Photo: Damix (Shutterstock)
Have you ever tried getting rid of an old tree stump only to be left, well, stumped? (Sorry, sorry.) There’s no shortage of reasons to get rid of that pesky stump, whether you’re making way for new trees to grow, or you want to avoid trip hazards in your yard. Luckily, there’s also no shortage of solutions for you to get the job done.
The best method to get rid of a tree stump depends on your timeline. Left alone, most stumps will take years to naturally rot and decompose. There are several home remedies that will accelerate that timeline to a few weeks or months. If you need to remove it immediately, there are more physical options to kill that stump for good. Below we detail a bunch of methods, so you can choose the right one for you and your stump.
This is a great solution if you’re seeking a slower, natural approach to getting rid of a tree stump. Epsom salt contains magnesium and sulfur, which are beneficial to plants but deadly in large quantities. The goal here is to overdose the stump with Epsom salt, which will suck the moisture out of it and accelerate its full decay (which, again, can take several years on its own).
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Grab a power drill and follow these steps to use Epsom salt to kill a tree stump:
When done right, the stump will die within two to three months. Here’s a fun tree fact to keep in mind going forward: Pale wood typically still has life left, while dark and brittle wood is dead.
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This method is similar to the Epsom salt approach, with some slight variations:
Keep watering the stump every few days for one to two months to keep the stump moist with the saltwater solution. If you see fungi start to grow, that’s a good sign, since they’re there to help with decomposition.
Note for these salt approaches: As roots break down, small sinkholes and other soft spots can develop around the tree stump you salted. Fill in these holes with additional soil to prevent injuries that could occur if someone tripped in one of these holes.
If your home isn’t overflowing with salt, never fear: Boiling hot water can shock a stump’s root system to severely damage and eventually kill it.
Once the stump and roots are dead, the natural decomposition process can begin.
The simplest strategy: Condemn your tree stump to darkness. If you’re looking for low-effort, and don’t mind waiting for nature to do its thing, here’s how to kill a tree stump with a plastic bag or tarp:
If the stump is small enough, you can try covering it with a dark-colored bucket or container. Rotting should start to take place in two to three months.
While we recommend the home remedies above for a gentler death, here are some options if you need to get rid of that stump ASAP.
This method allows you to remove as many tree roots as possible and ensure that the stump doesn’t continue to grow. Plus, it’s going to be quite the workout for whoever is doing the digging. To save time and effort, and to reduce the risk of damage to your yard, you might want to hire a professional for this job. Otherwise, here’s how to dig out a stump with basic hand tools:
Note: This process can take multiple hours of labor, depending on the size of the tree stump and its root system.
Compared to digging, burning out the stump doesn’t tackle the roots below soil level. Then again, this method requires much less physical labor and will suffice to get rid of the above-ground issue.
Some fire precautions before embarking on your burning journey:
If burning is the method for you, the key is not to try and set the stump itself ablaze right off the bat, but to build a fire over and around the stump. Here’s how to go about it:
When you’re done burning the stump, place the ash and burned pieces in a fire-safe container or bucket.
This is the go-to method if you have the right tools. If you don’t have a grinder machine, this approach is so quick and effective, it might be worth hiring a tree removal professional ( typical prices for this job are around $100–$400). Stump grinder machine rental costs typically fall between $80 and $150 for a four-hour window.
If you have a grinder machine, use it as instructed to chip away at the wood and cut any roots that are connected to the stump. Remember to clear the area of any obstacles, like rocks, or children.
Another reminder for the grinder approach: Use the Call Before You Dig hotline, 8-1-1 so that any underground gas, electricity, water, and communication line locations will be flagged so you can avoid them.
This process can take anywhere from two to six hours depending on the size of the stump. With this method and all the above, once you’ve removed the tree stump, you’ll want to add topsoil or mulch in and around the area.
Instead of resorting to those items above, turn to popular herbicide brands (like Spectracide) for designated tree stump removal products. And as we said at the top, you can always use natural solutions like Epsom or rock salt.
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