Bleach can cause harm to the soil, nearby plants, you, and any animals that frequent the landscape. 

It’s better to use more conventional techniques to get rid of tree roots and stumps. These include using stump grinders and digging out the stump and its roots. You can also burn the stump as long as you take precautions.   

FAQs Killing Tree Roots