How To Rot A Tree Stump Correctly

By Tree Expert Codey Stout
Updated On

Are you wondering how to rot a tree stump?

You’ve come to the right place!

In this Tree Triage guide, you’ll learn:

  • How long does it take to rot a tree stump?
  • How to rot and remove a tree stump
  • When should you hire a professional?

And much more!

How To Rot A Tree Stump Correctly

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

Why Would You Want to Rot a Tree Stump?

Now that you’ve cut down your tree, the next step is tree stump removal. Stumps are an eyesore, and can be a tripping hazard. They also prevent you from planting something else in their place.

A stump grinding machine, according to the University of Illinois Extension, is the fastest way to remove a stump. It can grind out a large stump to 12 inches below ground level in minutes. To see a stump grinder in action, take a look at this video.

YouTube video

Stump grinding machines, however, require a certain amount of know-how, and can be dangerous if not used by an experienced professional. We recommend contacting one of our tree removal services if you want to remove a tree stump fast.

There could be a number of reasons why you might choose another option, however:

  • The stump may be in an area that is not easily accessible to a stump grinder
  • The stump may be near gas lines or water pipes that would be at risk of being damaged
  • Perhaps you’re worried that grinding the stump would injure nearby plants or trees

You could also attempt to dig out the stump. But even digging out a small stump can be extremely labor intensive while it’s still alive. 

Rotting a stump out first will make it much easier to dig out of the ground. Below, we’ll discuss the quickest methods of accelerating stump rot, so that you can remove the stump on your own.

How Long Does It Take To Rot A Tree Stump?

The rate of decay of a tree stump depends on many different factors, such as the species and size of the tree, as well as climate and weather conditions. The decay cycle can be accelerated, according to the University of Georgia, by favorable soil conditions, increased nitrogen, and greater surface area exposed to healthy soil.

Rotted tree stump

If left to simply decay and rot on its own, without any sort of treatment, a stump can take between three to seven years to disappear! Generally, the lower the stump is cut, the quicker it will rot.

But there are some proactive steps you can take to accelerate the rotting process. By applying chemicals to holes drilled into the stump, you can speed up the natural decay process and cause the remaining tree fibers and roots to break down more quickly.

What Materials Are Needed To Rot A Tree Stump?

While the process itself may take some time, you don’t need too much in the way of equipment to get the job done.

Tools/Supplies You’ll Need

  • Drill and large drill bit
  • Chainsaw or hand-saw (only use a chain-saw if you consider yourself to be proficient)
  • Plastic tarp
  • Eye protection
  • Gloves


  • Garden mulch
  • High-nitrogen garden fertilizer

New Mexico State University advises that, while there are many stump removal chemicals recommended to speed the decay of a stump, the best product is any high nitrogen fertilizer. The nitrogen feeds the fungi and bacteria that decompose the stump. Both ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate are nitrogen fertilizers and contain no phosphate or potassium.

Please remember that these are also dangerous chemical compounds and should be handled with care and consideration for the people or pets around them, as well as nearby plants and trees.

For a more natural method, you might consider using Epsom salts or potassium nitrate as tree stump killers.

How To Rot A Tree Stump

The following is a step-by-step DIY procedure any homeowner can apply for rotting a tree stump out of the ground safely and effectively. The total process should only take a few hours, though you may have to repeat it after a month if the decay is insufficient for the stump to be dugout.

Waiting for warmer weather conditions is recommended, as the higher humidity and heat can help accelerate rot. Also, if you begin the task after a period of dry weather, the tree stump will be “thirsty” for liquid and will soak up the chemicals faster.

Step 1: Prepare the Stump

Use a chain saw (if you are proficient) or hand saw to cut the stump down as close to the ground as possible. This way the chemicals will have less material to eat through. 

Be careful not to allow the chain to touch the soil, as it will dull it in a hurry. Wear goggles, ear protection, gloves, and steel-toed boots for this part of the job.

Remove as much tree bark as possible, as bark prevents moisture from entering the trunk and can slow down decomposition.

Step 2: Drill the Holes

Using your drill and drill bit, drill a number of holes into the top of the stump and along the sides in a downward direction. 

Each of the holes should be at least a few inches deep. Space the holes about 2 inches apart and cover the entire area. The wider and deeper the holes, the better.

Step 3: Fill the Holes

While still wearing your safety goggles and protective gloves, fill each drill hole with your chosen chemical fertilizer or stump remover, and the appropriate ratio of water. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the bottle before use.

Mississippi State University Extension suggests avoiding adding large amounts of fertilizer, because fungi can, like other plants, be burned when over-fertilized.

Some states have strict legal restrictions regarding the kind of chemicals you can purchase for this sort of project. It’s a good idea to consult with one of our tree service professionals before you begin.

Step 4: Cover the Stump

Then soak the ground around the stump and wet the top and sides of the stump. After the stump is wet, cover it with a plastic tarp to trap the moisture around the stump. 

Moisture is ultimately what will allow the chemical reaction to dissolve the wood and roots.

Step 5: Add Mulch

Cover the tarp and surrounding areas with a wood-chip-based mulch. Once you have it covered, water the mulch thoroughly. 

The mulch will also retain water and help keep the grass and soil under the tarp moist. 

This will ensure that the chemicals have enough moisture to continue reacting over a longer period of time.

Because the wet mulch is heavy, it will help weigh the tarp down so that it doesn’t blow away. Finally, the mulch will keep the tarp out of sight. To disguise it even further, cover the mulched area with some potted plants or container gardens.

Step 6: Repeat

Repeat steps 2 – 5 about once every month. When you remove the tarp, you should notice that the wood is becoming soft and spongy. 

Remove as much as you can of this rotting wood with a hatchet or ax.

Then, drill new holes and fill them with water and chemicals. This way the chemicals will be doing their job attacking solid timber, rather than sitting in the wood that is already rotten.

Depending on which chemical option you chose, the size and species of the tree, and other factors, it can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 12 months to complete the decomposition process.

Things To Avoid When Rotting Tree Stumps

Here are a few things to consider when removing tree stumps to ensure safety and effectiveness.


Using bleach on a tree stump

Bleach can be used to kill a stump when poured over it in high quantities, but this is not recommended since it can be detrimental to the surrounding plants and environment.

Diesel Fuel or Gasoline 

Gas can

Avoid using diesel fuel or gasoline to burn tree trunks, since these solutions don’t allow for a slow, effective burn needed to properly break down the wood. 

Diesel fuel and gasoline can also be toxic to the surrounding plants in your yard.

Proximity to Other Plants 

If your stump is located near plants that you want to protect, be careful when adding chemicals to the stump and avoid any spillage or splashing of the solution.

How To Remove The Rotted Tree Stump

Once the remainder of your stump is below ground level, you can simply bury it and allow nature to take its course. However, if you would like to plant another tree in its place, you will have to go through the trouble of digging it out.

To do this, you will need the following tools:

  • A shovel
  • An ax, hatchet, or hand pruning saw
  • A hoe or pick

First, dig around the base of the stump with a shovel. Then, dig along the length of the tree roots. Follow the roots from where they are exposed at the base of the stump until about 24 inches underground, or to allow plenty of clearance for the root system of the new tree. 

Some of the roots may angle down into the ground, requiring more digging.

Cut the exposed roots near the base of the stump with an ax. Once the roots are severed from the stump, the stump will be easier to get out of the ground. Move the stump back and forth until it works free from the ground.

Pry the exposed roots from the ground with a hoe or pick. Work along the length of each root until the majority of the root can be pulled from the ground. 

You do not need to remove the entire root. Cut the root with the ax or saw once you have allowed for enough space for the new tree.

Finally, fill the hole back in with the soil you removed while digging out the stump.

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

Even with the help of chemicals, removing a tree stump can end up being a much bigger task than it may seem. 

By consulting with one of our stump removal specialists, you can be confident that it will be ground out quickly and safely, with minimum impact on the environment and surrounding plants.

We will be able to assess if there might be any plumbing or utility lines in harm’s way and, if anything were to go wrong, our tree care professionals are fully insured. Having a professional arborist do the job could end up saving you money in the long run.

Finally, there are a wide range of stump grinding machines — some large enough to be towed by a truck, and others small enough to be easily carried through your home. A professional will know just the tool for removing your stump as efficiently and cheaply as possible.

Meet Your Tree Expert

Codey Stout

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