Will My Tree Grow Back From a Stump?

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Stumps cut close to the ground are less likely to regrow.
Stumps cut close to the ground are less likely to regrow. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

The chances of a tree growing back from a stump depend on a number of factors. The stump must still be alive and have not undergone significant decay. It must also possess the necessary energy to send up shoots, known as suckers, to attempt to absorb sunlight for photosynthesis. Gardeners have different options, depending on whether they are attempting to maximize the chances of a tree growing back from its stump or prevent regrowth.

Cut Low

If you want to prevent a tree from regrowing, cut the stump as low to the ground as possible. The less wood remaining, the less stored energy the stump will have with which to send up suckers. When cutting a tree down, aim to leave less than 12 inches of stump above ground. If you are dealing with an existing stump, remove as much of the above-ground wood as possible to prevent regrowth.

Nitrogen Fertilizer

Applying nitrogen fertilizer to a tree stump hastens its decay. Natural processes involving fungi and bacteria will take hold of a tree stump a short time after it has been cut. Fungi, nonphotosynthetic organisms that feed on decaying wood, can reduce a tree stump to a pile of mulch in a few seasons. Adding nitrogen fertilizer to a stump helps feed these fungi while they wait for the stump to begin to decay. Fertilizer can be placed in drilled holes in the stump and sprinkled around the area, according to the label directions. Do not exceed the recommended usage as too much nitrogen fertilizer can burn surrounding grass and ornamental plants.

Herbicide Application

If you want to stop a tree stump from regrowing after it has been cut, applying a coat of paint-on or spray-on herbicide to the stump works well. Most products must be applied to open "wounds" in the stump, so applying immediately after the tree has been cut down is ideal. If you are treating an older stump, open up new cuts in the wood with an axe or chainsaw before applying herbicide.

Encouraging Regrowth

For a tree to regrow from a stump, a laundry list of conditions must be met. The tree itself must survive the cut and have the necessary stored energy to send up suckers. It must also be able to harden over the suckers before winter, and grow them large enough to conduct photosynthesis and keep the entire tree alive. Coniferous trees sprout from stumps from time to time, and you can do three things to encourage regrowth: Keep the stump above ground, don't let it get buried by leaf litter or grass clippings, and try to keep the area dry to prevent decay.

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