How Do You Kill A Tree’s Roots?

By Tree Expert Codey Stout
Updated On

Are you wondering how to kill tree roots?

You’ve come to the right place!

In this TreeTriage.com guide, you’ll learn:

  • Why It’s Important To Kill Tree Roots After Tree Removal
  • The Different Methods For Killing Tree Roots
  • What To Look For In A Professional Tree Specialist and When To Hire One

And much more!

How Do You Kill A Tree's Roots?

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

Why Is It Important To Kill Tree Roots After Tree Removal?

After homeowners have taken down a tree, for one reason or another, they’re left with a stump and the mass of (usually live) tree roots reaching far and wide beneath the actual stump. Now it’s time for a stump removal project!

The reason you might want to go ahead and make sure those roots are dead is that they, depending on the species, could still sprout new trees. Some will sprout from the stump itself, others can send shoots up from the roots. 

Know that sometimes these roots can be more than double the width of the tree’s branches. Because of this, it’s always a good idea to finish the work you started and make sure you remove those roots.

What Do You Need To Know About Killing Tree Roots?

First of all, even if you’re a novice when it comes to trees, you do have options. Some are far more passive and cheaper than others. While others might be more effective but will certainly cost more money.

  • Elms, Ash, Cottonwoods and other woody (plants with bark) species can send up shoots/tree saplings all around your yard. This is a survival mechanism in an effort to continue the process of photosynthesis.
  • Allowing a root system to rot away, rather than digging it up and backfilling the work, can create soft spots in your lawn over time. These soft spots can become tripping hazards for humans and animals, or even ruts that can catch equipment wheels

As you can see, it helps to know what kind(s) of trees you’re working with, to form a cohesive and effective plan for your property.

What Are The Different Ways To Kill Tree Roots?

Luckily, there are multiple different ways to approach killing tree roots, some of which are easier and less invasive than others.

Salts, Vinegar, and Sulfates

These are the more passive, but ‘natural’ ways to kill your tree roots. The application of all of these will be very similar, and it’s fairly easy to do as a novice.

Salted stump

You’ll need to drill holes as deep as possible, or make fresh cuts into the top of the stump and apply the medium of your choice, liberally.

For this method, you’re going to need a serious (100W) hammer drill. A light household duty drill will only go so far. As for the drill bit, buy the longest and fattest possible. As you make your way in, keep retracting the drill to pull out the shavings as you penetrate.

Cover with a tarp and repeat the process every two to three weeks, for as long as it takes. Remember to be mindful of any younger plants in the areas. 

These will all take plenty of time and in the end, you will still have to manually work the stump into pieces to tear it out. However, you’ll not see any new growth and it should entirely kill off the root system.

*Please Note: Copper sulfate often comes in the form of a solution. This is used to not only kill tree roots in a sewer line but has an effect on the orders that may emanate. Though it’s not overly toxic, it’s best to treat it as if it is for safety reasons.

Below is a video that will walk you through the Epsom salt method.

Drilling Holes to Burn It Out

Burning a stump

Another root killing method is to burn the roots out. Take the fresh-cut stump and drill a large hole into the top of it and then drill intersecting holes in from the sides. They will feed the fire that you will set in the center hole. 

Obviously, this is one to carefully watch and is best performed with some of the stump being above the grade of the ground. This will take a while and unless the stump is completely dry, you may have to start the fire over and over, a number of times.

Magnesium Glyphosate (Roundup), and Other Herbicides

Chemical herbicides are always an option. One of the active ingredients in any that you choose will probably be Glyphosate — as it found in over 750 products.

Usually, it is applied directly to a fresh cut stump with a paintbrush, or diluted with water in a spray bottle. 

Please handle with care, by wearing latex gloves, eye protection, and maybe even a respirator. Also, protect the soil around your application.

There is a lot of controversy around Glyphosate in general and Roundup in particular. Though this discussion is outside of the depth of this article, understand that it is absolutely not acceptable for organic gardening in any way.

With all of the other (and much safer) options, this is last for a reason. Please take extra care if you decide to go this route, and if you’re uncomfortable handling these chemicals, don’t hesitate to contact one of our tree specialists to help you remove the roots instead.

Here is a video on using Glyphosate on a fresh-cut stump. Notice the lack of gloves? Never let this chemical anywhere near your skin. This is a good example of how this method works, and a terrible example of how to handle this method safely.

YouTube video

How Much Does Killing Tree Roots Cost?

If you do it yourself and have more time than money, Epson salt and the longest, widest drill bit your hammer driver could handle. That would be your best bet. An environmentally, sound and safe option to destroy the leftover root system.

However, if your root problems are more pressing, stump grinding would be your best option. Some of the benefits of this are:

  • It’s quick
  • It’s clean
  • You’re left with mulch
  • You’ll not have to worry about the roots sprouting ever again

It’s possible for someone to come and grind out your stumps from $100 to $400 per stump. If you grind the stump yourself it may cost you as little as $75 to rent a stump grinder for half a day or $250 to $400 for a full day.

This doesn’t include the additional soft costs in time, movement, and money.

Remember: it will be far easier work if you’ve already dried out the stump with salt.

If you have stumps that are huge, you may not have the insurance to rent the size of grinder that’s necessary. That’s just something to be aware of.

When Should You Hire A Professional To Fix Your Tree Root Situation?

If you’re working with a landscaping design firm, or you’ve just bought a home, or you’d just rather let someone else handle the situation, you should work with a professional.

Additionally, if you’re having sewer pipes, or sewer line (septic) issues, killing tree roots and getting it done the right way, once and for all, is a huge priority. This is not a time to just let nature take its course, or you could be setting yourself up for massive (and expensive) issues in the near future. 

Also, tree roots can cause problems with driveways, sidewalks, and even the foundation of your home. Some of these issues are more pressing than others, but many of them can impact the value of your home. 

Trip hazards are a nuisance and a potential safety concern, sure. However, foundation issues could destroy the value of your home, or create the need for a massive rehab project.

This is why it’s so important to at least consult with a professional company like us to evaluate the situation and point out any potential dangers or issues that may arise because of these root systems.

Meet Your Tree Expert

Codey Stout

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