If you’re removing trees from your backyard, your front yard or anywhere else where it’s dangerous or obstructive to have them, there’s a sense of satisfaction when you see the tree fall, as the view clears and you begin to plan the future with your now unobstructed outlook.
There’s the stump. There’s always the stump, because whether you fell your own or bring in your friendly neighborhood tree surgeon to cut the tree down, it’s by far the safest way of going about things.
You could technically do it wholesale, dig out and cut the roots, and just leave yourself with an acne scar in the ground to gill in, but that’s staggering inadvisable, because a) you’re unlikely to have the strength, and b) it’s much harder to control where the tree falls if you do it that way.
How do you get rid of the stump?
Well, there are actually a solid handful of ways of dealing with stubborn stumps. How you go about it is actually more a question of convenience and time than it is of relative difficulty.
Let’s take a whirlwind tour of some of the fastest and easiest methods to kill a tree stump – then you can choose the one that best suits your temperament and timescale and read the section on how to go about it in more detail.
Killing Tree Stumps – A Time-Efficient Guide
How long are you prepared to wait – and how much effort and money are you prepared to put in – to the business of getting rid of your stump? As a rough heads-up, the faster you want it done, the more effort and/or money it’s going to cost you to get the job done.
Want to know how to get rid of a stump in just 1 day? Easy – hire a professional stump grinder. The fact that something called a professional stump grinder exists should tell you that it’s fast and efficient at… well, at grinding stumps.
There’s quite the downside to going this minimal-patience route, though. One the one hand, it’s quite a hard, physical job, using a machine tool that may be entirely new to you and may lead to funny Youtube videos and potential frustration.
It’s also not especially cheap to hire a stump grinder, precisely because the people who make and hire out stump grinders know that if you’re desperate enough to be grinding a stump in a day, your need is probably greater than your financial caution.
Stump grinders are heavy, noisy, relatively unwieldy pieces of machinery. Before you jump at the opportunity of hiring one, maybe pause for a moment to run the video of “what could possibly go wrong” in your brain.
By all means, if you need that stump gone in 24 hours, hire away and get your grind on. If it’s not that urgent though, maybe slide a little down our temporal scale.
We dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig out a stump the whole day through…
Is what the seven dwarves might have sung if they were more into tree surgery than mining.
If you want a 2-day solution to that recalcitrant tree stump, and you’re in reasonably good physical shape, grab a shovel, brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings, it’s time to get digging like you’re tunnelling out of Shawshank.
Now, there will be potential issues with the “dig it out” solution. One will be the weather. If you’ve had 20 straight days of sunshine (We’re looking at you, California), your earth’s going to be baked harder than a buzzard’s heart.
On the other hand, if your backyard looks like a Second World War swamp, that’s not ideal either, because mud and pleasure are only synonymous in a handful of situations, and this isn’t one of them.
If your earth is too hard, you might try spraying it with a hose briefly to give your spade some purchase. If you have a backyard mud pit, this becomes less of a 2-day solution, and more of a wait-till-it’s-dried-out-a-bit-and-add-2-days solution.
You may also run into issues depending on the age of your decapitated tree. If it was old and hoary, the roots on that thing may well be thicker and longer than your spade can cope with.
We wouldn’t normally suggest bringing a chainsaw to a spade-digging party, but if you have one, it might be just as well to keep it on standby in case of any especially hardcore roots.
It’s worth considering though that extensive, thick root systems are why a lot of people content themselves with getting the stump down to ground level or as close to it as possible, and then leave the root system exactly where it is.
It’s a lot less hassle, and with the tree gone, the roots will eventually wither and die of their own accord.
If you have a long weekend at your disposal, you can afford to be a little more leisurely about the whole business, and consider burning the stump.
Yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Flamethrower, half an hour, job done, kick back for the next three days with a beer and a burger, right?
Not so fast there, Sparky. Burning is a very effective way of getting rid of a tree stump – it’s a very effective way of getting rid of a whole lot of things. But what it isn’t is as easy as people assume it would be.
The burning process itself? Forget half an hour, think 24-48 hours instead. But before you do that, you need to prep that sucker.
Think of it like the barbecue you could be having on a long weekend instead. You don’t just slap a steak on the grill, right? You tenderize it, you marinade it, you rub it and oil it so you can get a result that’s better all round.
The same applies to burning a tree stump. You’re going to need to spend some time cutting burning slots, or drilling holes in the stump so that it can accept the ‘marinade’ of the fuel or oil of your choice, so the oil gets into the ‘pores’ of the stump, into its fibers.
That way, the fire when you apply it will get right into the heartwood of the stump, rather than just charring the outside and leaving you with a blackened stump instead.
You’re going to need to spend at least a couple of days making these in-routes for your fuel or oil, and pouring it in and over the stump, so that when you finally set light to it, you have a stump that burns to the ground from within.
8 week-6 months
Some things in life are worth the time and the effort to do properly. If you’re growing a lawn, for instance, it will take you a lot of preparation and hard work to do it properly.
While there are faster ways to get rid of the annoying tree stumps in your life, if you want to take the slow and steady approach to the job, you’re looking at chemical warfare, and it can take anything from 2-6 months to achieve.
Commercially available products like RoundUp, more common or garden preparations like Epsom Salts, and even – though some people are sceptical – the likes of copper nails are potentially useful as stump-killers.
But as we say, for these, you have to have a degree of faith and a pinch of patience, because what you’re doing is essentially slow-poisoning the stump down to nothing. That’s going to take you a little while.
Chemistry And The Art Of Stump Killing
As we’ve said, using chemistry to kill a stump takes a while. But on the upside, it takes a while of not doing a whole heck of a lot.
We love not doing a whole heck of a lot and getting results – and we’re by no means the only ones – chemical stump killers are by far the most popular way of dealing with rogue tree stumps in the United States.
Want to give it a try? Here’s what you do.
First, Choose Your Chemical
There are lots of chemical stump-killers on the market – we’ll examine a few of them in a little while, or you can zip down and choose the one that suits you best right now.
Next, Apply Your Stump Killer – Liberally, Not Conservatively
Before you splash your chemical killer all around the place, do yourself and the chemistry a favor. Put on your goggles and protective gloves, and grab your chainsaw (we’re assuming you have one – you just cut down a tree, after all).
Cut as much of the stump away as you safely can. Go as close to ground level as you can without risking damaging the saw and/or your face if you happen to hit hard stone.
Now that you’ve played your part in the Stumpy Chainsaw massacre, take off the bark from the remainder of the stump – depending on how determined it is to cling on to life, you can either do this by hand, or use Laney Chainsaw one more time to strip that stump as naked as can be.
This isn’t just random tree torture – the bark contains a waterproofing agent that can slow down decomposition. No bark, faster decomposition. Cruel, merciless, effective.
Change up your tools, and grab yourself a drill with anything from a 1/2-1 inch bit. Drill yourself some vertical holes, roughly 6 inches deep and between 1-2 inches apart, across the whole top surface of the stump.
Heard of acupuncture? It’s like that – you’re providing channels for the stump-killer to sink down and do its job (just like you did with the fuel in the stump-burning).
It feels important to say this, because if we’ve learned one thing in recent years, it’s that people remove their safety gear too soon.
Keep your safety goggles and protective gloves on while you pour your chemical stump killer into all the holes, one by one. (We’re assuming you’ve followed the instructions on the bottle so the liquid you’re pouring is the stump-killer as it should be).
But, wait! What if you went for a granular killer, rather than a cocktail of death?
We’d suggest adding water to the drill holes, and individually dosing each hole with some granules. That will give the granules the ability to dissolve, and for the lethal solution to seep into the fibers of the stump, weakening them as it goes.
Check back on your holes of decay on a regular basis, and add more stump killer if you feel it needs it.
After a few weeks, you should have a spongy, soft, frankly freaky-feeling stump, ready for the pickaxe that will send it to oblivion.
It should go without saying, but read the label on your bottle of stump-death carefully, and if necessary, keep kids and pets away from the stump full of poison for the full duration of the rotting process.
Boosting Your Stump Rot
Rot is an interestingly individual thing, Hardwood stumps will take longer to rot than softwood ones, for instance. But you can speed the process up a little if you want.
If you aerate the soil around the stump, you’ll speed up the rotting process, because decomposition requires oxygen to work. Turning the soil over releases oxygen, which gives you more rapid rotting.
Also, it won’t surprise you to know that warmer, damper air will give you faster rot. You’re probably familiar with rot as the blight of wooden houses.
Expose as much of the surface area of the stump to the air as you can – another reason to strip off the bark. Once you have your drill holes, feel free to get creative with the scarification process, cutting lines, grooves, whatever you like into the surface of the naked wood.
It might seem pointless, but what it does is vastly increase the surface area in which rot can happen. Then, while you’re letting your chemical killer do its thing, water the stump and its surrounding soil once a week.
You should get quite a speed boost in your rotting this way. And remember, turn the soil over now and again to release more trapped oxygen to help with the rotting process.
The Best Tree Stump Killers Money Can Buy
So, you’ve decided you want to use commercial chemistry to remove your root. Good decision. But which are the best, most effective killers on the market?
It sometimes feels like you need to have a doctorate in chemistry to make sense of the active ingredients, the effects, the what is what-now of it all.
Relax. We are the stump-poisoner’s friend. We’ve laid out the best of the killers for you to choose from.
VPG Fertilome is an easy brush-on solution to stubborn stumps. It takes around five weeks of applications to really have a noticeable effect.
Contrary to our instructions about pouring the liquid into the holes you’ve drilled, this stump killer takes even more of the effort out of the process, by virtue of its brush-on application.
Needless to say, use a brush or bushes that allow you to get into all the cracks, holes and cut-marks you’ve made.
This is a product most ideal for those with mid-to-large gardens, and be aware, it will probably kill some of the surrounding grass too unless you’re very precise in the way you apply it.
But within weeks, whether you just have a tiny sliver of stump left or a fair few inches of larger diameter still showing, you should see it turn black and start to get spongy.
- It’s easy to apply with a paintbrush, rather than bothering with any pouring techniques
- It comes in a large, 32-ounce bottle, meaning you can treat a fair few stumps if you have them, without having to top up your supply
- It also acts as an effective weedkiller if you don’t have many stumps to kill
- You need to be patient, as it takes some time to dissolve
- This stump and brush remover is designed to kill stumps and woody plants like vines and weeds.
- For stump application use in its current form and brush on with the included brush applicator.
- For brush application mix 8 oz. of the concentrate in 1 gallon of water and spray on leaves.
- When applying the product to freshly cut stumps, apply within 45 minutes.
- See product label for a full list of woody plants and vines targeted by this product.
Spectracide is both easy to use and agreeable for those on lower stump-killing budgets.
Id poured into drill holes, it will go all the way to the root of the stump and start the process of rotting.
That’s not to say you won’t need patience. Spectracide is a granulated killer, and depending how large your stump is, it could take a good few weeks – or even months – before you begin to really see the effect of the treatment.
If you use a brush-on killer first, you’ll accelerate the process, giving the brush-on time to kick-start the process while the granulated Spectracide slowly seeps its way into the wood fibers.
Ideally suited to small-to-medium stumps, it’s easy to pour with precision, thanks to a nozzle that can be used to fill the drill holes.
The active ingredient here is potassium nitrate, which, unlike some killers, means it works initially on completely dry stumps.
To apply, simply drill your holes as usual, push the nozzle into the holes to get a quantity of granules out, then top up with hot water to aid dissolution.
- Unlike some stump-napalms, Spectracide doesn’t harm surrounding plants or grasses
- The 16-ounce bottle represents good value for money
- It takes longer to work than many on the market
- If your stumps are on the larger side, this is probably not the stump-killer for you
- Destroys stumps: accelerates the rate of decomposition, making the stump porous
- Use with brush killer: before using Spectracide stump remover granules, kill freshly cut stumps with a brush killer product
- Easy to pour: pour granules easily into holes drilled in stump
- Stump burning: once the stump has become porous, it may be easily removed or burned - see product label for details
- Money-back : results or your money back – see product label for details
Gordon’s Tree Stump Killer is very similar in many ways to the Spectracide, in that it’s easy to pour directly into the holes, and it benefits for a pre-treatment with a brush-on stump-killer.
Where it differs though is that the Gordon’s is a liquid, compared to the Spectracide granules, meaning you squirt it into the holes either neat if you want the hardcore stump-killing action to begin faster, or diluted if you want it to last longer and insinuate its way into the stump’s fibers over time.
The 32-ounce bottle of Gordon’s also means you have plenty left over for repeat applications.
- Unlike some more complicated killers, Gordon’s comes ready to kill immediately out of the bottle
- The convenient squirt bottle means you can apply it directly to the stump – no fuss, no mess
- It’s among the more potent and powerful concoctions on the market, so some people err on the side of caution and dilute it slightly. That’s not a necessary step though, and using it neat will speed up the rotting process
- If you have any particularly precious plants or grasses around the stump, you may want to steer clear of Gordons. The powerful action it uses against the stump will not be miraculously gentle on other plant life.
There’s always one in the pack. While most stump-killers use potassium nitrate, Bonide goes its own way, using sodium metabisulfite, an inorganic preservative usually used to fight microorganisms.
We love anything that makes the business of stump-killing easier and less messy, which is where Bonide scores strongly – It has a straightforward applicator cap which lets you just pout the granules of Bonide deep into the stump through the holes, while keeping your hands both dirt- and chemical-free.
Like most stump-killers on the market, it comes with its own preferences. You can use it on freshly-cut stumps to stop them from re-sprouting by all means, but its peak effectiveness is against mature trees – say a year or more – which have been cut down.
To use it, you simply drill your holes as normal, pour the granules into the holes, using the applicator cap, Fill up the holes with hot water to help the granules dissolve, and then leave it alone for six weeks.
Bonide Stump Out will also give you an effective treatment against vines and woody plants, should you need it. Again, the applicator comes into its own in these uses.
- The dissolved granules go all the way down to the root of the stump
- The handy applicator saves you having to overthink the process – just pour, water, and walk away.
- You need to apply the granules several times over the course of the six weeks to be sure of effective rotting
- CHEMICAL REMOVAL - Unlike most other stump removers, Bonide Stump-Out Granules are made from sodium metabisulfite instead of potassium nitrate.
- OLD STUMPS - This stump killer is only going to work on tree stumps that have seasoned for 12-18 months prior to treatment. Use Stump & Vine Killer right after a tree is cut down so it does not re-sprout. A while after, you may treat with Stump-Out.
- NO CHOPPING OR DIGGING - There is no need to worry about chopping or digging up your tree stumps because this chemical remover will help to accelerate the decomposition of tree stumps.
- NATURAL OR BURN - These granules can be used alone on your stumps to accelerate the natural decomposition of the tree. Otherwise, when kerosene or fuel oil is poured onto the stump while it is ignited, the stump can burn down to the roots.
- READY TO USE - Our product is conveniently ready to use when it arrives. Drill 4 holes into the stump and pour Stump Out into each hole. Fill these holes with water and let it sit for 4-6 weeks. Stump is ready for removal by fire or natural means.
So much for highly complex laboratory chemistry as the nemesis of the awkward stump.
But we mentioned earlier that Epsom salts were often used instead of any such chemistry. If you want to feel more reassured about the kinds of chemical you’re adding to the biosphere, Epsom salts could be a handy way to go when faced with a recalcitrant stump.
First, a couple of caveats. Epsom salts may not work on larger stumps, and whichever way you look at it, you may well be waiting longer for the result you’re hoping for. You’ll also definitely need repeat applications to get the same results as you would with the commercial chemical killers.
On the upside, you don’t need to re-invent the wheel with Epsom salts – the same application methods work with these as with the more hardcore chemistry.
- CORRECTS MAGNESIUM DEFICIENCY - If a plant is deficient in magnesium, its ability to carry on photosynthesis is decreased. Epsom Salts is a source of magnesium that is required by plants to produce chlorophyll in order to carry on photosynthesis.
- ENHANCES COLOR OF BLOSSOMS & LEAVES - This product enhances the color of blossoms and leaves, promotes new flowers and fruit, improves the root system and improves the length of the stem. It also helps plants absorb phosphorus.
- FAST-ACTING RESULTS - Magnesium is absorbed through the roots or foliage of the plants to help them produce chlorophyll. It is quite mobile in the plant and is readily translocated in the leaves from the older plant tissue to the new growth.
- ORGANIC GARDENING - Our product is OMRI listed and approved for organic gardening. OMRI, The Organic Materials Review Institute, determines whether or not a product qualifies as organic under the USDA's National Organic Program.
- EASY TO USE - Monterey Epsom Salts can be applied using three different methods: directly to the soil at the base of the shrub or tree, mixed with water and used as a soil drench beneath the plants, or mixed with water and used as a foliar spray.
Are Epsom Salts Organic?
Yes. Epsom salts is the common or garden name for a compound called magnesium sulfate. That’s made up of three natural ingredients, sulfur, oxygen, and magnesium.
Being made of those three ingredients and not being processed to alter the way they work at all means it qualifies an organic compound.
Weirdly enough, you can also use Epsom salts in a wide variety of ways – it’s surprisingly useful added to baths for a weirdly fizzy aid to sleep. Do not under any circumstances ingest it though.
It may look like table salt, it’s very bitter, which is seldom what you want. And if you do want a bitter note in your food, there are safer, more ‘natural’ and modifiable ways of getting it. You’re met lemons, right?
Epsom salts can kill tree roots and rot tree trunks. Be aware though that chemistry – even organic chemistry – has no conscience, so it’ll also do a number on any other plant roots with which it comes into contact. So be wary when you’re using it.
Using Epsom Salts
First, drill some holes into the uppermost face of the stump, a few inches apart from one another. This time, make them a firm 1-inch diameter, and drill down deeper.
8 inches into the stump should do the trick. Pour an Epsom salt mixture (as advised on the packet) deeply down into the holes, and, in a twist, pour the salts around the stump too.
Go liberal with the salts. A thick layer works better than thin – it actually stops the roots from sucking up water (and the nutrients dissolved in it). Pour some water over the thick layer of salt, and cover it with plastic, to stop the rain from washing off your salty poison.
Lather, rinse, repeat once a week until the stump turns brittle and dry. Once you feel it’s brittle enough, it should be able to be removed with an ax.
Burning Out A Stump
As we mentioned, burning out a tree stump is not the half-hour flamethrower job you might think it is. Think of the stump like a piece of meat.
Flash it with intense heat and what you get is outside char, with very little penetration of the heat to the inside fibers. You need to prepare your stump.
The Saw and Burn Method
This is exactly what it claims to be – you make deep cuts in the wood with a chainsaw, so the fuel can get in deeper and faster.
The Drill and Burn Method
Similar to the Saw And Burn, here you’re drilling vertical and horizontal holes, creating meeting places and effectively tunnels inside the stump. That not only gives you great fuel penetration, but great air ventilation when the fire starts too.
For an extra-effective touch, soak some strips of rag in something like white spirit, and push them into and through the drill holes.
Then, pour your flammable liquid into all the holes and onto the surface. Don’t ignite it then. You’re trying to get an effect like a flammable varnish – penetrating into the wood.
Do this repeatedly for a couple of days, whenever the wood seems dry.
Prep your surrounding area – if you get a Roman candle effect, you want to be sure it doesn’t set off an enormous wildfire. Likewise, make sure you use your safety goggles and gloves when you finally ignite your stump. Then burn, baby, burn!
Here, you prepare your stump in whichever way you favor. Put your barbecue grill close to the stump. Light up your coals.
When they’re good and hot, move the coals onto the stump. They will both burn and break up, carrying their hot embers down into the cracks or holes you’ve made. That will give you a surprisingly effective burn.
Burning – Safely And Effectively
- You want your stump to be dry and seasoned. Fresh, damp tree stumps will laugh at your attempt to burn them.
- Cut the stump down as low as you can, and strip its bark off it for a better, more thorough burn.
- Drill your holes good and deep – 8 inches is better than 6 for a burn. Drill from the top, the sides, and all the way down into the roots. Wherever the fire can’t penetrate, it’s not likely to burn.
- Cover up the stump between drilling sessions, otherwise moisture might get in and make it harder to burn your stump.
- Get creative with your chainsaw – cuts, grooves, whatever you feel like, they will all help the fire get further into the wood of the stump.
- Lacquer the inside of your drill holes with flammable liquid. Give them repeat coats, letting each coat dry and sink into the wood before you re-apply.
- If you want, cut the bottom out of a metal bin. That will contain the fire and also reflect heat back into the stump, rather than letting it dissipate.
- To improve the bite of the flames, you need oxygen flow. Anything from a leaf blower to a hair dryer to a fan can help create airflow and make the flame hotter.
- Once the stump has started burning properly, it should burn down to a slow burn (the drill holes and canal-ways you’ve made should see to that). That means you’ll get a much more thorough burn, and 24 hours later, you should have no stump, and quite a lot of ash.
Three Other Ways To Kill A Stump
One of the older methods of killing tree stumps, it borders on witchcraft – arcane knowledge – but it is surprisingly effective. Copper interferes with the tree’s metabolism and stops it growing.
For small and medium-sized trees, hammering copper nails into a tree stump will eventually kill it – in something similar to the way it would kill a human, come to that!
4-inch copper nails give you decent penetration into the stump. Use 12 or more, an inch or so apart, nailed into the circumference of the stump.
You need full copper nails for this to work, rather than just copper coating. It’s part of the almost magical chemistry at work.
Nailing A Stump To Death
Hammer in your nails, as described, an inch apart round the circumference.
Cut off any sprouts and roots. Why? Because without them, the tree is forced to draw its nutrients from the nails, rather than the soil.
Do nothing. A small stump should rot within a month. Bigger trunks may take up to 3 months or more, but you don’t have to keep reapplying the nails. Wait until the stump feels rotten, and then remove all the nails.
Grab your ax and get lopping. The remaining stump should give you little to no resistance.
The Bleach Method
Yes, you can kill a tree stump with household bleach, but the question has been fairly asked why you would want to, when the much easier option of commercial granules exists.
Applying bleach into the holes you drill is eventually effective, but it’s effective on lots of things in the local area too, like other grasses and plants.
If you want to do it though, you cut the tree down and apply the bleach immediately to the cut surface, while it’s wet. That allows the bleach to infect the ‘entry wound’ of the tree, seep eventually down to the roots, and kill the stump. It smacks of the dramatic and is less efficient than using the commercial granules, though.
If the bleach method doesn’t work, you’re going to need to cut the stump again, lower to the ground, and apply another coating of bleach to the wound. It depends on the freshness of the wound for its action.
Getting On With A Grinder
And so we end where we began, hiring a commercial grinder to take care of your tree stump. You have to be sure it’s worth it to you before you do this though, as they can cost between $100-$200 per day to hire from a tool hire store.
It’s also worth considering the size, weight and general ungainliness of a grinder – can you fit it easily in your car? Can you get it easily from the gar to the stump, etc?
There are a range of minor logistical elements that all need considering. If you can’t fit it in your car (which seems likely) you’re going to have to hire a truck to get it to you, or arrange for the tool hire company to drop it off and pick it up – for a consideration, of course.
What we’re saying here is plan ahead. That also extends to what you’re going to do when you get it home. Do you have the knowledge to use a commercial stump grinder?
Make sure you have all the necessary safety equipment – including ear defenders and steel toe-cap boots – before you start, and skip reading the instructions at your peril.
Grinding It Out
If you’re convinced it’s worth it, and you’ve read the instruction manual, and you’re wearing all the appropriate safety gear, and you find you can still move, make sure you clear out any rocks and debris from around the trunk.
Failure to do this will turn the grinder into a high-powered catapult, flinging rocks every which way when you turn it on – which is a great way of injuring yourself and possibly damaging your neighbor’s priceless terracotta Buddha from Nepal
When you’re ready, place the grinder a few inches above the stump, and turn it on.
Lower the grinder, moving it from side to side as it touches the stump. Like a woodshop sander, only much bigger, you’re aiming to make only small movements, and let the machine do the work. That’s what you’re paying for, after all.
Keep grinding until the whole perimeter of the stump is around 3 inches below the surface of the soil.
Fill in the hole and cover it with topsoil.
That’s How You Kill A Tree Stump
So, you now have options. The expensive, heavy, tank-like option of a stump grinder, the complex chemistry of commercial stump-killers, the organic but comparatively slow and high- maintenance option of Epsom salts – though that does come with the added bonus of effervescent, relaxing baths for a while.
The option of getting a little mystic with the use of copper nails, and the unlikely but possible option of bleaching the stump to death.
Whichever option you choose, always take the appropriate precautions. Always wear the safety gear – if you don’t, you’re endangering no one but yourself.
And if need be, use some patience – stump removal is often not a rapid process, but it will ultimately be a certain one, leading you to stump-freedom, and a better vista.