How to Kill a Tree Stump: 4 DIY Ways to Remove it for Good

Updated: | Categories: Lawn & Garden
how to kill a tree stump

You don't need to be a specialist to know how to kill a tree stump. Anyone can whip up a homemade tree stump killer and engage in DIY tree stump removal, all using things you already have in your home.

We have multiple reasons to cut down trees. Generally, we do it to clear the land for building, for lumber, or to reduce the risk of one falling over onto our homes during a storm.

The end result is we have one or several tree stumps in our front or backyards. We have to mow and weed-eat around them. They're ugly, the kids might fall into them, and so forth. Let's talk about how to kill a tree stump easily without any special tools.

How to Kill a Tree Stump: 4 DIY Methods

If you’re wondering how to kill a tree stump without wasting your hard-earned money, energy and time, read on to see the four easiest methods. We've laid out the steps of each technique so you can decide which one of the tree stump removal methods is the right option for you.

Use Epsom Salt

epsom salt as a homemade tree stump killer
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By using Epsom salt, you can fairly easily get rid of a tree stump. It's a cheap method that doesn't require a lot of time or effort, and many of us have Epsom salt already in our houses. I have some now in the bathroom sink cabinet for when I want to soak in the tub. You probably do, too.

This method is easiest if you have a drill bit and a power drill, but you can also create the holes with thick and long nails and a hammer, which you're more likely to have in the garage already.

First, you have to drill holes into the stump as deep as possible. Make sure that these holes are a quarter-inch wide and almost 3 inches from outside a tree stump.

drill holes in tree stump to aid in killing it

These holes should be at least an inch apart from one another. Drill as many holes as you can on the surface of the stump. These holes should intersect with each other under the surface if possible.

Next, fill these holes up with Epsom salt. But leave some space at the top to add water. This will dissolve the minerals, though you may need to return later to add more water as the process occurs. Be careful while adding water to prevent spillage of the solution.

Then, cover the entire base with a thick layer of powder. As a result, the process of drying is accelerated as it sucks moisture out of the stump. This could be fine cat litter or even cheaper baking soda.

You can skip this "powder" step if you want. It's not a big deal, because it also sucks moisture from the ground around the stump, so it's not that effective. Gasoline can also kill the stump, though it won't aid in drying it out. This all works if you need to kill cactus growth too.

When you’re done, cover the stump up with a water-resistant tarp to protect it from rain and sunlight. After a month or more, you will notice that the stump is drying out. This is when you can more easily remove the stump from your yard with an axe or even a crowbar to pry it up.

Burn The Tree Stump

burn tree stump with fire

Burning is another way of killing a tree stump. Controlled burning can be generally free of cost, however, you need to take some necessary precautions to make sure it's safe.

Also, this method can't be performed in many areas because of the fire codes, like in a suburb usually. Outside of city limits in the county is usually okay.

For this procedure, it works best if you drill holes again. The holes should be an inch apart and over 10 inches deep. You don't have to do this, but it might be harder to get the interior of the stump to light up.

Once you have drilled the holes, fill those up by pouring kerosene oil or gasoline until the whole stump is thoroughly soaked. Pour along the top as well and down the sides. Then ignite it by placing a scrap wood or charcoal on the top or the side of the stump.

The fire must reach down to the roots and convert it into ashes. Also, you can use a burn barrel to burn off the tree stump. By placing a metal barrel filled with wood over the tree stump, you can start a fire.

In some cases, you have to repeat this method a few times before you cut the stump off. One thing to be aware of is if there's a lot of root systems from other trees around, there is a risk of burning those too, and even fire leading to another dry tree, so please monitor the surrounding area over time.

Block The Sunlight

tarp over tree stump
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With this technique, you have to steal the sunlight away from your tree stump. As we all know, trees need sunlight to complete their photochemical reactions, and they will eventually die if they don’t get an appropriate amount.

You can use a variety of materials to cover a tree stump such as canvas, polyester coated with polyurethane, sheets made of plastics like polyethylene, or even a black garbage bag.

All you have to do is to take one of these materials and seal the stump under them by using duct tape. To make this work bettr, cut down the seedlings that are growing around the stump.

Remember, you have to check the progress from time to time. This procedure takes a lot of time because it's a slow method to starve a stump of light and then to rot.

You have to wait until it rots and falls apart on its own. This is an effective method to kill a stump as it stunts the growth of the plant and then causes it to decay. It's the easiest DIY tree stump removal method if you have the patience, possibly months.

As a bonus interesting side note: in ancient times, people used to insert copper nails into the living cells of the tree stump. This method takes almost a year to work, but you can use it to fasten the decaying process. Copper nails slowly poison the tree stump. As a result, it dies in a couple of months.

Use Boiling Water

boiling water for DIY tree stump removal

This is one of the best and cost-effective ways from our guide on how to kill a tree stump. This technique also affects the roots using a simple homemade tree stump killer: boiling water. Damaging the roots of the tree stump is the aim of this method.

Take a pot and add a substantial amount of water into it. Place it on the stove and wait until it is boiling thoroughly. Then pour this hot water directly on the roots of the tree stump. For this method to work, it’s crucial to be sure that the majority of the root system is wholly burnt.

If you can, scrape away the dirt and chase the roots out as far as you can. You can pour the water on them, but it may be easier to cut them closer to the stump with an axe so you have less of a job to do in terms of finding the roots and hitting them with the water. You can just focus on the uncut portions instead.

If you want to speed up the process, you can make holes on the tree stump so that the heat will spread throughout the tree stump. Like the other techniques on this list, this will also kill the tree stump by deteriorating it.

Why You Should Kill & Remove Tree Stumps

After we cut a tree, a small part of the trunk is typically left over. This part of the trunk contains roots, which means that it can regrow or at least be a continuing nuisance.

In most cases, a tree stump is unable to grow shoots because it is half dead, though some will. In such cases, it's nothing but an unpleasant view that may ruin your backyard's beauty. Plus, if we choose to keep a tree stump at our house, it may attract some insects and even pests. 

Additionally, a tree stump just occupies that extra space that you can use for so many other things. If left undealt with, a tree stump may also cause accidents.

For instance, anyone can trip over a tree stump and hurt themselves. Furthermore, the roots of a tree stump can absorb water from the other trees, reducing the overall health of your lawn in general.

However, pulling these stumps out of the ground isn't an easy task. Even though it may look like a tough nut to crack, there are several ways to remove it.

At times, the roots of these tree stumps can damage our houses' water and sewerage pipelines. This is why you should quickly act on the information you found after searching "how to kill a tree stump".

And That's How to Kill a Tree Stump

tree stump grinding

All the ideas that are discussed in this list are highly effective. You can use these methods anytime without worrying about not having any tools or heavy-duty equipment.

If you don’t want your backyard to look unkempt and shabby, you must take care of this. Also, you're not using any harmful chemicals or herbicides when you perform these methods. Other than that, there are some precautions that you need to be aware of, mentioned above.

No matter which idea you pick to remove this unwanted portion of a tree, they will all work wonders for you. However, it is always a better idea to hire a professional tree removal service to take care of the job if you have specific queries or confusions about the errand and want it done fast. They can also guide you on how to save a dying tree.

They know how to kill a tree stump the fast way, typically with a big saw blade that turns them into sawdust in a few passes, called a stump grinder. Then you fill in the hole and grow grass over it, and that's a happy ending.

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Rick Worst Headshot Rick is a home design consultant and enthusiast, who's life is consumed by all things home and garden. Starting as a hobby, Worst Room has grown into an information and inspiration wheelhouse for professionals and home owners alike. Rick serves as owner and editor for our many content contributors. Learn more about operation here.