You don’t need chemicals to get rid of a pesky tree stump in your yard. In this article, you’ll learn how to kill a tree stump naturally. Each of these 6 common techniques is easy even if you’ve never worked on a tree stump before. Best of all, you don’t need to handle any hazardous chemicals to make it happen.
After you’ve had an unwanted tree cut down in your garden, the roots and stump normally die off on their own. In some cases, however, the stump lives on and you need to take care of it. Read on to learn how.
How to Kill a Tree Stump Naturally with 6 Different Methods
While there are 6 different ways you can learn about how to kill a tree stump—all of which are natural techniques—many of these will work best when combined.
This process is simple: you just drill holes directly into the tree stump. These holes should be around 1/2 to 1-inch-wide holes spread across the stump’s surface. They’ll be most effective if they vary from around 8 to 12-inches deep. If you have a longer drill bit, excellent! Deeper holes are far more beneficial than shallow ones..
Be generous with your drilling! The more holes you drill, the more quickly the stump will biodegrade. Rainwater will fill the stump, it’ll be gnawed upon by insects, and will eventually just fall apart.
If you’d like to hasten this process, fill those holes with Epsom salt. These mineral salts will dissolve the stump from the inside out, so you can just pull it apart and compost the remnants. Since the remaining wood will be filled with beneficial vitamins and minerals, you can even use it as part of a hugelkultur pile.
We’ll touch upon these salts more later on.
2. A Grinder
Use this method for stubborn, hard-to-remove tree stumps. If you have a particularly large stump and some extra money to use renting power tools (or have access to your own power drill and stump grinder), this is the technique for you.
Grab a chainsaw and use it to cut the stump as close to the ground as possible. If you can get it around an inch from ground level, you can then remove the branches and roots sticking up from the ground and set up your stump grinders.
These grinders are available for rent at a home improvement store near you, and (as the name implies), the machinery allows you to grind up the stump. Make sure to use protective equipment you work. Goggles and a mask will keep you safe from wood chips and sawdust flying through the air.
How to Make the Magic Happen:
Once you start up the stump grinder, position it over the stump and move the machine over the surface of the stump slowly. Follow the specific grinder manufacturer’s instructions, as machinery may vary. Continue grinding the aerial roots until your stump is entirely ground up to bits.
Finally, you’ll want to shovel out the grindings to fill the hole with soil or mulch. Use an axe to chop up any remaining roots, and then grab a shovel to remove all the leftover wood chips.
If you use this method often, or have a property with a larger number of trees, you may consider purchasing your own grinder. As an alternative, you can also consider paying a professional to complete this stump removal process for you, if you don’t want to get your own hands dirty.
3. Dig it Out
This is a more traditional, “roll up your sleeves and get to work” kind of technique. Digging up the tree stump only requires a shovel, a hatchet, and some hard work, all of which are fairly inexpensive.
That said, this process can become far more costly if you have large or hard-to-remove tree stumps. Deep roots are the main reason why people have a difficult time digging up stumps.
Start by digging around the roots, cutting them up into smaller pieces as you go using the shovel or a hatchet. Remove the roots first, and then move along to the tree stump. You can use a small amount of water to create a trench surrounding the stump, which helps expose the roots.
Some people also find that using a landscaping bar or pry bar helps pry up stubborn roots, lifting them up and out of the soil.
Then, patch the hole with soil and cut up the remainder of the tree stump. The easiest way to dispose of remnants is to put them through a wood chopper. The remaining roots should decay on their own, providing vital nutrients to the surrounding soil.
Sow grass seed, build a flower bed, or plant a new tree in the space to fully get rid of any traces the stump ever existed.
4. The Boiling Water Method
For this technique, all you need is a generous amount of hot water.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and pour its contents directly onto the stump’s roots. For this process to work, it’s important to ensure that the root system is burnt. Therefore, you must get the hot water directly onto roots, or drill holes into the stump first to help spread the heat.
5. Plastic Wrap
Plastic can smother pretty much anything, and tree stumps are no exception. Use plastic like a trash bag or plastic tarp to cover the stump completely. This keeps the sunlight and rain from nourishing any shoots that may spring up. Make sure the plastic material isn’t clear, as that would allow sunlight to pass through.
Unlike some other techniques on this list, this process will happen gradually. The stump will die after anywhere from six weeks to a few months, and you’ll need to check on it every so often to check its deterioration progress.
Kill off any saplings you see sprouting at the trunk’s base by cutting them off. Alternatively, you can paint them using a wood brush killer with triclopyr. Don’t use an herbicide. When the stump starts to rot and fall to pieces on its own, it’s finally dead.
This technique kills the stump by denying the tree’s basic needs. You can speed up the process by adding a stump removal solution from any garden center or nursery, but the easiest and most natural way is to combine this technique with the next: using Epsom salt.
6. Epsom Salt Overload
Using Epsom salt is a cheap, natural way to kill a tree stump, and it may be one of the easiest methods on this list. The process takes a few months, and allows the stump to die over time, similarly to the plastic wrap technique.
It’s not the quickest way to kill a tree stump, but you can accelerate the process by combining techniques. If you drill holes, fill the stump with salts, and seal it with plastic wrap, it’ll be gone in no time.
For a small tree stump, spread the salt directly onto and around the wood. Just make sure you avoid any plants you have growing nearby, since you don’t want to damage them. Epsom salt won’t harm the soil, and you can even reuse the salt.
It’s important that you never use traditional table salt. Epsom salt or rock salt is less harmful to the soil, so make sure you find 100% pure Epsom salt with no added ingredients. Your best bet is magnesium sulfate, which is a known popular, natural choice for killing weeds and plants.
Tips for Best Results:
For a larger tree stump, you’ll want to begin by drilling holes into it. Find a long drill bit and an electric drill with either a spade or auger bit. There are no physically active demands in this technique beyond drilling, which makes it an easy process.
The holes should still be up to an inch wide and 8 inches deep. The deeper you can get the salt into the tree stump, the better. Pack the salt into the stump through the holes you drilled, filling them completely. Then moisten the salt with just enough water to pack it in without washing anything out.
To seal the salt into the stump, plug up the holes using wax from a plain, unscented candle. Just light a taper candle and drip the melting wax down into each hole, and the salt should stay in place.
You can also protect the salts from melting in the rain by placing a tarp or garbage bag over the top, just like the plastic wrap technique. Rather than melting wax into to hole, a tightly fit plastic top will keep the rain from washing the salt out of the holes. If you have heavy rains, you may wish to do both.
The stump may take around three to six months to fully dry out and die, depending on its size. Check on it every month to ensure the Epsom salt hasn’t been entirely absorbed. If the salt levels ever seem low, fill them back up to the tops of the holes and repeat the moistening and covering process.