How to Kill a Tree Stump – 7 Ways

So, you finally got around to chopping down that tree in your yard, but now the stump keeps producing sprouts and is preventing you from utilizing the space. 

While you can most definitely just take the sprout out, it’s not a long-term solution. So, we’re going to teach you seven tried-and-true ways how to kill a tree stump for good. We’ve included simple and cheap methods, as well as costly techniques so you can finally solve your stump situation without getting stumped (pun intended).

sprout growing from tree stump

The Best Ways To Kill a Tree Stump

Some tree species will die as soon as they are chopped down, but some more resilient trees will continue to try to grow even after you have leveled them. Ashes, elms, poplars, willows, and many other common decorative trees will continue to sprout for years after they have been reduced to a stump.

Not only can it be unsightly to have a stump trying to regrow, but a stump that continues to live is much more difficult to remove from the ground than one that has died and started to decompose.

But most importantly, a tree that has been chopped down and is allowed to grow can become unstable and dangerous as it gets larger and larger. To minimize risk to your home, family, and surrounding structures, it is important to kill stumps before they can regrow.

If it already grew, these chainsaws can make it easier to cut your stump.

With Epsom Salt or Rock Salt

a close-up picture of a rock salt on a wooden spoon

Epsom salt, or magnesium sulfate, is commonly used to treat minor injuries and infections. Rock salt, or the mineral form of sodium chloride, is used as a deicer on sidewalks and roadways. Both of these substances are different from table salt, and both can be used safely to kill tree stumps.

These salts work as a hygroscopic agent, meaning they absorb water from the surrounding environment. When put in and around tree stumps, the salt helps dry out the wood, effectively killing the stump over time.

This isn’t the fastest method for killing a tree stump, but it is one of the cheapest. And it is safe and fairly easy to do.

You can also use rock salt to get rid of humidity inside your home.

How to kill a tree stump using Epsom salt or rock salt:

  1. Drill multiple ½” to 1” wide holes (at least 10” deep) into the stump and any large visible roots.
  2. Pack each hole with Epsom or rock salt. Spread some additional salt around the base of the stump.
  3. Optional: drip wax from a candle over the top of each hole to seal it so water can’t get in.
  4. Cover the stump and any holes in the roots with a trash bag or plastic to keep out water.
  5. Over the course of about six to ten weeks, the salt will leach moisture from the surrounding wood and kill the stump.

Safety notes: Epsom and rock salt are safe to use in the garden, but care should be taken to avoid spilling excessive amounts where other plants are growing.

With Fertilizer

man collecting fertilizer to a wheelbarrow

If you have a stump that is taking up valuable real estate that you would like to get rid of but isn’t necessarily trying to regrow, you can use fertilizer to speed up decomposition.

Solid stumps are difficult to remove. But once the wood begins to decompose, the stump softens and you can easily pull it apart using a shovel or pickaxe. At this point, the lower roots will rot and become part of the soil.

Using fertilizer on your stump will encourage decomposition and attract (and supply) bugs and microbes that help break down woody material. This method takes a number of months to work and is most effective on stumps that are not actively or aggressively sprouting.

Need a fertilizer for your lawn? Check out our best organic fertilizer review.

How to kill a stump using fertilizer:

  1. Drill multiple ½” to 1” holes at least 6” deep into the stump and any large, visible roots.
  2. Fill the holes with a slow-release fertilizer.
  3. Mound a generous amount of fertilizer over the stump and any exposed roots.
  4. After a few months, the stump should start to soften and eventually become soft enough to remove by hand.

Safety notes: Fertilizer is generally safe to handle (with gloves) and will not harm surrounding plants. Choose a low phosphorus fertilizer to reduce nutrient run-off into local waterways.

Burn It

tree stump on fire

If local ordinances allow, burning a stump is a quick and cost-effective way to get rid of it.

This method is most effective for stumps that are mostly dead. Those that are still producing a lot of sprouts or those recently cut down may be too moist inside to burn well. But for those that are dry enough, this method will effectively remove your stump problem within a matter of hours – and with little effort on your part.

How to burn a stump to remove it:

  1. Cut the stump level to ground level.
  2. Drill multiple ½” to 1” wide holes at least 8” deep in the stump.
  3. Fill each hole with kerosene until the stump is saturated.
  4. Build a fire on top of the stump using small logs and kindling.
  5. Light the fire and allow it to burn until the stump has turned to ash, adding extra wood as needed.
  6. Once the stump is thoroughly burned and the fire has been extinguished, remove the ashes and backfill the hole with fresh soil.

Safety notes: As with any open burn, you should always take precautionary measures to keep the fire contained. Hoses and fire extinguishers should be on hand in case of emergency. And always contact your local municipality for rules and regulations concerning open burns before attempting this method.

With a Stump Grinder

removing a stubborn tree stump using a residential stump grinder

Using a stump grinder to remove your troublesome stump—alive or dead—is a quick and effective way to reclaim your space. But it also requires a significant time and labor commitment from you.

Rental stump grinders are available at many home supply stores and garden centers. These machines are specially designed to chew up and grind down stumps to prevent grow-back and hasten the decomposition of lower roots.

Safety notes: Always wear protective clothing and eyewear when operating heavy machinery.

How to remove a stump with a stump grinder:

  1. Cut the stump flush with the ground using a chainsaw.
  2. Remove any rocks or other hard debris from around the stump and visible roots.
  3. Operate the stump grinder according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  4. Be sure to grind the stump as far down as possible and grind away any visible roots.
  5. Remove the wood chips (they make great mulch) and backfill the hole with soil.

Block the Sun

In order to stay alive, stumps need water, nutrients, and sunlight. You can easily cut off the new sprouts’ access to sunlight by covering the stump with a durable, opaque cover.

For small stumps, this is as easy as placing a bucket over the area and securing it with a heavy rock. For larger stumps, you’ll need to use heavy-duty trash bags or black plastic sheeting. Secure the cover to prevent the wind from blowing it off.

This method will take up to six months to kill the stump. During this time, sprouts may develop and can puncture the covering if left unattended. Check the stump every few weeks and cut off any sprouts you find. If any tears do appear in the cover, add more layers to prevent sunlight from getting through.

Use a Stump Killer

a bottle of liquid stump killer

Stump killers are commercial products designed specifically to speed up the decomposition of wood. This process kills living stumps by making them porous and makes dead stumps easier to remove.

Most products utilize potassium nitrate as their main active ingredient, but other chemicals may also be used. 

This method works relatively quickly and is easy to do, but relies on chemicals that are not great for the planet or your garden.

Stump killers come in various forms. Granules and powders are the most effective because they don’t evaporate, unlike liquids. But liquid stump killers can be much easier to apply.

How, exactly, you use your stump killer depends largely on the product you purchase. Some are poured into boreholes, similar to the salt method outlined above. Others are brushed or poured onto the surface of the stump and visible roots.

We have a full guide here: The Best Tree Stump Killer

Safety notes: Always use gloves when handling stump-killing chemicals and be sure to wash your hands when you are finished. Be very careful not to splash these chemicals on the ground or get them on surrounding foliage. It is not recommended to use these products around veggie gardens or croplands.

Get Professional Help

man using a heavy-duty stump grinder

If none of the above options sound feasible or if you are dealing with an exceptionally stubborn or large stump, your best bet may be to call in the professionals. 

Most tree services offer stump removal. In most cases, this consists of grinding the stump, hauling away the wood chips, and backfilling the hole. 

While this is by far the easiest option in terms of how much labor you have to put into the process, it is also sure to be the most expensive. We recommend shopping around to get multiple quotes from different companies before pulling the trigger.

Conclusion

In most situations, you can kill a tree stump easily using simple, safe products like Epsom salt, fertilizer, a stump grinder, or a sun-blocking cover. In some situations, turning to more extreme measures like chemical stump killers, burning the stump, or hiring a professional may be necessary.

Have questions about killing or removing stumps? Post your comment in the box below.

Pricing last updated on 2021-05-07 at 04:22 / affiliate links - Details

About The Author

Aaron is the founder of and Essential Home and Garden. He likes to spend his spare time with his family, and doing DIY projects in the home and garden.