How To Get Rid Of Tree Stumps?

By Tree Expert Codey Stout
Updated On

Are you wondering how to get rid of tree stumps?

You’ve come to the right place!

In this Tree Triage guide, you’ll learn:

  • The different ways to get rid of stumps.
  • The fastest way to get rid of a stump.
  • When it’s best to hire professionals.

And much more!

How To Get Rid Of Tree Stumps

So, if you’re looking for answers about the different ways to remove tree stumps, keep reading our detailed guide below to get answers to all of your questions!

When Should Tree Stumps Be Removed?

Most homeowners would like to remove tree stumps because they are an eyesore that mars their landscaping design. However, they can cause far more serious problems than that.

They can actually be hazardous to the owners, children, pets, and even equipment when running or passing over the top of the stump. Additionally, if the grass overgrows the face of the stump, it can be a dangerous surprise to those unaware of its presence.

You should also know that leftover tree roots of certain species can send up shoots all over your yard. These root systems, while still alive, can continue to send reserves of nutrients to these shoots in an effort to propagate the species.

Ultimately, there are usually better ways to use your land than to just let old stumps sit there and occupy space. Removing tree stumps that you may have will free up that space for better and higher use possibilities, like that vegetable garden you’ve always wanted to start.

3 Ways To Get Rid Of Tree Stumps

Let’s walk through the three most common tree stump removal methods. They all have their pros and cons, and we’re certain you’ll find one to fit your needs.

Also, please understand that most of these methods have some inherent dangers. So if you decide to use one of them, and are missing a piece of safety gear, or a particular tool, Amazon’s a great place to get all that you might need in a very short amount of time and usually at a great price.

It’s always better to have the right tool for the job, rather than patching a process together. Especially, if you’re using power tools, fire, or caustic chemicals.

Method 1 – Salting The Stump

Salting a tree stump

Salting, or killing a stump with chemicals, is a common method of removal.

This first method will cover the application of both caustic and inert substances to a stump. The objective here is to not only kill it, but also to dry it out. 

After a number of weeks, to a few months, the stump should be oxidized enough to break up with a little sweat equity and common hand tools like a mattock or ax.

Though these substances are applied in a similar manner, they are very different in composition. Please carefully follow the directions as supplied by the manufacturer and utilize all safety procedures and protective gear.

Also, realize that some of these can not only be incredibly harmful to yourself but to your children, pets, and other plants nearby. Though these are all viable options, they are not what we recommend. Proceed at your own risk.

Step 1 – Salt The Stump 

Drilling holes to prepare stump for salting

Make sure the stump is cut as close to the ground as possible. The less mass you have to drill into and dry out, the less mass you’ll have to remove. 

Then drill holes with an impact drill (if possible) using as long a drill bit as you can find (a .5″ spade bit is great). Impact drills have more power than your common household drills and that’s why they are recommended for this application.

Make sure when you’re drilling down to pull up and remove the bit every once in a while. This will pull up the shavings so your bit doesn’t get stuck, locked in the stump face. Take your time and don’t force the drill.

Basically, the more holes the better, and spread them out evenly across the whole face of the stump. These will be taking either your salt and water combination or chemicals if you choose to use them.

Then, if you have a chainsaw available, make crosshatches in the face of the stump. Both the holes and the crosshatches are used to increase the surface area so that the stump will die and dry out faster.

Step 2 – Apply A Chemical Solution

Adding salt to a tree stump

Because there are many different brands, we are using general terminology here. Regardless, by following the instructions to the letter, apply any of the following:

  • Stump Killer. 
  • Stump Removal Chemicals. 
  • Copper Sulfate Granules. 
  • Potassium Nitrate.
  • Epsom Salt (Magnesium Sulfate) and then add water to soak the salt into the wood. This is the only method that is guaranteed to be safe for the environment and much preferred to any of the others listed. 

Step 3 – Cover The Stump & Let It Dissolve

Sealing the salted stump

Following the specific recommendations of the chemical stump remover manufacturers’ instructions, finish the application and follow up with aftercare as needed.

As for the Epsom salt and after you’ve applied the water, soaking the salt into the stump’s face, crosshatches and holes, cover with a black, plastic, carpenter’s garbage bag and lock it down with some bricks, so it doesn’t blow away. It does not need to be airtight.

Then, as this is the most time-intensive method, you’ll need to check the stump(s) at least once a week. Reapply salt as necessary, or the chemical treatments as described in the instructions.

Method 2 – Burning The Stump

Burning a stump

The next method you could try is burning out the stump (also known as char-pitting).

We have a dedicated guide on burning out stumps that you can read if you want a detailed description of the process, but we will briefly touch on the steps required below.

And while this method will take less time than Method 1, but has the potential to be far more dangerous. 

Additionally, this is not legal in every part of the country. This could be due to local ordinances set in place or by seasonal burn bans in effect. Please consult with your local fire department for more information regarding your specific situation. 

Step 1 – Cut Into The Stump

Using a chainsaw to score a stump before burning

*Note: This is not a ‘set it and forget it’ option. Please make sure you have a sufficient amount of time every time you start a fire in the stump face. Depending on the size of the stump, this could take two weeks of daily burns or more. 

Cut whatever is left of the stump all the way down to ground level and clear the area around the stump down to the soil and then some. This is to reduce the chance of the fire spreading. 

Then cut a large divot into the face of the stump with a chainsaw if possible. This will be used to house the burning charcoal you’ll be setting on the face. 

Step 2 – Prep The Charcoal

Adding coals to the scored stump

Start a small charcoal fire in a stovepipe fire starter and then place those burning coals in the divot you’ve cut.

Step 3 – Cover The Stump, Repeat Until It’s Gone

Covering the stump to let it burn

Finally, cover with an old BBQ lid or some other metal covering to not only protect the burn from the weather and keep sparks from jumping but to reflect the heat toward the stump.

Repeat daily until the stump is burned away to your satisfaction. Then use common hand tools to clean up whatever is left. Roots may be problematic when using this method, so if you’re planning a garden and will be rototilling, the root system will have to be dealt with. 

It’s possible that using both a digging bar and a bow saw could take care of any unburnt, troublesome roots.

Note: It’s an excellent idea to keep a garden hose with a nozzle, pressurized with water, and close to the burn. Should the fire jump, hopefully, it will melt the hose, flooding the area with water. Of course, a fire extinguisher is always a great idea as well. 

If you want to read more specific instructions on this, you can also read our guide on burning a stump out with charcoal.

Method 3 – Grinding The Stump

Grinding a stump

This is by far our preferred method. It’s fast and clean for the environment. Also, depending on the size of the grinder needed will still fit into a ‘do it yourself’ Saturday afternoon (of course depending on the job you’re facing). 

YouTube video

Again, please follow all safety instructions as provided by the rental yard. Also, make sure you have all of the necessary safety equipment. Even small stump grinders are serious pieces of equipment and should be handled with care and respect.

Step 1 – Prep The Area For The Grinder

Prepping a stump for stump grinding

Rent the grinder and put it in place. 

Then clear out all foliage, rocks, or anything that will obstruct, not only the machine but your footing and movements. This isn’t a time to trip on something that could have been avoided with a few more moments of preparation.

Step 2 – Grind Down The Stump

Using a stump grinder to grind a stump

Follow the instructions for starting and using the grinder. 

Then go about grinding the stump with side to side pivot movements. Don’t force anything. Let the machine do the work.

Step 3 – Level The Stump, Chase The Roots

Raking the remains of a ground stump

Once the stump has been ground out to below the level of the ground, chase any large roots you can get at. The more you’re able to use the machine to do the work, the less you’ll have to dig out.

Depending on how you’re planning to use that piece of land, either backfill with mulch, soil and grass seed, or prep the area for your garden.

Pack up the grinder on the trailer. Make sure you not only clean it off to the condition you rented it in, but refill it with gas so that you won’t incur any extra charges.

Then return the grinder to the rental yard and make sure they inspect it while you’re present. You don’t want any charges for something you’re not responsible for.

What’s The Fastest Way To Get Rid Of A Tree Stump?

The absolute fastest way to get a stump out is with a stump grinder. Stump grinding is especially effective when facing large tree stumps as the machine will make very quick work of the stump itself, and afford the ability to chase most of the major roots, turning the entire mass into mulch and sawdust.

DIY homeowners are able to rent these, usually from your local hardware store or equipment rental yard. Remember that most likely you will need to be able to tow the trailer home, refill it with gas and return it within the time you’ve allotted to complete the work.

Once all of your time, hard and soft costs are added up, most find that it’s well worth it to just hire our professionals to come out and take care of the job.

Once completed, the area where the stump was should be backfilled with soil and organic matter in the shape of a slight mound just above ground level. This is because, with rain, decomposition and time, the mound will settle and the ground will come to look uniform. 

Feel free to plant grass in the topsoil once the work is completed to your satisfaction and let nature do the rest. 

When Should You Hire A Professional?

We always recommend working with our tree service professionals, unless you elect to proceed with one of the DIY methods listed above. We always have stump grinders at the ready, as well as properly trained professionals with all of the correct safety gear to quickly and efficiently take care of any stump issues you may have.

Also, as outlined above, it’s pretty easy to see that simply hiring professionals to safely grind out your stumps makes sense, and usually, the more stumps you have, the cheaper they become as a whole. Sometimes, this can make the actual size of the stump immaterial, rather than paying by diameter inch.

Should you have other tree questions or upcoming tree work to tackle, make a thorough list. Our team is generally able to work with you by bundling all of the work together for one price, rather than piecing out each task. That way, your money will go much further.

Should you have any questions about the trees on your property, from specific to general, feel free to contact us and see how we can help get you closer to reaching your landscaping dreams.

Meet Your Tree Expert

Codey Stout

Codey Stout is the operations manager for Tree Triage and has years of experience removing trees. His expertise has been featured in publications like Yahoo, The Family Handyman, Homes & Gardens, and many more. The only thing Codey likes doing more than removing intrusive trees, is removing unsightly stumps.
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