How to Kill a Tree Stump

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When a tree falls or is cut down, the stump that it leaves behind can be a major annoyance. Stumps often get in the way while mowing and landscaping, require extra maintenance to take care of weeds that grow up around them and may even produce new growth that can eventually lead to the development of new trees. Killing the stump ensures that no new growth can occur and speeds up the natural breakdown process to get rid of the stump once and for all.

Things You'll Need

  • Saw
  • Drill with 1-inch spade bit and extension
  • Slow-release fertilizer, salt or potassium nitrate stump remover
  • Soil
  • Ax (optional)
  • Kerosene or fuel oil (optional)
  • Stump grinder (optional)

Lower the Stump

Cut the stump down as close to ground level as possible before you start working on stump removal. This not only exposes more of the living wood to bacteria and fungi that will speed up its decay but also reduces the hazard presented by a tall stump. Make sure that you cut through any shoots or new growth that is emerging from the stump as well.

Warning

  • Take appropriate safety precautions when cutting the stump, especially if using power tools. Eye and hand protection can prevent painful accidents.

Access the Living Wood

Drill a series of holes 8 to 12 inches deep straight down into the top of the stump using a 1-inch spade bit. The holes should make a ring around the inside of the stump's perimeter, approximately 3 or 4 inches in from the edge of the stump. Drill additional holes closer to the edge, angling them at a 45-degree angle so that they connect with the deeper holes.

Pack the Holes

Fill the holes you drilled with slow-release granular fertilizer, salt or a granular potassium nitrate stump remover. Pour water into the holes afterward until they are full; this will begin dissolving the material you packed the holes with and start killing the stump. Keep in mind that it may take weeks for the stump to die.

Warning

  • Always wear gloves and eye protection when dealing with chemicals such as potassium nitrate.

Bury the Stump

Cover the stump completely with soil, watering it to help pack it down and to create a moist environment that will speed up the decay process. Once the buried stump is dead, it will gradually break down and rot beneath the soil.

Tip

  • Check the spot where the stump is buried periodically, as the rotting stump may cause a dip in the soil as it breaks down. Add more soil as necessary to keep your yard level.

Removal Alternatives

If rotting out the stump takes too long, there are alternatives that will speed up the stump removal process. Chopping up the stump with an ax several weeks after applying stump removal chemicals; soaking it with kerosene or fuel oil (not gasoline) for a few weeks and burning it out; or using a stump grinder to break the stump down into wood chips are certainly faster but do carry their own risks and costs. Burning permits, constant monitoring, debris removal and other safety considerations may be required as well.

Warning

  • While you may be tempted to dig out a stump or pull it out with a chain attached to a car or truck, keep in mind that even small trees can have large root balls that are difficult to dig around. Trying to pull up a stump with a car or truck can even result in damage to your vehicle if the root ball is too large.

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