Trees come down. It’s just a matter of time.
Whether they fall because you’ve cut them or because a disease or natural disaster takes its toll, the inevitable truth is that at some point, you’re going to have fallen trees to contend with on your property.
If you’re cutting trees yourself, the easiest way to deal with remaining stumps is to minimize the height of the stump to begin with – cut your tree as low to the ground as is prudent and don’t leave unnecessary wood remaining.
Of course, this requires some skill with a chainsaw. And if you’re dealing with trees that come down of their own volition, you’re going to have to get a little more creative.
Regardless of whether you need to get rid of trees for safety reasons, to clear a chunk of land for building, or for some other reasons, there are plenty of easy ways to remove a tree stump on your property.
Take a Close Look at Your Stump
Before you do anything at all, take a close look at the tree stump. How easy will it be for you to remove it? There are various techniques you can use to remove a tree stump, all of which will vary in their practicality depending on how big the stump is.
For example, if you’re removing the stump of a pine tree, you’re going to have a much easier job than if you were removing a stump from a deciduous tree.
Why? Pine stumps tend to have wider roots, but they are also more shallow and flat. They won’t run as deep as the roots from other trees.
The age of the tree can also give you an idea of how difficult it will be to remove. While small stumps are easier to remove than large stumps, old stumps are easier than new stumps. That sounds like a contradiction, but has to do with some softening of the wood that occurs over time.
If you have quite a few stumps to remove, you may want to consider one of the more expensive- but faster – methods on this list, like renting a stump grinder or hiring a professional.
You may spend a bit more money, but you won’t be stuck digging out stumps for the next ten years of your life, either.
1) Soften It, and Let it Rot With Chemicals
You can soften a tree’s stump and let it rot by using some chemicals. To do this, you will need a drill, potassium nitrate, and a chainsaw.
Start by cutting off as much of the stump as you can. Then, drill one-inch holes around the stump, making a perimeter.
Move inward by three inches, then drill a few more holes. These should be roughly ten inches deep, but may be a bit smaller or larger depending on the size of the stump.
Keep drilling holes until you meet with the other holes on the alternate side to make 45-degree angles. Then, pour potassium nitrate into the holes. The holes will allow the chemicals to penetrate, but you’ll also dump in some water to get the job done.
Once you’ve added the water and potassium nitrate, wait at least four weeks. You may need to wait as long as six weeks. The stump will become spongy. You can then use an ax to easily break up the spongy stump.
A tip – if you’re looking to buy potassium nitrate, keep in mind that some stores call it “spectracide.”
2) Use Kerosene or Fuel Oil
If the potassium nitrate method doesn’t work, you can add some fuel oil or kerosene. Let the stump sit another week, then ignite it, and let it burn.
3) Use Other Chemicals to Rot a Stump
There is also some evidence that you can rot a stump with bleach, muriatic acid, or high-nitrogen fertilizer. You need to be careful using these methods, though. Muriatic acid is very caustic, and can be damaging to your eyes, skin, and other organs.
Nitrogen and bleach could work, but you need to be careful about using these chemicals to rot a stump. They have the potential to kill beneficial fungi, which can not only harm your soil health, but also slow down the process of decomposition to begin with.
4) Let it Rot Naturally with Compost
If you have some time on your hands, you can let the stump rot naturally. I don’t recommend doing this in a high-traffic area, like on your lawn, since it can be a tripping and mowing hazard until it rots.
However, if you have a stump to get rid of in the woods, this is a good option.
The easiest way to encourage your stump to rot naturally is to place a large heap of compost over it. The natural microorganisms in the compost will decompose the stump, but it can take a year or more.
You can put black plastic over the stump to hurry things up, too, but make sure you’re tending to the compost pile as you normally would to keep things cooking!
5) Use Epsom Salt to Rot a Stump Naturally
Some people also add Epsom salts to rot a stump. You will need to drill holes into the stump and fill them with Epsom salt to get them to work, and while it will dry the stump out faster, it won’t necessarily make it decompose any faster, in my experience.
6) Set it Aflame in a Fire Pit
Invite your friends over for a bonfire – it’s time to get off some stumps!
You won’t want to do this if you’ve already used chemicals, but you can easily have a fun bonfire – and get rid of tree stumps – without breaking your back.
Just make sure you check in with the local authorities to ensure that there are no active burn bans when you’re ready to set fire to your tree stump.
One easy way to burn a tree stump is to place a ring of rocks around the stump to act as a makeshift fire barrier or fire pit.
Every time you want to have a bonfire, go out and start a fire on the stump. It will take some time, but after a while, all you’ll have left is ash. Cover the stump with dirt or continue to use the area as a fire pit. It’s up to you!
7) Burn it in a Burn Barrel with Charcoal
You could also place a 55-gallon metal drum with the bottom cut out around the stump. Add some charcoal or additional wood and light it up. It should burn the stump completely or mostly out.
8) Make a Swedish Candle
Making a Swedish candle is a great way to get rid of a stump – and to generate some heat for a winter barbeque!
To do this, use your chainsaw to cut a hashtag pattern into the top of the stump. Light the stump on fire, and it will burn for several hours. Just make sure the wood is dry.
9) Build a Rocket Stove
A rocket stove works in a similar fashion as a swedish candle. To do this, you’ll drill a hole into the center of the stump.
Drill holes that connect to the center hole, all around the sides of the storm, then soak it in kerosene and let it burn. Again, if the wood is dry, it should burn for hours. The holes help to allow oxygen in to fuel the flames.
10) Use a Power Stump Grinder
One of the most common ways to get rid of a stubborn tree stump is to rent a grinder. A stump grinder is about 1000 pounds and usually costs about $100 to $300 to rent for a single day.
Sometimes, there are discounts available for whole-weekend or full-week rentals, so if you have a ton of stumps to get rid of, it can be worth your money.
To use a stump grinder, you’ll start by using a shovel to remove rocks near the stump. Cut away as much of the stumps as you can with your chainsaw, and get it as level as possible, too.
Then, use the hydraulic level on the grinder to raise the wheel a few inches above these trips. Turn the grinder on, then lower it three inches into the stump. Move the gender side to side by using the lever.
After you’ve ground down roughly four inches with the wheel, move it forward and then repeat the process until the stump is at least four inches below the ground.
There are some downsides to using a stump grinder. For starters, it’s a heavy piece of equipment that requires certain safety precautions. You’ll want to wear eye protection, gloves, and steel-toed boots if possible.
If you have neve used this kind of equipment before, invest the time (and potentially, the extra money) to have someone show you how to use it. It’s not worth an emergency room visit!
11) Dig Out the Stump
This is by far the least desirable – but the cheapest – way to remove a stump. It’s not going to be fun, but you can do it.
Don’t attempt to dig out a stump if you’re dealing with a massive one. The older (and more diseased) the tree is, the better.
To dig out a stump yourself, you will need a chainsaw (you can substitute a limbing saw if necessary), a shovel, a digging bar, a pick mattock, and an ax.
Start by using your saw to remove any lower branches from the trunk. Cut off the top portion of the trunk, but remember to leave enough to give you leverage as you dig.
Alternate between the shovel, digging bar, and mattock to reveal the roots around the stump. Depending on how rocky or compacted your soil is, this may take some time.
Then, use a hose or power washer to wash the dirt away and reveal the roots around the stump. Use your ax to chop those up.
See if you can push the trunk out of place with your shovel or digging bar. If there are still more roots, cut them with the ax. Keep cutting and pushing until you can uproot the entire trunk.
12) Remove the Stump with a Vehicle
You should only use a truck and chain to remove a tree stump if you find yourself stuck after following the steps detailed above.
If you still can’t get the trunk to move, wrap some chain around it, and then connect the chain to a pick-up truck or tractor (ideally, something with four-wheel-drive). Pull forward slowly, then reverse to wiggle the stump loose.
If you don’t want to use a pick-up truck – or if the area in which you are working is particularly muddy and you don’t want to get stuck – you may also be able to use a tractor or ATV.
You can even rent a mini-excavator for a few hundred dollars a day, which may be worth your time if you have several stumps to remove.
13) Use a Chainsaw
You can also try to grind your stump out with a chainsaw. Personally, I don’t recommend this, as it can dull your chainsaw chain, which will cost you both time and money when it comes to sharpening it.
Not only that, but there could be rocks in the stump that can break your chain or worse, cause a kickback and seriously injure you.
However, if you’re skilled with a chainsaw and know what to look for, you can give this method a try. Start by digging around the stump so you can use your saw to cut it beneath the ground level. Then, cut the stump as low as you can get.
Use your chainsaw to cut slices into the stump in a criss crossing pattern. Ground the stump until you are at least five inches beneath ground level.
Them, of course, go buy a new chain!
14) Use a Hi Jack
You can also purchase a handyman jack to remove a tree stump. You’ll also need a chain and two 2x4s, along with a bolt.
To do this method, start by cutting your boards to six feet. Drill a hole into the top of each, then bolt them to the top of the jack so it forms a tripod.
Wrap your chain around the stump several times and hook it to the arm of the jack. Lift it out of the ground.
Often, this method will still require you to dig around the tree stump and to cut a few roots, but it’s a lot easier than digging out the stump by hand, either with a shovel or a pry bar.
15) Make a Tree Stump Pulley System
Here’s a YouTube video that will show you how to remove a tree stump using a complex pulley system. It can be pretty time-consuming and does involve some technical know-how, but if you’ve got time on your hands, why not give it a try?
16) Remove a Tree Stump with Charcoal and Cooking Oil
You can also remove a tree stump using items you might have around the house. Start by drilling a few ¾” holes into the stump with a flat wood bit. Make them as deep as you can, then fill each one with cooking oil. This will serve your accelerator.
Then, place pieces of charcoal (the kind you would use for a barbeque) atop the holes, or stuff some rags into the holes. Wait a few minutes – the rags and charcoal should suck up some oil.
Light the charcoal and let the fire burn until the stump is gone. You may have to reignite the stump in order to get this method to work.
17) Use a Grub Hoe and a Come-Along
One of the easiest ways to remove a shallowly-rooted tree stump is to use a grub hoe and come-along.
You’ll need to expose the roots of the plant with a shovel and grub hoe, but then, you can use a come along tool to pull out the stump once it has become detached from the roots. This is a good technique to use on old, dried-out stumps in particular.
18) Use Rock Salt
If you have rock salt hanging around from last winter, you can try applying it to dry out your tree stump. As you would with Epsom salts, simply drill a few holes into the tree stump, then fill them in with rock salt.
Be careful doing this, as rock salt can be dangerous to pets. It can also damage plants you might have growing nearby.
19) Use Stump Out
Stump Out is a stump remover chemical that can help you rot a tree stump over time. It can be pretty pricey – it will cost around $10 per stump, and includes some nasty chemicals – but can be effective if you want a truly “dump and go” kind of solution.
20) Hire Someone
If you don’t want to wait for years, rent heavy equipment, or spend hours digging out your tree stump, you may just need to bite the bullet and call the pros.
The practicality of this depends on several factors. First, keep in mind that renting a professional will cost anywhere from $50 to $350. If you’re already paying someone to come and cut down the tree, tossing them a little extra cash to get rid of the stump while they’re there might not be a bad idea.
However, if you have lots of stumps to remove, and the professional charges by the stump, it might be more realistic for you to rent a stump grinder and take care of things yourself.
General Tips for Removing a Tree Stump
There are a few general tips that you should follow regardless of which method you choose to follow to remove your stump.
First, make sure you check into local regulations to verify that you are in compliance with the law. You don’t want to start burning a stump or using chemicals if it’s not actually legal for you to do so in your area.
Also, keep in mind that you should have some water on hand. Even if you’re not burning your stump, having water can be helpful to wash away dirt from exposed roots as you dig down.
Major roots do not have to be removed once you get rid of the main portion of the stump. The roots will rot on their own over time underground. If they sprout suckers – which is unlikely – you can always use a brush killer product later on.
Whatever You Do, Do Something
There are some people who believe that you can just let a tree stump rot into the ground – it will more or less take care of itself.
That’s not necessarily incorrect. Over time, a tree stump will decompose to nothingness. However, when I say time, I’m talking about a lot of time.
During that time, a lot of bad things can happen. Not only are stumps unpleasant to look at, but they can also attract pests like termites and wasps.
Furthermore, a stump can cause you to trip and injure yourself. It could even damage your lawnmower if it’s partially hidden where you can’t see it.
Plus, with all these easy ways to remove a tree stump, why would you want to leave it in the ground? Get rid of it immediately and you won’t have to worry about it causing problems for you now – or later.
Rebekah is a part-time homesteader. On her 22 acres, she raises chickens and bees, not to mention she grows a wide variety of veggies.