How to kill & remove tree stumps & roots + best stump killers

Trees are the kinds of garden plants that take excruciatingly long to cultivate. Once they fully grow, you cannot help but take pride in how beautiful your garden has turned out to be. Not only do they add a touch of grace to your garden, but they also provide you with a much-needed respite from the scorching sun. They might even provide you with fresh fruit.

tree stump

All these fine qualities make it that much harder to part with them. Perhaps they were infected by a disease. Maybe you want to refurbish your yard. In any case, you’ve decided to cut it down mercilessly. Though somewhat laborious, it does not take too long. All would be well were it not for the hideous remainder of where the tree once stood – the tree stump.

Though it may seem like you’ll never get rid of this monstrosity, there is hope. This article will delve deeper into the art of tree trunk removal.

How to kill a tree stump & roots fast

This section will take a closer look at our available options. After reading it, you will be acquainted with the benefits and drawbacks of each method.

Bonide stump-out

Using a stump grinder

If it is speed you seek, no tool will get the job done faster than a stump grinder. Resembling a lawn mower, the grinder was devised to shred whatever dares to stand in its path ruthlessly. As no chemicals are required, it does not harm the surrounding flora. What’s more, it will only be a matter of hours before you eliminate the unseemly landmark. 

These devices are expensive to purchase, and you are unlikely to use them much. We recommend you rent one for a day, though it will still be the most expensive method. The other disadvantage is the manual labor required to operate it, although this shouldn’t be a problem if you are used to mowing your lawn. 

All told, this method is suitable for those readers who don’t mind spending some extra cash to make short work of the tree stump. 

Digging the stump out

The second fastest approach is to take the matter into your own hands – quite literally. All you need is a spade and handsaw. Before you get to work, evaluate the size of the trunk you wish to dig up. This method works for smaller stumps and, to some degree, for medium-sized ones. 

Unfortunately, particularly voluminous stumps might pose an insurmountable challenge. The type of the surrounding soil also plays a role. Moist, soft soil will be easy to work with. However, dry and stony one might refuse to give in. In either case, we recommend giving up the fruitless labor and checking out the other methods we offer. 

To summarize, manual digging works best for small trunks planted in moist, soft soil. 

Burn it out

Setting the stump ablaze might seem more like desperation rather than a rational decision, but it can get the job done. Together with manual digging, it is also the cheapest method. The fire should decimate the trunk in less than two days, but you must prepare it in advance. The preparations include drilling holes into the stump and dousing it with fuel or other flammable substance. 

If you opt for this quick and cheap method, be careful – you’re playing with fire!

Use a tree stump remover.

One visit to a nearby home store will take you to a world filled with innumerable tree stump killer chemicals you’ve never dreamed existed. Readily available, these products are relatively cheap. They are guaranteed to eat away the grotesque lumps in your garden. If you’re wondering why we bothered mentioning the other methods when these products will get the job done for you, there is one significant downside. They usually take more than two months to work their magic. After this time, the trunk will turn soft and brittle. You can easily remove it. 

Using Epsom salts

We offer an alternative to the chemical tree stump removers for our eco-friendly readers. Natural and readily available, Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) work similarly to their synthetic counterparts. The one disadvantage is that they might not match their efficacy. 

Using copper nails

Copper is a metal noxious to tree trunks. Thus, it can be used to kill them. In addition, its area of effect is contained solely to the trunk itself. It means that no nearby vegetation is harmed in the process. 

Remember that although this technique might work for smaller trees, large ones might survive the ordeal. 

Does stump killer really work & what is it?

As their name implies, these are chemical substances devised to kill tree stumps. Created to fulfill this one purpose, they do indeed work. Most of them contain potassium nitrate – a key substance that accelerates the decomposition process. Whatever doubts you might have about their efficacy likely stems from the time they need to work. Even though they speed up decay tremendously, it will still take weeks or even months until they kill it.

Stumped by the sheer amount of products available? Here are some of the products we’ve reviewed:

Roundup Tree Stump Killer

Beginner-friendly yet effective, we were particularly pleased with this product. In addition to killing stumps, this versatile product also works on common weeds.

Since it is liquid, you must first dilute it with water. The recommended ratio is 1:9, Roundup to water. The application itself is simple – spray the solution onto a tree trunk. In a couple of weeks, it will eat it through it all the way to the roots. Not more than a month passed before we could see the results.

Given it is not a particularly picky herbicide, be sure you do not plant everything over the trunk for at least a week. Otherwise, the trace amounts of the chemical might harm your freshly planted vegetation.

Spectracide Stump Remover

Another good option to get rid of these pesky monuments is Spectracide. Although it is slower, it is a very economical option. We’ve noticed it works best for small to medium trunks, as it struggled a little with the biggest ones. However, it is gentle to the surrounding vegetation. It ensures that the nearby plant will be left unscathed.

As opposed to the previous product, this one comes in granules. Place them into the prepared holes in the stump and then pour water over them so that they dissolve.

In case you are dealing with a fresh stump, we recommend that you first apply a brush killer to the surrounding area. This will remove the surrounding moisture and increase the efficacy of the product.

BrandSpectracide
Item Weight1 pounds
ManufacturerUnited Industries
Product Dimensions9.7 x 4 x 1.9 inches

Pros

  • It’s a great product for the money.
  • The spout is easy to pour from.
  • It vastly speeds up degrading dead wood.

Cons

  • Make sure you read the instructions to use it properly.
  • It does not work on a live stump.
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Spectracide HG-66420
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Spectracide HG-66420
We love Spectracide.

Gordon’s Tree Stump Killer

A particularly lethal concoction, Gordon’s Tree Stump Killer will make short work of the trunk. Killing the roots as well ensures that they will never grow back. What’s more, we still have plenty of this product left – it came in a 32-ounce bottle.

The application is extremely easy since the container is a very practical squirt bottle. Just apply it to the stump and let it work its magic. Bear in mind that it is a non-selective herbicide – it might harm the nearby flora.

Bonide Stump Out, Stump and Vine Killer

Bonide product

This granular tree stump remover can be used on many woody plants such as vines or bushes. It is this versatility that made it stand out to us. It comes in granules, and the container cap makes the application as simple as possible.

However, it is best used for trunks that are at least a year old. Though it might act as a growth control when applied to fresh ones, it will fail to kill it.

To use it, place the granules into pre-drilled holes in your stump and dissolve them in water. Reapply as needed until it turns brittle and porous. It should take about six weeks.

BrandBonide
Item Weight7.2 ounces
Liquid Volume8 Fluid Ounces
Product Dimensions4 x 4 x 6 inches

Pros

  • It managed to kill mesquite.
  • It does take time and patience to work.
  • It’s easy to apply.
  • The container should last you a long time.

Cons

  • It would be convenient if it came with an eyedropper applicator.
  • It’s not a miracle product and takes time.
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Bonide Stump Out, Stump and Vine Killer
2,422 Reviews
Bonide Stump Out, Stump and Vine Killer
Bonide is a trusted name in the industry.

How do you kill a tree stump fast?

  1. Using a stump grinder

    If you opt for this technique, be prepared to pay anywhere from $100 to $200 to rent a stump grinder. Bear in mind that these devices are as large as lawn mowers. Thus, your car might not possess the capacity necessary to carry it yourself. Additional fees might be required for delivery services.
    Is this the first time you use this tool? Consult the instruction manual before you get to work.
    Once you get your stump grinder, read on:
    1. Dress up for the task. Protective gear, safety goggles, and ear defenders are a must when operating a device of this caliber.
    2. Clear the area around the trunk. Remove all rocks and other hard debris before you tackle the stump itself. If you don’t, the grinder might scatter them in every direction. What’s more, the rocks might damage the tool.
    3. Move the machine a few inches over the trunk and turn it on.
    4. Start slowly lowering the grinder. As you do so, perform a side-to-side motion to chisel the stump properly. Be patient and let the machine eat through it.
    5. Move over the trunk and repeat the process. The whole perimeter must be about 3 inches below the soil.
    6. Once finished, backfill the hole. Be sure you add fresh, fertile soil on top if you plan to plant anything over it.stump grinder

  2. Using the burning method

    You’d probably think all wood burns easily since it’s been used as fuel since time immemorial. Well, that does not apply to wood which is still alive. A tree stump will not catch fire on the very same day you felled the tree. You might have to wait a year before you can apply this method.
    To get started, you must first cut it into smaller pieces. It will enlarge its surface area, allowing it to dry sooner. In addition, it provides a constant oxygen intake to the fire once you start it.
    We offer two methods to accomplish this – the saw method and the drill method.
    Cut deep into the tree trunk with a chainsaw and create a 2×2 inch grid. The fuel will be able to permeate deeper into the trunk, making it burn faster.

    The second method calls for a power drill. With a 1-inch drill bit equipped, drill in horizontal and vertical holes so that they connect. It creates an internal grid of sorts, achieving the same end as the saw method.

    Once done, soak a piece of cloth in flammable liquid. It can be fuel, oil, or alcohol. Due to gas prices going up, we advise using alcohol or a BBQ lighter if you want to be economical. Force the wet cloth deep into the holes. Choose a cloth you’re willing to part with, as it will burn together with the stump.

    Then, drench the stump with the flammable liquid of your choosing. Allow it to fill every cavity. Let it soak for a few days and ensure that the top is protected from rain and morning dew, ideally by covering it.

    Before you awaken your inner pyromaniac, it is a good idea to cover the trunk with a wall of rock or other flammable debris. It will help contain the fire to the trunk, protecting your garden.
    When you set it alight, expect the fire to take about a day to eat its way through. This is because most of the fire will be contained within so that it will burn slowly.

    Alternatively, you can use coal to do the deed. Prepare the stump using either one of the methods, then light up some coal on your grill. Once it begins to smolder, douse it over the trunk until it erodes it from within.stump about to be burned

  3. Using tree stump removers

    1. Gear up for the job. Equip protective gloves and safety goggles.
    2. Chisel the stump to such a state that you may apply the chemicals. This means shortening it as much as possible, ideally with a saw.
    3. Extract as much tree bark as you can. It is impervious to water, which may interfere with the decay.
    4. Equip your power drill with a 1-in diameter bit.
    5. Drill several holes into the trunk, at least 6 inches deep. Ideally, you want to penetrate deep below the soil level, so make them deeper if you must. They should be an inch or two apart for maximum efficacy.
    6. The time has come to apply the product of your choosing. Following the instructions written on the bottle, fill up each hole with it.
    7. In case granular type is used, add water to dissolve it. In solid form, it will not work properly.
    8. Inspect the decay progress every week. Apply more products if you must. The stump should be brittle enough for extraction after several weeks.stump killer

  4. Using Epsom Salts

    1. Grab a power drill and equip it with a 1-inch diameter bit.
    2. Drill several holes into the stump. We recommend that you drill them 8 inches deep, leaving a couple of inches between each one.
    3. Douse the trunk with the salt and pour water over it. The dissolved salt will better permeate the stump and prevent it from drawing nutrients from the soil.
    4. Cover it to block off potential rain. If you don’t, the salt will be washed away. Make sure you use covers made from impervious material, such as plastic.
    5. Repeat this procedure at least once a week until the stump appears brittle and desiccated. 6. Don’t be discouraged if you find no sign of progress – this method may take months before it works.
    7. Remove the stump with a spade or shovel when you can confirm it is dead.epsom salt

  5. Using copper nails

    1. Purchase the right nails. It means nails crafted entirely from this metal. A mere copper coat will not be sufficient to poison the stump. A trunk wide 5 inches in diameter calls for 10 nails. Each one should be at least 4 inches long.
    2. Placing the nails as close to the roots as possible, hammer them into the trunk. It might be a good idea to first shorten the trunk for better effect. Keep the nails at least 1 inch afar from one another.
    3. Remove all sprouts and roots emanating from the stump. With no other choice, it will draw nutrients from the copper and ultimately perish.
    4. Let the nails work their magic. Check on the decay every week. It should take one to three months for the trunk to rot completely. It all depends on its size.
    5. When it withers away, remove the nails using a nail puller.
    6. With the nails out, all that remains is to remove the stump itself.copper nails

Have you figured out which of these methods you’ll be using?

  • Stump grinder
  • Digging it out
  • Burning it
  • Using a chemical product
  • Using copper nails

FAQ

Stump-out removal product
How long does it take for a stump killer to work?

That depends largely on what product you use. The information should be provided on the plastic container. However, most tree stump removers take from one to six months to choke the life from it.

How to rot a stump

There are different methods to rot a stump, from copper nails to chemicals designed specifically for this task. Refer to the section above to see how it’s done.

However, there are ways to speed up this excruciatingly slow process.

The decay itself requires oxygen. Thus, aerating your soil is always a good idea. Aside from plowing, you may drill holes into it as well. Make sure you do so not only near the stump itself but also near all its roots.

Moisture also affects how fast the stump will rot. You can further facilitate it by watering the surrounding area at least once a week. Be careful not to wash down any active substances from the trunk if you use them. Do not use this method if you’ve applied a chemical that needs the stump to remain dry.

Finally, shorten the stump as much as possible. Hack away every root you can and create grooves into its body. It will increase its surface area, allowing for faster decay.

Can bleach kill a tree stump?

You might be tempted to reach for this ubiquitous cleaning product when affronted by a tree trunk. It might even work for smaller trees. However, we recommend opting for tailor-made tree stump removers designed specifically for this task. This is because bleach is not guaranteed to get the job done. It will likely kill off any new branches sprouting from the trunk, but it will fail to penetrate all the way down to the roots.

Moreover, this vile substance will wreak havoc on the surrounding area. Unless you wish to be left with a circle of dead grass to commemorate the day you tried to remove a stump, we urge you to try a different method.

If you decide to go through with it for reasons of your own, follow this guide to increase your odds of succeeding.

Pour the bleach onto a freshly cut stump. A dry surface means its vascular bundles are closed off, and it won’t be able to soak in. Shorten the trunk with a saw before you apply it. Secure the surface with an impervious cover. Otherwise, the rain might wash it off. Not only will this reduce its killing potential, but it will also damage the nearby flora. Reapply as needed until the stump rots entirely, then remove it with an ax.