2021 Q3 Toolbox Essentials
Five Ways to Kill a Tree Stump

Five Ways to Kill a Tree Stump

You finally cut down that tree, and you’re faced with another stubborn problem you can’t seem to resolve—a tree stump. Tree stumps are incredibly resilient and will sometimes continue to grow until they’re dealt with for good. If you don’t want an unsightly tree stump turning into another tree in the next 2 to 7 years, you should work on removing it.

Naturally, the fastest and most efficient way to do it is to hire a professional, but if you’re strapped for cash, you’ll be glad to know that removing tree stumps is something you can DIY. Here, you’ll learn about the different ways to kill a tree stump.

Kill a Tree Stump Using Any of These Methods

The methods below are written in order of intensity and effectiveness. If you’re keen to kill the stump as soon as possible because you have some landscaping you need to do, you can skip ahead to our Controlled Fire or Stump Grinding sections. Otherwise, you can start with the first method, and try the rest in succession if it doesn’t work.

Sunlight Deprivation

This is the easiest, cheapest, and most basic method to kill a tree stump. It also takes the longest. Results may not start to show until eight weeks to three months. To deprive the stump of sunlight, all you need to do is cover it.

You can use a heavy-duty black trash bag or a black bucket depending on the size of the stump. You’ll also need some weights to put on the cover of your choosing, and a lot of patience.

Step 1: Cover the Stump

Cover the stump completely so sunlight and moisture don’t make their way in. Put some big rocks or something heavy on top to prevent the cover from being blown away by harsh weather.

Step 2: Monitor the Progress

Check its progress every couple of weeks or so. If you notice any new saplings growing, cut them right away.

Step 3: Aid the Process

The stump should die and rot within six months. If it’s one of those hardy tree stumps that refuse to die, try the other methods below to aid the removal.

Using Epsom Salt

In small doses, Epsom salt can be good for trees—and plants in general—if they’re suffering from magnesium deficiency. However, too much of it is harmful to them, which is why it’s a common method of killing tree stumps. If you don’t have any Epsom salt lying around, here is a good one. Other things you’ll need are a drill, an eyedropper, and a heavy-duty trash bag.

Note that you can’t use table salt since it could kill the surrounding plants.

While this method takes a bit faster than simply covering the stump, it may still take a few months, so if you’re in a rush, you’ll have to pick a different method.

Step 1: Create the Solution

In a bucket, combine two gallons of water with a gallon of Epsom salt. The more concentrated the mixture, the more potent it is.

Stick with the recommended ratio for your first try, and only increase the amount of Epsom salt if the ratio doesn’t work. Don’t forget that the solution will harm surrounding plants.

Step 2: Drill Holes into the Stump

Drill vertical holes an inch apart from one another into the stump. They should be around half an inch to an inch wide and about 8 to 12 inches deep. If your drill isn’t long enough, use an axe to create wounds in the stump so you can drill deeper. If the stump has arial roots, put them in as well.

You want the solution to go as deep as possible to kill the roots under the stump. Clean the debris out of the holes when you’re done.
a tree stump filled with one-inch holes next to a blue drill

Step 3: Introduce the Solution into the Holes

You can try pouring the solution directly into the holes, but if that doesn’t work, use the eyedropper to put in eight to 10 drops of the solution into every hole. Don’t do this step in the rain as that will only dilute the solution.

Step 4: Cover the Stump

Cover the stump with a trash bag so it doesn’t get any sunlight.

Step 5: Check the Progress

Check on the stump every few weeks and cut any new growth. After three months, this method will kill the tree stump and it should fall apart on its own.

Using a Tree Stump Killer

If you’re skeptical about using Epsom salt, or if the tree stump is as stubborn as a mule, it may be time to kill it using a tree stump killer. It contains active ingredient/s that doesn’t only kill tree stumps, but also woody plants and vines.

You have to be very careful when using this product since it could kill the roots of the trees and plants surrounding the tree stump. Read the instructions on the container carefully and make sure to wear rubber gloves to protect yourself.

The process, as well as the materials you need, is similar to how you kill a tree stump with Epsom salt, except you have to do this repeatedly until the stump dies.

Step 1: Drill Holes into the Stump.

Drill vertical ½ to 1-inch holes into the stump. They should be an inch apart and 10 inches deep. Make sure to clean the debris out.

Step 2: Apply the Tree Stump Killer

In dry weather and using an eyedropper, put in eight to 10 drops of the stump killer into every hole. Cover the stump and repeat this step every one to two weeks for eight to 10 weeks.

Step 3: Remove New Growth

Check the progress now and then and chop off any saplings that grow.

Controlled Fire

Before you consider trying this method, you should know that burning tree stumps may not be legal in certain areas due to fire codes, and even if it were, you might still need to get permission from your local government.

You should also know that doing this could result in serious consequences, such as an uncontrollable fire that spreads out to the surrounding trees or structures. Some trees also release harmful toxins when on fire, so you need to find out if the tree stump is even safe to burn.

Once you have permission, you may start gathering the necessary materials. Know that once you start, you’ll need to keep an eye on it the entire time to avoid any risk of fire spreading. You’ll also need to wet the surrounding area and move flammable objects away from the area.

The things you’ll need are a drill, garden trowel, potassium nitrate, hot water, funnel, tinder, lighter or matches, and a shovel.

Step 1: Drill Holes into the Stump

Drill vertical holes into the stump. They need to be eight to 10 inches deep and an inch away from each other. Clean all the debris out of the holes.

Step 2: Put Potassium Nitrate into the Holes

Using the garden trowel, scoop potassium nitrate into every hole then fill the rest of the holes with hot water using the funnel. Once the stump has absorbed the solution, it will become flammable. When you’re done using the potassium nitrate, store it somewhere safe since it could explode on contact with reducing agents.

Step 3: Start the Fire

Place the tinder on top of the stump and light it. Once the stump has been ignited, it will smolder until it turns into charcoal and ash.

Step 4: Break the Stump Apart

Using the shovel, break the remaining stump pieces and large roots apart.

Stump Grinding

If all else fails, grind the stump down using a stump grinder. It’s not only the fastest, but also the most efficient way to kill a tree stump. You could grind out this pesky tree stump in just an hour or two if you know your way around large power tools. Thankfully, you won’t need to buy a stump grinder since you can rent one for around $100 per day.

There’s also the option of hiring a professional to do the grinding for you if you don’t trust your abilities. Unfortunately, it costs $200 on average, and will cost more if it’s a big stump or if multiple stumps need to be ground.

If you’ve decided you’re up for the job because you don’t want to hire a professional, this video will tell you how to stump grind. Note that apart from the stump grinder, you’ll also need protective gear and other tools like a chainsaw to do this task.

Wrapping Up

If there’s one thing to learn from this guide, it’s that tree stumps are ridiculously resilient, stubborn, and annoying, so if you want to kill them, you’ll need to fight them with hard work, tons of patience, and the right tools. No matter what method you pick, make sure to follow the directions, practice safety precautions, and wear protective gear. Dealing with a tree stump is a involved task, but it’s not a difficult one once you know what to do and are careful in doing it.