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While getting rid of a tree, for whatever reason, merely requires you to cut it down, getting rid of the stump and roots system can be a bit more challenging.
A tree trunk with its bark intact, i.e., its vascular system of xylem and phloem, can still recover and send shoots out to collect food via emerging foliage and photosynthesis. Killing a tree requires compromising the food system and attacking its health.
Table of Contents
- Safety First
- 6 Ways of Killing Tree Stumps
- How to Kill a Tree Stump – Option 1 – Remove the Bark
- How to Kill a Tree Stump – Option 2 – Dehydrate the Stump
- How to Kill a Tree Stump – Option 3 – Poison the Stump
- How to Kill a Tree Stump – Option 4 – Incinerating the Stump
- How to Kill a Tree Stump – Option 5 – Solarize the Stump
- How to Kill a Tree Stump – Option 6 – Use Brute Force
- 5 Tree Stump Removal Options
- Decomposing Tree Stumps
It is crucial to pre-plan any activity that uses heavy tools, fire, or chemicals. Some safety considerations are:
- Being prepared for possibilities is prudent. Working alone in remote places is dangerous because if anything happens, it may be a challenge to call for help.
- Use protective gear always.
- Wear footgear that doesn’t conduct electricity if you’re working with power tools
- Wear hard-capped toes if there is a risk of falling weights.
- Wear eye protection for chainsaws and power tools that create flying debris
- Wear appropriate gloves for the work you’re doing. If you’re working with corrosive materials like hydroperoxide, wear rubber gloves. If you’re working with sharp-edged per tools, wear leather gloves.
- Wear long sleeves and long pants.
- Wear a face mask if you suspect the tree has fungus mold.
- Wear earmuffs to protect your hearing later in life.
- Keep a first aid kit handy.
- Have a fire extinguisher handy if you’re burning your tree trunk.
- Have a charged mobile handy, checking coverage if you’re working in remote areas.
- Make sure to use chains and nylon straps for pulling tree stumps out. Make sure everybody is clear of chains and straps under tension. If they break, they can cause severe injury and even be fatal.
- Using hoists or jacks, keep your feet clear from the lifted objects.
- Be careful; then you won’t have to be sorry.
- At least two weeks before your scheduled workday, call the Call Before You Dig hotline (8-1-1) to avoid any of the marked subsurface gas, electrical, water, or communication lines.
6 Ways of Killing Tree Stumps
Your choice of how you’re going to kill your tree stump depends on:
- The time you’ve got to complete the kill, i.e., how quickly you want the stump dead
- Whether the remaining dead stump will serve some purpose
- Whether you want to use the area where the stump and root system are for gardening
- Whether you want to remove the stump after killing it
How to Kill a Tree Stump – Option 1 – Remove the Bark
Ring barking was originally employed to thin woodlands and reduce tree populations without resorting to tree cutting. Put plainly, ring barking is the kiss of death for trees.
If the tree cannot heal, the tissue above the ringbark will perish. The tree’s defenses are weakened, and it’s put under strain. Disruption of the phloem and xylem compromise the tree’s ability to absorb nutrients and manage the water supply.
By removing the bark off the stump, you are removing the parts that could initiate new growth.
How Effective is Bark Removal in Killing Tree Stumps?
This is a good option if you want to use the dead stump in its current position once it’s dead but don’t want it sending out shoots.
It is also a wise option if you want to remove the stump and root system later. It is not the best system if you have time limitations, as it will take some time for the stump to die.
How to Kill a Tree Stump – Option 2 – Dehydrate the Stump
Salt is super hygroscopic, i.e., it absorbs water from its surrounding. So too is leaf mold. Exposing the stump to anhydrous rock salt (sodium chloride (NaCl)) or Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate (MgSO4)), both of which are hygroscopic, will dehydrate the stump and roots, causing them to perish.
Stump removal uses rock salt, a naturally occurring mineral of sodium chloride. Getting rid of a tree stump with rock salt or Epsom salt requires cutting it as low to the ground as possible and then drilling holes into its sides at regular intervals.
After that, simply fill the holes with salt and secure the dirt around the stumps to kill the tree stump. As the salt absorbs the water over the course of two to three days, you’ll see the stump’s nutrients dwindle and eventually die.
While many seem to think wetting the salt is a plan, it partially defeats the objective. Anhydrous (without a water solution) salt works better, but the holes and slits into the tree stump must be big enough to get the salt into them.
How Effective is Rock Salt or Epsom Salt in Killing Tree Stumps?
Concentrations of either sodium chloride or magnesium sulfate will kill the tree stump, but it will take a while. The excessive salt residue will compromise the soil’s health, and it will take a couple of years before you can use the site for gardening.
If you want to use the dead stump as a garden stool or to position a tabletop (maybe a cable reel side), then it’s an option. It will also be an option if you plan on casting concrete over the area or using it as a pathway where you don’t want anything to grow.
Epsom salt is a plant nutrient so that you could have unexpected results.
How to Kill a Tree Stump – Option 3 – Poison the Stump
Use only as directed is a phrase found on the label of practically every chemical product, and I hope we share an understanding that it’s not a suggestion. Numerous other substances may be just as effective at killing stumps as Epsom salt, but many also negatively affect the ecosystem.
Potassium nitrate is an ingredient in many chemical stump-remover products, including Spectracide Stump Remover. Due to the presence of potassium, nitrogen, and oxygen, the natural decay time is drastically reduced from years to as little as 4 to 6 weeks. It’s the quickest solution on the market and doesn’t harm the environment.
If you are dealing with a recently cut-down tree, start using a stump killer, such as Ferti Lome Stump Killer. Most of these items use systemic insecticides, like triclopyr, to eliminate the roots and prevent the growth of new suckers.
Apply the chemical to the top of the stump as soon as possible after making the fresh incision; it will seep down into the remaining stem and roots.
How to Kill a Tree Stump – Option 4 – Incinerating the Stump
Burning the stump to the ground can be an option if it is scorched. While this approach could take longer than digging and still leave some roots in the ground, it could be worth it if it yields good results with less effort. Before attempting this approach, check in with your local fire department to see if any burning advisories are in effect.
Remove any combustibles or potential tripping hazards within a 20-foot radius around the stump before lighting the fire. You can also stretch a linked, pressurized garden hose to the area to prevent fires that could start away from the burning stump.
Finally, you should intend to stay by the fireside during its duration. Many factors, such as size, type of wood, moisture content, weather, etc., could add an extra day or more to the process.
We’ve reached the challenging portion. It’s not as simple as it sounds to light a stump on fire. It’s not a good idea to douse it with a combustible substance. It could cause harm and achieve little in terms of results. The liquid evaporates without igniting the stump.
Instead, construct a fire over the stump’s open top and maintain it. The process can be sped up by exposing the stump to more air by excavating a hole around its base. Since fire can only thrive in oxygen, the more air it can get, the more quickly it will burn.
How to Kill a Tree Stump – Option 5 – Solarize the Stump
Extreme heat can be used to eliminate tree stumps. Try this method if you prefer a chemical-free, all-natural approach to remove your stump. Why not switch off the lights? Trees and the suckers that sprout from their bases require light to photosynthesize.
You’ll need a big tarp or sheet of black plastic and many wood chips, leaves, or grass clippings to starve a tree to death in the dark.
How to Kill a Tree Stump – Option 6 – Use Brute Force
If you need the stump gone as soon as possible, you could make quick work of it by digging, grinding, or burning it out. Physical removal methods come with their own sets of challenges. Let’s take a closer look at each of these methods to learn why they may or may not be right for you.
For smaller stumps, up to about 12 inches in diameter, digging out the stump could be the most practical solution. Digging only requires basic hand tools rather than renting or hiring a large, expensive machine. This is a labor-intensive approach but very much doable with the right tools.
To dig out the stump, you’ll need a sturdy spade, mattock, and digging iron. A narrow spade with a mid-length handle, like the Fiskars 46-inch Transplanting Spade, digs deeply and maneuvers easily around the dense root ball.
The mattock chops through roots like an axe and loosens compacted soils easily. Use the digging iron to dig deep or narrow spaces and pry up stubborn roots.
Grind the Tree Stump Down
The time needed to grind the stump down varies from 15 minutes to two hours. You could hire someone to do it, but you could handle it just as easily. Stump grinders can be rented from various sources, including The Home Depot Rental, Sunbelt Rentals, United Rentals, and others.
If you intend to operate a stump grinder manually, you should protect your eyes and ears by wearing protective gear.
It’s not just the person doing the stump grinding who’s at risk, but anyone in the immediate vicinity. The machine compacts the debris to a depth of around 8 inches before dumping it onto a separate mound.
One of the dangers of using a stump grinder is the possibility of slicing through utility lines, and another is getting hurt by flying wood chips or rocks.
5 Tree Stump Removal Options
We’ve considered ways to kill a stump, but the eyesore is still there, and you want it gone. Here are five ways to remove a tree stump:
- Dig it out – see above
- Use a tripod and block-and-tackle-chain winch.
- Create a tripod using a mechanical jack and chains
- Burn it out – see above
- If you’re stumped, get the professionals in to remove the stump. They have the equipment and know how to do it safely.
Decomposing Tree Stumps
To prevent the tree from resprouting, you can kill the stump (with enough time). The wood will degrade soon enough and will be easier to remove. If you prefer a more methodical approach, you can kill a tree stump with a few everyday household items and little effort.
Adding compost to the soil will introduce microorganisms specializing in dead wood decomposition. Fungi are the most effective at lignin decomposition, so combining solarization and AACT (actively aerated compost tea) with added fish hydrolysis is the most natural way to eliminate your unwanted tree stump.
Place about a spade full of compost in a burlap bag with a rock, and submerge the bag into a water drum. Using an air pump, aerate the water and compost bag to disperse the microorganisms through the mix. Add a cup of fish hydrolysis (protein) to boost fungi populations.
Allow the pump to run for 24 hours before using the compost tea. Wet the roots and the tree trunk at soil level and cover the tree and root area with a dark plastic tarp. Combining heat and fungi will help the microbes destroy the dead tree’s lignin.
Follow the information above, and you will rid yourself of all the tree stumps that have been stumping you in your garden.
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