How to Kill a Tree Stump

By Amanda Lutz Updated February 7, 2024

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From improving the natural landscaping on your lawn to reducing the chances of pests congregating in your grass and mulch, there are many reasons why you might need to remove a tree from your property. Depending on your chosen tree removal service, you might be left with an annoying tree stump even after the tree is gone.

While a stump might not look like much of a challenge to remove, it will likely have a deep root system that makes removal more difficult. If you have a tree stump on your lawn, you have a range of DIY and professional tree stump removal options.

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How to Remove a Tree Stump with At-Home Remedies

Killing a tree stump requires consistency. While DIY methods can be time-consuming, you can kill tree stumps without paying a professional. Following tree removal, stump removal begins when you kill the tree stump before it starts sprouting new shoots. Here are some ways to kill a stump yourself.

Epsom Salt

Epsom salt is a popular method for removing tree roots and stumps because it accelerates the decomposition of organic material. When you use Epsom salt on a tree stump, you can speed up the decaying process by up to seven years. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Using a power drill and a wide drill bit, drill deep holes into the top of the stump.
  2. Cover the top of the stump with Epsom salt.
  3. Sprinkle the stump with water to allow the salt to enter the interior of the stump. Avoid applying so much water that the salt is drained away.
  4. Cover the stump with a tarp—this will prevent the rain from washing away the salt and delaying the decomposition process. In a pinch, you can substitute a tightly secured trash bag for the tarp so long as it covers the entire top surface of the stump.
  5. Repeat this process every two to three weeks. You’ll see your stump fully decayed in six to 12 months’ time.

Epsom salt works because it contains magnesium sulfate, which is beneficial for plants but can kill them when applied in large quantities. Essentially, the salt method causes the stump to overdose on these chemical compounds without needing to apply a chemical stump killer. Be careful when applying Epsom salt to your stump, as too much salt can kill surrounding plants on your lawn

Rock Salt

Rock salt is similar in composition to Epsom salt, which means that it can also be effective at killing off a tree stump. However, its method of action is a bit different than Epsom salt’s, so you’ll need to take slightly different steps when applying it. Here’s how to kill a tree stump using rock salt.

  1. Drill holes into your stump using the same wide drill bit mentioned in the Epsom salt method.
  2. Pour rock salt into the holes, and pack it in as deeply into the holes as possible.
  3. After packing the holes with salt, cover the top of the tree stump with soil and mulching.
  4. Pour water over the soil and mulch mixture. This allows the salt to penetrate the tree trunk’s root system as much as possible, killing off the stump thoroughly.

Reapply water once every few days to ensure the salt mixture remains moist. Keeping the stump moist is necessary because it supports the growth of the fungi that will eventually kill the tree stump. To speed the process up, you can supplement the fungi with a fertilizer that contains potassium nitrate. Note that this method requires rock salt—standard table salt will not be strong enough to kill the stump fully.

Boiling Water

If you don’t have any salt, you can use boiling water to kill off a tree stump without herbicides or tree stump killers using the following method.

  1. Using a garden tool or your hands, expose as much of the tree stump’s root system as possible.
  2. Drill deep holes into the roots and the top of the stump. Drilling holes into the stump will help the hot water kill deep and exposed roots.
  3. After you’re finished drilling, carefully pour boiling water over the stump, making sure to cover the entire stump. The hot water will shock the system and begin the decomposition process using heat.

Over time, you’ll see your stump begin to decay. Once the heat kills the tree stump and the roots, you can start physically removing the stump.



How to Physically Remove a Tree Stump

After successfully killing your tree stump, you’ll see the natural material that makes up the stump begin to decompose. If you use one of the methods above, you can usually remove any remnants of the tree stump without special disposal methods or tools. If you prefer to remove the stump physically without waiting, you can do so—but it will take more effort. Use the following methods to get a tree stump out without waiting months for your chemical decomposition method to take effect. 


If you live in an area that isn’t prone to wildfires, you can remove your tree stump by burning it with kerosene using the following steps.

  1. Check with your local fire ordinance to be sure that you can safely use fire to remove your tree stump without causing collateral damage to surrounding areas.
  2. Once you have the approval to burn your stump, drill holes into the top of the stump using the method we mentioned previously.
  3. Fill each hole with kerosene, and place scrap wood on top of the stump to burn. Carefully light the kindling on fire, and monitor your stump as it burns. This method will take longer but burns from deeper inside of the stump.  
  4. Alternatively, you can use a chainsaw to create criss-cross lines about five inches deep into the stump. You can then place the kindling on top of the stump and burn it. This method causes the stump to burn faster but requires specialized tools.

Unlike other removal methods, this method will only remove the stump to the base level of the earth. It will not kill surrounding roots or completely get rid of the stump. 


The fastest way to get rid of a tree stump is by grinding. During the grinding process, you’ll use a specialized machine called a “stump grinder,” which breaks apart the wood of the tree and tears the roots.

To grind down a stump, start by trimming down the stump as much as possible with a chainsaw. Take time to dig roots from the base where needed in order to prevent regrowth. Use the sharp part of the grinder to break apart the wood into chips. Then, cut the connecting roots, and break them down like the stump. 

This process will take between two and six hours, depending on the size and strength of the stump you’re removing. After you’re finished, remove the wood chips from your property, and replace the removed earth with dirt and topsoil.

You can find a tree grinder at your local hardware supply store or online home improvement sales sources like Amazon. If you only have one stump you need to get rid of or a smaller property with less dense trees, buying the tool is usually less efficient than renting one. You can also hire a professional tree removal service like SavATree to thoroughly remove your stump without risking damage to your surrounding plants or injury to yourself.



What Not to Use for Tree Stump Removal

If you’ve spoken to other homeowners about stump removal, you may have received bad advice. Though the following stump removal methods are common, we do not recommend using them.



Our Recommendation

When you need to remove a tree stump to keep your lawn looking great, it’s sometimes best to call in the professionals. Start with a DIY chemical removal method such as rock salt or boiling water. If it looks like the stump is decaying appropriately, stick to your treatments. Look into professional stump removal if you’d rather the stump be gone as quickly as possible. Most stump removal companies will also remove your dead stump after grinding, leaving your lawn looking the way you prefer.



How to Kill a Tree Stump FAQ

What is the fastest way to rot a tree stump?

The fastest way to rot a tree stump is by using a chemical tree killer. If you prefer a more natural method of stump removal, Epsom salt can fully kill your tree stump in six to 12 months. 

What is the best stump killer?

The best stump killer will vary depending on your location and the type of tree stump that you’re removing. Some of the most popular chemical tree stump killer manufacturers include Dow AgroSciences, BioAdvanced Brush Killer, and Bonide. Popular and effective natural methods include burning the stump with kerosene and Epsom salt. 

How do you kill a tree stump naturally?

You can kill a tree stump naturally using Epsom salt. Drill holes into the tree, fill the holes with Epsom salt, and apply water to the top of the tree stump to allow the salt to penetrate. Then, tightly cover the top of the tree with a tarp or garbage bag. Fungal infections will kill off the stump over time.