Written by davethetreecenters • October 28 How to Kill a Tree Stump

One of the biggest problems in a garden happens after a tree is removed. A large tree may be taken down to let in light, because it is crowding the house, or because it is just too big for where it is. Once the tree is down you are left with the stump and often it will re-sprout, and the more you cut it down the faster it keeps sprouting again. So what to do?

Really there are two issues here which may require different solutions. If you also want to remove the stump from the ground, then that is what to focus on, not the sprouting. If you don’t need to take out the stump, but just stop it sprouting, that is not so difficult and won’t take much trouble, so let’s deal with that one first.

Killing a Tree that Keeps Sprouting

The big mistake is to keep on cutting off the shoots that appear. That only encourages more and it will take years to kill the stump that way. Instead, go to your local hardware or garden center and buy a bottle of Roundup, which contains the chemical glyphosate. This is a chemical that is not very dangerous to humans and animals, but deadly to plants. There are two ways to apply it, depending on your situation.

If the tree is growing by itself and not near plants in your garden, then mix it up at the maximum rate recommended and spray the shoots when they have grown maybe three feet tall. This works best in the later part of summer and in early fall. Wait a week or so and then cut off the dying branches. By that time the chemical will have moved into the roots and it will kill them. Sometimes, depending on the tree, you may get more shoots, so if that does happen, just do the same thing again. It is unlikely you will need to do it a third time. That stump will be dead.

If your stump is among your flowers or even in the lawn, then you need a different way to put it on, since the spray will kill everything it touches. Now it is time to put on The Glove of Death. Take an old rubber glove from the kitchen and glue a thin sponge onto the palm with waterproof glue. When the glue has dried, mix some Roundup in a bucket, put on the glove, dip it in the bucket, squeeze the sponge so it doesn’t drip and then wipe the leaves of your annoying tree with the sponge. Keep doing this until all the leaves are wet, but make sure they don’t drip onto surrounding plants. Then just follow the same steps described earlier. By the way, the Glove of Death is great for dealing with hard-to-remove weeds too.

Removing a Stump

With a smaller tree it is not a huge job to just dig out the whole stump. That will certainly make sure it is dead. Even a small tree can have a tough root system, so you may need to chop or saw through the larger roots as you dig around it. If you can bring in a back-hoe, then of course it is an easy job that takes just a few minutes unless the tree is very large indeed. Be careful if the tree is near a driveway or the foundations of your house that you don’t disturb them by ripping at the roots.

An alternative is to bring in a stump grinder. This is a small machine that can be fitted into most yards and is hired with an operator. Many arborists have one. This machine has teeth that grind down the top few inches of the stump and turn it into sawdust. Once that is done you can dump some soil over the top, level it and plant a lawn or flowers over the top. The only issue that can arise years later is that as the remaining parts of the stump rot in the soil, the ground may sink and need more soil added. That is mostly a problem if the area is in your lawn, since the grass will sink too. However having a stump ground down is a lot cheaper than bringing in a back-hoe.

Burning out a Stump

If you have some patience and live in an area where fires are permitted, then you can burn out the stump by turning it into a kind of gunpowder – don’t worry, it won’t go bang. Check with your local city to see if open fires are permitted, and then head to the hardware or garden center for a stump-removal chemical in powder or granular form. This should contain potassium nitrate, or saltpeter. The chemical will convert the wood into a form that can burn without air, so the underground parts can burn too.

Drill several large, deep holes into the stump, just a few inches apart – every two inches is great. Now the hard part is over. Pour the powder or granules into the drill holes, and push them as far into the holes as you can. Once the holes are full, add the amount of water recommended on the packet – don’t add more as that will slow things down. Cover the stump to keep pets and kids away and to keep it dry, as rain will dilute the chemical and slow things down.

Check every couple of weeks and after some time you will see that the wood has become soft and spongy and you can break off pieces of it. This may take a couple of months, so be patient. Now soak the stump with some kerosene. Cover it again, come back in a couple of days and soak it again. Do this several times and then carefully set the stump alight.

Keep a close watch on the fire and it will gradually spread underground and burn out almost all the stump. When the fire goes out naturally, fill the hole with earth, pack it down a little and then cover with sod, flowers or shrubs. With this method you won’t get any future collapsing of the soil because the wood is almost all gone.

So there are lots of options for killing a tree stump – just pick the one that works best for your needs and remember that when you take out a tree, plant two new ones!