How To Burn Tree Stumps For Removal

By Tree Expert Codey Stout
Updated On

Are you wondering how to use fire to remove a tree stump?

You’ve come to the right place!

In this Tree Triage guide, you’ll learn:

  • Can you burn a tree stump to remove it?
  • How to burn tree stumps correctly
  • How long will it take to burn a tree stump?

And much more!

How To Burn Tree Stumps For Removal

So, if you’re looking for answers on burning tree stumps, keep reading our detailed guide below to get answers to all of your questions!

Why Would You Want To Burn A Tree Stump?

There are plenty of reasons why you might want to get rid of that old tree stump in your yard. Maybe you’ve tripped over it a few too many times. Perhaps you want to plant something else in its place. You might be tired of cutting back the shoots that continue to grow out of it. Or maybe it’s just an eyesore in your otherwise well-tended garden.

Whatever the reason, once you’ve decided to take on the job of removing it, there are a few ways to go about it. 

Of course the easiest way to remove a stump is to use a stump grinding machine. It can grind out a large stump to 12 inches below ground level in minutes. Stump grinders, however, require some know-how, and can be dangerous if not used by an experienced professional.

We recommend contacting one of our tree removal services if you choose to go that route. But if you’re a homeowner looking for a DIY method, there are several other options to choose from.

You could attempt to dig it out. But that could prove to be far more labor-intensive and time-consuming than it looks. The root system of that stump did a pretty good job keeping a tall, heavy tree anchored to the ground, and it’s not going to be dug out very easily.

Another DIY method is to accelerate the rotting process of the stump by drilling holes and filling them with chemical fertilizers or Epsom salts. While this method is relatively simple, it can be time-consuming. You will likely have to wait several months for the stump to rot out sufficiently for you to be able to dig it out easily.

So, if all of those sound too cumbersome and complicated, the last method you have available to you is to burn out the stump!

Can You Burn A Tree Stump To Remove It?

Yes you can!

Burning a tree stump is easy, inexpensive, and a relatively fast way to remove a stump. By taking steps to make the stump extra flammable, it can be slowly burned until it is weak enough to be removed without special equipment or excessive toil. 

Of course, this method involves a controlled fire, so it comes with a few risks of its own.

Safety Precautions For Burning Tree Stumps

So here we’ll cover a few general, common-sense tips before you get started.

  • The University of Illinois Extension advises that it’s crucial to check with your local fire department to learn more about the specific regulations and guidelines for controlled burns in your area, and never burn your stump during a burn or fire ban.
  • Clear away flammable materials from around the stump, and use a rake to clear away any dried leaves or small sticks on the surrounding ground.
  • Make sure that you use the right chemicals for burning tree stumps. Don’t use something that will create a huge, roaring fire (such as gasoline). The key is to allow the stump to burn away gradually.
  • Keep the surrounding area wet if possible, and always keep a bucket of water or water hose nearby during the burn.
  • Make sure burning your stump won’t produce any toxic fumes that can pose a hazard to people or pets who live in the area. While most trees can burn safely, there are a few species that will release toxins when they’re set on fire—such as oleander, Mexican elder, or anything with the word “poison” in its name.

How To Burn Tree Stumps Correctly

Below you will find a list of the materials needed to burn a tree stump, as well as step-by-step directions on how to do this yourself. This three-part process will involve preparing the stump for burning, igniting it, and finally digging out the weakened stump.

  • Materials Needed to Burn a Stump
  • Power drill with a one-inch spade bit or another wood-boring bit
  • Potassium nitrate or saltpeter
  • Plastic scoop or garden trowel
  • Bucket of hot water
  • Funnel
  • Pieces of dry scrap wood
  • Matches or fire starter
  • Shovel
  • Gloves
  • Safety glasses or goggles

Part 1: Preparing the Stump 

It’s a good idea to wear protective gear such as gloves and goggles when working with potassium nitrate. Also, be sure to check the weather forecast, and remember to contact your local fire department to confirm no fire bans are currently in effect.


  1. Using your one-inch drill bit, first drill several deep holes all around the top of the stump, leaving about an inch or so of space between each one. Each hole should be between eight to ten inches deep.
  2. Clear the debris out of each hole once you’ve finished drilling.
  3. If the stump is above ground level, make holes in the sides of the stump as well.
  4. Fill each drill hole with potassium nitrate or saltpeter using your garden trowel or plastic scoop. It’s also possible to use kerosene in place of potassium nitrate. This site offers detailed information on using kerosene as an option.
  5. Use the funnel to pour hot water into each hole to dissolve the potassium nitrate. This will allow it to be absorbed throughout the stump, rendering it appropriately flammable.

Part 2: Igniting the Stump

  1. Construct a tepee-like shape using the scrap wood as kindling, placing one end on the ground and bringing the ends together above the stump in a cone shape. Place dry leaves, bark, and twigs under the teepee as tinder.
  2. Light the tinder and allow the scrap wood to catch fire.
  3. Add more wood to keep the fire going as necessary. It may take up to an hour for the stump to catch fire and begin to smolder. You can also add charcoal instead of wood.
  4. While the fire is burning, continually check it and dampen the surrounding soil with a hose to avoid an underground fire.
  5. Your stump will probably take several hours, or maybe even days, to completely burn. Add scrap wood to the fire as necessary to keep burning the stump until it’s gone. This video demonstrates how to use a metal drum to burn a tree stump to ash.

Part 3: Removing the Burned Stump

  1. Once the fire has stopped smoldering and all the wood has been burned, use your shovel to break up any large pieces of root or stump that remain. 
  2. If the roots of the stump are still in place and tough to remove with a shovel, you can try chopping them with an ax to break them up and make them easier to remove. You won’t need to dig up all the pieces of tree root that are under the earth, as they’ll eventually rot away without any issue.
  3. Place the burned pieces in a fire-safe container or bucket. Be careful when handling these pieces. If they’re still smoldering, they can burn you. Use protective gloves if possible.
  4. Once all the debris has been removed, replace the area where the stump was with fresh soil. Now you can plant grass seed or lay sod to match your lawn, or even plant a flower bed. Growing plants above ground will assist in the decomposition of the remains below ground, suggests this permaculture site.

How Long Will It Take To Burn The Stump?

The entire process can take anywhere from 12 hours to several days, so you’ll need to remain nearby. Keep checking on it from time to time, as the fire could spread to nearby structures or woods.

Will Burning A Tree Stump Kill It?

Yes, burning a tree stump will kill the stump. It will also kill the tree’s ability to grow back in the future which makes it a great option for tree species that send up shoots from stumps even once the tree itself has been removed.

When Should You Hire A Professional To Remove A Tree Stump?

Tree stump removal by burning is a relatively easy procedure, but there are several factors you should consider before doing this on your own.

Leaving that trunk smoldering all day is going to emit a lot of unpleasant smoke. Depending on where the wind is blowing, you could be creating a considerable nuisance to your neighbors. It’s a good idea to check with them first to make sure it won’t interfere with any plans they might have.

OwnTheYard.com states that if stumps are in contact with moist soil and have a limited surface area, oxygen will be limited, and burning the tree stump may not be the best method of removal because it will just create a bunch of smoke without effectively burning the plant matter.

Finally, in spite of your best efforts to take all necessary precautions, it’s possible for a fire to get out of control if the surrounding grass is dry, or if the roots continue to smolder long after the fire has gone out on the surface.

The simplest, most efficient, and by far the safest way to remove your stump is to contact one of our professional tree removal specialists. You can get the job done quickly without the toil or the worry, and it may end up being cheaper than you think!

Meet Your Tree Expert

Codey Stout

Codey has years of experience removing trees in residential and commercial environment. The only thing Codey likes doing more than removing intrusive trees, is removing unsightly stumps.
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