How to Kill a Tree Stump

How to Kill a Tree Stump – Root and Stump Removal Methods

Trees, like any other living thing, have evolved over millions of years to protect themselves and anything in their immediate environment that is essential for their survival. Their root systems are strong and vast, granting them a ridiculous amount of leverage and stability, much more than almost any other type of plant. This is why they have been able to grow for hundreds or even thousands of years, surviving all sorts of natural disasters and threats from invasive species. They’re by no means immortal though, and when a tree is felled or dies it can be tricky to remove the remaining stump due to how firmly planted they are. This being said, let’s have a look at why you would want to remove a tree stump, the best way to go about it, and a short step-by-step tutorial detailing the process. Keep in mind that removing a tree stump is a labor-intensive process that can take a ton of elbow grease to pull off, so be prepared if you’re thinking about tackling a stump alone.



Why Would You Want to Remove a Tree Stump?

We all think of ourselves as virtuous individuals, but as human beings, we tend to dislike being inconvenienced, and we’re usually willing to go through quite a bit of effort to make our lives easier. This being said, tree stumps can be a huge inconvenience if you’re a homeowner and happen to find one on your property.

Tree Stump with Root System

Stumps can be a tripping hazard for little ones running around outdoors, they can easily become nests for things like ants and hornets (which may be a bit disconcerting) and if they’re right in the middle of your driveway, they can create unnecessary obstacles for cars and motorcycles using that space.

Tree Stumps Can Host Insects

Apart from being a potential hazard for you and those around you, old stumps can be a bit of an eyesore. This is especially true if the surrounding landscape is uniformly flat and/or green, which means the last thing you want is an unsightly old stump ruining your scenery. Another common reason that many people remove tree stumps is that they tend to get in the way of construction and/or renovations.

Tree Stumps Can Interfere with Planting

When you’re attempting to construct an outdoor deck or the foundation of a new structure, a tree stump can slow down and or completely derail your progress. The only thing left to do in these instances then is to remove the stump, and even though this can take some considerable effort the only other option you have is to move your project elsewhere, and in most instances that isn’t a viable solution.

Tree Stumps Can Hinder Construction

Removing dead tree stumps is actually pretty good for the environment too. It allows for new root systems, grass, and insect habitats to fill the space the stump and its root system have been occupying. This isn’t to say that you absolutely have to remove every stump you come across, there are actually tons of creative things you can use old stumps for. If you’re curious, have a look at websites like Pinterest to see what some really innovative DIY crafters have done with old stumps they’ve come across.



Are There Different Ways to Remove a Tree Stump?

While it might seem like you need some industrial-grade machinery to remove a tree stump, there are many techniques you can use to remove them. Instead of having to look them up on your own, we’ve prepared a short list of the best techniques you can implement to remove tree stumps from your property or anywhere else you find them. Always remember that stumps of different species and sizes can vary in difficulty to remove, so prepare yourself and your tools accordingly.

How to Remove a Tree Stump


Dig Out the Stump

One of the tried-and-true ways to get rid of a stump is by simply using some force. Removing a stump by digging it out is one of the most labor-intensive ways of going it out but it’s also one of the most cost-effective ways to go about it too. Digging a stump out requires no specialized equipment of the earth-moving variety and it’s a pretty good workout too.

How to Dig Out a Tree Stump

The best way to go about this is to use a spade and a mattock. Use the spade to dig deep under the stump until you have reached the root ball. Once you have a rough idea of where it is, use the mattock to sever the roots joined to the ball, and finally, use the spade and/or mattock to lever the stump out of the earth. Watch your feet when working with the mattock or digging iron and if you can get your hands on some steel-tipped boots, we highly recommend you wear them.


Burn the Stump

Most of us don’t get to set things on fire very often, and the thought of getting to do so can be quite enticing. However, it’s not a matter of simply lighting the fire and walking away (unfortunately). Burning a tree stump out of existence can take some planning and loads of safety considerations, so be sure that you understand what you’re getting yourself into before you light it up.

How to Kill a Stump with Fire

Dig out the area around the stump to ensure that the fire doesn’t spread beyond a certain point. Next, dig out the area immediately surrounding the stump to increase airflow, and ensure that the gap is nice and deep. Finally, ensure that you have a reliable water source and hose pipe ready at all times before and during the burning of the stump.

The trick with burning a stump is not to throw some accelerant on top of the stump and light it up. Instead, build a coal fire on top of the stump to create a long, even burn, which will ensure that all of the material is consumed and not just the surface of the stump. Be sure to keep your hose and any other fire suppression equipment ready to use during the burning process.


Grind the Stump

Grinding a stump out of existence is another crowd favorite in the landscaping industry. It might not be as convenient to pull off considering that you’ll need some pretty niche machinery to get it done, but it is a lot faster than trying to dig a stump out by hand. Stump grinders are essentially grinding wheels attached to a long arm that can be lowered and raised to contact the stump.

How to Use a Tree Stump Grinder

You don’t have to grind the stump on your own either, you can hire a landscaper (who probably has one of these) to do it for you, but it’s not super challenging to do on your own either. You can hire one of these machines from stores like Home Depot, just be sure that you check with the city or town beforehand to ensure that there aren’t any water, gas, or electrical lines near where you’ll be grinding your stump.

You should also keep in mind that using one of these machines can be dangerous. Always ensure that you wear the appropriate personal protective gear such as gloves, eye protection, boots, and a face mask to prevent you from inhaling little wood chips. Also, ensure that any bystanders are clear of the direction the wood is being ejected in.


Dry the Stump Out With Epsom Salts

If the removal of your stump isn’t particularly time-sensitive, you should consider using the Epsom salt method. Most of the time Epsom salts are used as a relaxing addition to a well-deserved bath, but they can also be used as a means to dry out old tree stumps from the inside out. In high concentrations, Epsom salts have the ability to remove moisture from an environment, which is what you’ll be doing to your stump if you choose to use this approach.

Kill Tree Stumps with Epsom Salts

Wondering how to kill a tree stump with Epsom salts? It’s pretty straightforward. All you need to do is drill a few holes into the surface of your stump and ensure that they’re around three inches deep. Drill as many of these as you can about an inch apart and fill them with Epsom salt and some water. Once filled, cover the area around the stump in Epsom salts too, and cover it to ensure that no rainwater upset the process.

This process can take around a month or so to see results. Eventually, the stump will dry out and you’ll be able to remove it with a transplant spade or a prying bar. Keep in mind that this will make the wood quite brittle so be extra careful when removing the stump as the wood could easily splinter and injure you or those around you. Using Epsom salt to kill a tree stump is one of the most environmentally friendly ways to go about it.


Dry the Stump Out With Saltwater Solution

If you can’t get your hands on Epsom salts or you happen to have some rock salt laying around, you can do pretty much the same thing. Drill some holes into your stump and add some water, and then proceed to cover the stump. This process will also draw out any moisture keeping the stump alive, which in turn will make it really brittle and easy to remove, a lot like using Epsom salts to kill a tree stump.

Drilling Holes in Tree Stump

This method can have some unforeseen consequences though. If you’ve ever heard the term “salting the earth” before, you know it’s not good. Rock salt, when exposed to soil, can make it completely barren by removing all moisture and making it inhospitable to microbial life. This is why it’s important that you don’t use too much rock salt in the removal of your stump, and it’s probably a good idea to remove the soil immediately surrounding your stump once you get it out of the ground too.


Starve the Stump of Sunlight

While tree stumps seem sturdy and rock-like, it’s easy to forget that they’re just big plants at the end of the day. What do plants need to grow and subsist? Sunlight! Depriving a tree stump of sunlight, water, and nutrients is one of the best ways to get rid of them without the use of chemicals and/or specialized equipment. Wondering how to kill a tree stump using darkness? Simple; use a tarp!

Get a nice thick tarp and wrap it over and around the tree stump. Deprivation can take a while to kick in, usually a month or two, but you can speed this process up by adding dead leaves and roots on top of the tarp. You can also implement some of the aforementioned methods in addition to the tarp, just be sure that they don’t affect the surrounding soil.


Kill the Stump Using Tree Root Killer

One of the more modern approaches to killing a tree stump is to use a tree root killer. Wondering how to kill tree roots using one of these chemicals? Well, they usually have some easy-to-follow directions on the container and contain chemicals like oxygen, potassium, and nitrogen to expedite the natural decay process of the stump. If you don’t want to use harsh chemicals in your garden, you can use the naturally caustic combination of salt and vinegar instead.

Kill a Tree Stump with Vinegar and Salt

Usually, all you need to do is pour some of this mixture on the top of the stump and leave it to do its thing. These chemicals aren’t super corrosive, but rather dry the stump out even fast, usually taking around four weeks to get the job done. Once dried out the stump can usually be removed pretty easily with a shovel or transplant spade. This is how to kill tree roots the modern way, but these chemicals can negatively affect the surrounding soil if used in excess.


Kill the Stump Using Boiling Water

If you’re looking for a less chemically dependent way to kill a tree stump, you could consider using some boiling water. This might not be the best way to remove a tree stump because it takes a lot longer than some of the other methods we’ve had a look at. Although, it doesn’t require any chemicals and it makes the roots a lot easier to pry and/or chop compared to the other approaches we’ve covered.

Kill Tree Stump with Boiling Water

How do you use boiling water to kill a tree stump? Well, while most of the methods we’ve covered so far have to do with starving the stump in an effort to make it more brittle and drier, boiling water saturates and cooks the roots making them soft and malleable. All you need to do is expose as much of the root system as possible and pour some boiling water on it.

If you’re in the mood to do some extra work and neutralize the stump itself, you can target the surface of the stump. Drill some holes into the surface of the stump and pour some boiling water into it. This will kill off any microbial life and stop the wood fibers from absorbing nutrients, essentially killing the stump in addition to the roots.



Things You Shouldn’t Use to Kill a Tree Stump

It’s not every day that we get the opportunity to absolutely destroy something indiscriminately, and this can lead to your basic impulses taking over when trying to get rid of a tree stump. However, there are some methods that seem like the best way to remove a tree stump in theory, but in reality, they can do more harm than good. This being said, let’s have a look at some things you shouldn’t try to remove a tree stump and why they’re a bad idea.

How Not to Kill a Tree Stump


Do Not Use Motor Oil

There are loads of things that seem like a good idea in theory, but just like starting a bonfire with lighter fluid seems like a good idea (because it’s a lot faster than using coal and firelighters), we know that it’s not. Using motor oil to kill a tree stump will not work, and it will definitely contaminate the surrounding soil and kill off any plant life in the immediate area.

Do Not Use Motor Oil On Tree Stump

While motor oil can deprive the stump of oxygen and nutrients, it won’t do it in a way that is even remotely efficient enough to kill the stump off. Also, keep in mind that motor oil is pretty expensive, so unless you’re willing to pay more for a solution that is less effective and has the potential to ruin your soil, we recommend using one of the aforementioned methods instead.


Do Not Use Diesel Fuel

If you were considering using diesel because it burns a lot slower than fuel, it doesn’t. While the concept of prolonging the burn to ensure that the fire burns for longer is good in theory, diesel fuel still won’t burn long enough for the stump to be burned completely. This, in addition to the fact that burning diesel produces a significant amount of smoke containing harmful chemicals in the immediate area, makes it a bad choice overall.

Do Not Use Diesel on Tree Stump

Besides producing a ton of thick smoke, which can be bad for you and anyone in the surrounding area, getting your hands on some diesel can be more of a hassle than it’s worth. You would not only need to go out and purchase the diesel, but you would need to get a special container for it and go through the process of igniting the diesel, which can be challenging as it requires even more heat to light up compared to petroleum.


Do Not Use Bleach

Using bleach to kill a tree stump is a bit like taking any other household cleaning product and throwing it on a tree stump and hoping for the best. Bleach is in no way a recognized herbicide and it should never be used as one under any circumstances. Remember that herbicides have been specially designed to remove plant life in a safe and sustainable manner.

Do Not Use Bleach on Tree Stump

Bleach contains loads of harmful chemicals that might kill the stump initially, but it can have huge effects not only on the plant life in your immediate area but the animals and insects that subsist off them. This being said, unless you’re cool with destroying entire ecosystems of life, we strongly recommend avoiding the use of bleach when attempting to remove a tree stump.



Is It Worth Trying to Remove a Stump on Your Own?

This is a bit of a tricky question to answer. Removing a stump on your own can take a full day or two to prepare and execute correctly, which means that if you have a free weekend, you could probably get it done using one of the aforementioned methods. Although, if you’re going to be renting machinery you might want to do so well in advance to avoid disappointment.

Killing a Tree Stump Can Take Two Days

However, if you don’t have the time, or simply don’t want to go through all of the manual labor yourself, you could hire a landscaping team to do it for you. This is ideal in a sense because they have all of the tools, machinery safety gear, and (more importantly) experience to ensure that your stump is removed quickly and thoroughly.

So, is it worth doing on your own? If you’re by the means and you have a particularly big and stubborn stump, then there’s no reason as to why you shouldn’t get someone else to do it for you. However, if you’re confident in your ability, have the tools, and are looking to save some cash, removing a stump on your own isn’t nearly as difficult as it seems and can be a great stress reliever too!



Now that you know why it’s a good idea to remove a stump, how to remove a stump with tools, chemicals, and by depriving it of nutrients, as well as some methods you should avoid when attempting to get rid of a stump, it’s time for you to get out there and out your newfound knowledge to the test. Remember to always wear the appropriate personal protective gear and check in with your local municipality before you go digging around deep in your soil.



Frequently Asked Questions


What Kills Tree Roots?

Wondering what kills tree roots? There are loads of options for you to choose from based on your budget and skill level. You could go for simply digging the stump out of the ground using a shovel, you could rent a stump grinder, or you could use chemicals. You could also deprive the stump of sunlight and oxygen using a tarp and some Epsom salts.


What Is the Fastest Way to Kill a Tree Stump and Roots?

Looking for a way to kill a tree stump fast? Well, the fastest way to kill a tree stump is also the most expensive (go figure). The fastest way to kill a tree stump is by using a stump grinder, which can be hired at stores like Home Depot, or you could hire a landscaping company to do it for you.


Will Bleach Kill a Tree Stump?

Wondering if you can use bleach to kill a stump? Nope! Killing a stump requires the chemical being used to invade the root system of the stump, and bleach does not do so. It’s also really harmful to the plant life and soil around the stump, so it’s best to avoid using bleach entirely.

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