How to Kill a Tree Stump

If you have a tree stump in your yard that’s producing new shoots, you’ve got to kill it or it may just keep growing. A half-dead tree stump is an unsightly obstacle that won’t go away on its own. There are four main ways to kill a stump: you can soak it with a salt solution, burn it, shield it from the sun or chop it up. After it’s dead, you can remove the stump and fill in the hole.

Using Epsom or Rock Salt
Obtain epsom salt or rock salt. Using epsom salt or rock salt is an easy way to kill a stump cheaply. When you use the salt method it takes several months for the stump to die, so it might not be your best bet if you need to get rid of the stump quickly.
Do not use regular table salt, which is harmful to the soil surrounding the stump. Use 100 percent epsom or rock salt with no added ingredients, to make sure the land around the stump doesn’t get disturbed.

For a stubborn stump you can try a chemical stump remover or an herbicide containing glyphosate or triclopyr instead of salt.[1] While a chemical herbicide will kill the stump faster, keep in mind that it could kill the roots of surrounding trees or shrubs as well.

Drill holes in the stump. Drill a pattern of holes across the surface of the stump, so the solution will be able to penetrate. The holes should be about wide and at least deep, or if you have a long enough drill bit. Penetrating deeply will ensure the salt solution saturates the roots below the trunk.[2] If you don’t have a drill bit this long, use an ax to chop into the wood and make gouges as deep as you can.

If you’re working with a stump that has large arial roots, drill holes in those as well.

Pack the holes with salt and top them off with wax. Fill up the holes 3/4 full with epsom salt or rock salt. Don’t forget the holes you drilled in the arial roots. Now light a plain, unscented candle and drop wax into the holes to plug them.
It’s important to make sure the salt stays in place, rather than scattering over your yard, since excess salt can be harmful to topsoil and the roots of other plants.

Cover the stump. Put a plastic tarp, trash bag or another nonporous item over the stump to cover it. It will die more quickly without sunlight and rain to continue nourishing any shoots that come up. After six weeks to several months the stump will die. Check it every once in a while to see how things are progressing. When the stump is dead, it should begin falling apart on its own.

Remove the stump. When you notice that the stump begins to dry out and fall apart, you can start taking it apart and completely remove it from the ground. Use an ax or a garden hoe to break it up, and a shovel to dig out the pieces. You might need to dig up the roots to fully remove it. When you’re finished, you can fill in the hole with soil.

Burning the Stump
Drill holes in the stump. Drill plenty of holes across the surface of the stump. The holes should be about wide and at least deep, or if you have a long enough drill bit. Penetrating deeply will ensure the stump gets burned down to the tips of the roots.[3]

Pour kerosene into the holes. Soaking the stump with kerosene will enable you to light it on fire so it will burn into ash. Make sure the stump is fully saturated, or the fire may go out before it reaches the tips of the roots. If you’re worried about nearby objects catching fire, you shouldn’t use this method. You’re going to be setting the stump on fire, and while it’s quite effective, it can be dangerous if you don’t have plenty of room around the stump.

Check local city ordinances to make sure it’s legal to do a controlled burn. Call 411 to find out more information.

Build a fire on top of the stump. Put scrap wood on top of the stump anduse a fire starter to ignite it. As the fire burns down, the stump will catch and burn up. Look closely to make sure the stump actually catches, and add more wood as necessary to keep the fire going.[4]
Be sure to monitor the stump as it burns to ash. Don’t leave it unattended, in case the fire gets out of hand.

Depending on the size of the stump, the burn may take several hours.

Dig out the ashes and fill in the hole. Use a shovel to remove all of the ashes, down through where the roots were, and fill in the hole with fresh soil.

Chopping it Up
Get a stump grinder. This is a machine you can rent from a home improvement store that has a rotary cutter that will drill into and grind up the stump. It’s a good method to use if you have a huge, stubborn stump. Renting a stump grinder is probably the most prudent option, but if you have a lot of stumps to grind, it might be worth it to buy one.[5]
Get protective equipment, too. Goggles and a mask will protect you from sawdust and flying wood chips.

If you don’t enjoy handling heavy machinery, call a local landscaper and explain that you have a stump that needs to be removed. You’ll be able to pay someone else to do it.

Cut the stump close to the ground. Use a chainsaw to level off the stump just a few inches from the ground. Remove any branches or roots that stick up too far off the ground so that the stump grinder will have a stable surface on which to operate.[6]

Grind up the stump. Put on your goggles and mask, and position the stump grinder over the stump. Then, following the manufacturer’s instruction, move the grinder slowly across the stump’s surface to grind it up to bits. Continue along the arial roots to grind those as well until the stump has been fully ground up.
Be careful not to get your feet in the way of the grinder. Wear heavy boots so you won’t accidentally hurt yourself.

Make sure children and pets are safely away from the equipment before you begin operating it.

Shovel out the grindings and fill in the hole. Remove all of the wood chips and discard them (or use them as mulch, then fill in the hole with soil. You might need to use an ax to chop out remaining roots.

Shielding it from the Sun
Cover the stump. This method is free, but can take a long time. The idea is to slowly kill the stump by denying its basic needs. Put a dark tarp or trash bag over the stump so it won’t receive sun or water.

Wait three to six months. During this time, the stump will slowly die. Check it from time to time to see how things are progressing. It should begin to rot and fall apart.
As it dies and rots, you can use stump removal solution to speed the process along. It’s available at nurseries and garden centers.

You can also add some epsom salt to cracks that appear in the stump, or see Method One and drill holes in the stump and fill them with salt to make it go faster.

Chop out the stump. Use an ax to chop out the dead stump once it’s completely dead. For a very large stump, you might need a stump grinder. When you’re finished, fill in the hole.

You can purchase stains and dyes to mix into herbicides before you apply them. Dyes or stains visibly indicate where you treated the stump, so you do not miss spots or over-treat the wood, thereby increasing the risk of exposure to other trees.

Until the stump is dead, you can cut saplings off the base of the trunk as they sprout, or paint them with a woody brush killer that contains triclopyr. If your goal is to allow one tree to grow from the old stump, cut off additional saplings do not apply an herbicide.

Even if tree roots are not grafted, they may release some of the herbicide into the soil through their root network. Once the herbicides are released into the environment, all surrounding plant life may absorb it.

You may need to take other precautions if sprouts still develop after you grind the stump down, as some hardy trees can still sprout growth from the remaining stump.

Trees that grow close together, especially if they are of the same species, develop a network of roots that sometimes share vascular tissue through a process known as root grafting. If trees have developed root grafting, herbicides applied to the stump of one tree will pass to the other trees.

Related wikiHows
How to Graft a Tree

How to Trim Oak Trees

Sources and Citations
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