How to Remove a Tree Stump (5 Ways)

Tree stump grinder in use

You eliminated the tree that just didn’t work in your yard, but now you have the stump to contend with. Surprisingly, removing it is no easy task.  In fact, it’s left you, well — stumped. But never fear! Here are five ways to remove a tree stump.

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No. 1: Use Chemicals

Using chemicals to get rid of tree stumps is the least labor-intensive way to get rid of them. However, this process does take time, especially if you want to remove a large stump. Sometimes, it could take up to a year for the stump removal process to be complete because you are literally rotting the pesky thing. 

But the good news is that this method is inexpensive if you already have a chainsaw and drill. The materials you need to purchase will cost you less than $20. Here are our five picks for stump removal chemicals.

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Spectracide HG-66420 Stump Remover

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Stump Killer Ready-to-Use Qt

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VPG Fertilome 32295 32Oz Brush Stump Killer

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Bonide (BND272) – Ready to Use Stump-Out, Easy Chemical Stump Remover

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Amazon.com prices as of 7/9/2021, 5:18:51 AMdetails
Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon.com or other relevant Amazon Site(s), as applicable] at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

Pro Tip: If you need to purchase a chainsaw, ensure you get one of the best chainsaws for the money you want to spend.

To get a small tree stump out this way, you’ll need the following:

  • A chainsaw and a drill
  • Potassium nitrate or Epsom salt
  • Plastic tarp
  • Garden mulch
  • An ax

How to Remove a Tree Stump Using Chemicals

Once you’ve got your materials, you can begin. But remember, when you use a chemical stump remover, be patient, as it will take at least four weeks in most cases to see results. Typically, it takes three to seven years for a stump to rot naturally, so this method is a faster alternative.

Note: if you want to avoid harsh chemicals, fuel oil, or anything else that’s not natural, you could use the Epsom salt method. Follow the steps below, but use Epsom salt instead of potassium nitrate.

Step 1: Using your chainsaw, remove as much of the stump above ground level as possible. Wear protective gear, such as safety goggles and steel-toe boots.

Step 2: Next, drill holes through what is left of the tree stump. Space the holes closely together and use your largest drill bit. Go as deep and wide as possible with these holes.

Step 3: First, fill the holes using water, then add the potassium nitrate. You could also use another type of fertilizer high in nitrogen, Epsom salt, or even stump remover granules designed for this process.

Step 4: Soak the ground around the tree stump with water to get it nice and saturated, then cover the area with a plastic tarp. The tarp will help to keep moisture in and accelerate the rotting process.

Step 5: Cover the tarp with mulch, preferably an organic mulch, and water again to help retain moisture and soak the area.

Step 6: Check on the progress periodically and add more water and nitrogen to your tree stump, then recover with mulch and more water.

Step 7: Your tree stump should become spongy after four to six weeks. If so, you can use an ax to speed up the process and remove portions of the tree stump. If enough comes loose, you can cover what remains with dirt, create a flower bed, or even plant grass seed. If the stump is still firm, repeat the process.

If you discover that the old tree stump hasn’t progressed as far as you’d like, you can always move into the burn method listed below.

No. 2: Remove Stump Manually

If you don’t want to use chemical stump removal or wait too long to remove the tree stump, it may be possible to remove it manually. Again, doing it this way is not expensive if you already have the tools. It may take several hours to finish the project, depending on the tools available and size of the trunk, but that stump will be history.

The tools that you need to gather or purchase include:

  • Digging bar ($30 to $50)
  • Bow saw ($10 to $30)
  • Ax ($30 to $40)
  • Mattock ($15 to $50)

Wear safety gear such as work gloves and steel-toe boots for this project.

How to Remove a Tree Stump Manually

Manual removal is how to get rid of a tree stump fast.  However, manually removing a stump is a labor-intensive process, and it is most suitable for small to medium-sized tree trunks. You will likely need a stump grinder if you have a larger stump, which we will discuss later.

Step 1: Use the broad end of the mattock ( a type of pickaxe) to dig around the stump and loosen the dirt.

Step 2: Remove the loosened dirt with a shovel so that you see the tree roots.

Step 3: With your mattock (or a small bow saw), sever the roots from the trunk. You can remove the tree roots or leave them to decompose on their own.

Step 4: Continue to dig and chop until you reach the taproot and clear an area around it.

Step 5: Cut through the taproot using an ax or bow saw.

Once you’ve cut through the taproot, you can wiggle the tree stump around and pull it out of the topsoil. This process will take hours, but your tree stump will be gone when it’s over.

Another strategy for removing a tree stump by hand is to use a wedge, which this video illustrates.

No. 3: Burn the Stump

Another do-it-yourself option is the burn method. This may be used alone or in conjunction with one of the two stump removal methods listed above. The supplies you’ll need to burn your stump include:

  • A tree stump removal product such as Stump Out
  • Kerosene or fuel oil
  • Power drill

How to Burn a Tree Stump

Burning the stump may seem daunting, but as long as safety measures are followed, this is an effective method to remove a tree stump. Carefully follow the instructions:

Step 1: Drill deep holes in the stump and sprinkle your powdered tree stump removal product inside. This will help to make the wood porous.

Step 2: Pour kerosene or fuel oil into the holes. Soak the tree stump thoroughly, allowing the porous wood to absorb the fuel. 

Note: You should not use bleach, diesel fuel, or motor oil to kill a tree stump.

Step 3: Ignite the tree stump and let it burn. Watch it closely and make sure that the flame smolders. Once it is just about finished, you can cover it with topsoil to help put out any remnants of the fire.

This is a fast removal method, but if you live within city limits, you should check with local ordinances if burning your tree stump is allowed or if a permit is required.

No. 4: Use a Stump Grinder

If you are dealing with a larger stump or have multiple old stumps to remove, renting a stump grinder may be your best DIY bet. Stump grinders are often available at your local home improvement store and generally cost between $100 and $200 to rent. You’ll also need a few extra tools including:

  • Shovel
  • Mattock
  • Rake
  • Chainsaw

How to Remove a Tree Stump With a Stump Grinder

Stump grinders are large machines that can weigh around 1,000 pounds. So before you rent one, make sure you have a vehicle to transport it to and from your home or that the rental company can deliver it and take it away.

Step 1: Clear dirt, debris, and rocks away from the tree stump using your mattock or shovel.

Step 2: Cut the tree stump down as much as possible using your chainsaw. Ground-level is ideal.

Step 3: Place the stump grinder wheel a few inches above the stump and turn it on.

Step 4: Lower it about 3 inches and move it from side to side using its lever.

Step 5: Grind it down about 4 inches using the grinder wheel and repeat until the entire perimeter of the stump is 4 inches below the ground.

Step 6: Fill the hole with the wood chips, which are the remnants of your stump. If you want to plant grass after stump grinding, you’ll need to remove all the wood chips first. 

While this is a home improvement project you can do yourself, be sure to do your research before you begin. These machines can be challenging to operate, especially for beginners, and you will need the proper safety gear and attire.

stump grinder machine grinding a stump
Photo Credit: spxChrome / Canva Pro / License

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No. 5: Call in the Pros

If waiting weeks, working on it for hours, lighting fires, or operating heavy equipment doesn’t appeal to you, you can always hire a local tree care professional. If you’re already getting a tree cut down, ask that company to remove the trunk. They will charge you an additional fee, but you may be able to negotiate a favorable rate since you are already working with them.

It generally costs between $175 and $516 per stump for removal by a tree service. To get a reasonable estimate, measure the diameter of the stump and multiply this by $2 to $5. The average professional stump removal cost is $326.

Typically, stump grinding costs from $158 to $450, depending on the size of the stump. The average cost of stump grinding is $313.

Advice from a Pro

Since renting a stump grinder ranges from $200 to $400, you could come out ahead by hiring a tree removal service instead. Gerald Williams, owner of C-Trees & More in Houston, Texas, said that in many cases, the stump grinders available for rent at places like Home Depot are not big enough.

“I’ve seen people rent these machines and try to do it themselves,” he said. “They get worked to death trying to remove the stump with one of these small grinders, and then they still end up calling a professional in to do the job.”

He said you can rent a stronger, professional-grade stump grinder but warns that these can cost around $400 or more.  Additionally, he said that the commercial-grade grinders require skill to operate as well as the proper equipment to haul them.

The Bottom Line: By calling a professional, you’ll not only avoid hauling heavy equipment, but you’ll also avoid safety glasses, sawdust, and the local fire department.

How to Choose the Best Way to Remove a Tree Stump

There are several aspects to consider when choosing how to remove a tree stump. Does it have a deep root system? Is the stump small, medium, or large? Large tree stumps may not come out as easily as smaller stumps with some of these methods.

And why do you want to get rid of it? Is it an eyesore that you are ready to eliminate, or are you willing to wait? Once you have the details and reasoning behind the stump removal, you’re ready to choose your tree stump killer. 

  • Best ways to remove a small stump: Chemicals, remove manually, or burn
  • Best ways to remove a medium stump: You could use any of these five methods, depending on the size, age of the stump, and root system. You probably wouldn’t need to call in a pro unless you prefer someone else to do the work.
  • Best ways to remove a large stump: Call in the pros for the fastest results. Chemicals or burning may also work, depending on the size, age of the stump, and root system. 
  • Cheapest ways to remove a stump: Remove the stump manually or burn the stump. Compared to renting heavy equipment or hiring a pro, using chemicals is also inexpensive.
  • Fastest ways to remove a stump: Remove the stump manually or call in the pros.

Benefits of Removing a Tree Stump

Many homeowners may wonder, “Can I leave a tree stump in the ground?” The answer is yes, you can. Tree stumps and their roots will eventually decay if left alone. However, it may take up to a decade for this process to begin. During this time, the stump will be vulnerable to fungi, diseases, and pests.

Overall, removing a stump can improve your outdoor space’s safety, aesthetics, and functionality. There are several reasons why removing a tree stump is beneficial:

  • Aesthetics: Tree stumps can be unsightly and detract from the overall appearance of a yard or landscape.
  • Safety: Stumps can pose a tripping hazard, especially if they are hidden by grass or other vegetation.
  • Pest control: Tree stumps can attract pests such as termites, ants, and beetles, which can then spread to nearby plants and structures.
  • Future planting: Stumps can hinder the planting of new trees, shrubs, or flowers in the same area.
  • Space efficiency: Removing a stump enables more efficient use of yard space, whether it is for landscaping, gardening, or other activities.

A Tree Can Grow Back From The Stump

Even after a tree has been cut down, the remaining stump still has its root system. While it may seem lifeless, the stump’s roots can still absorb nutrients from the soil, receive sunlight, and take in water from the rain. It is only a matter of time before new shoots and sprouts start to emerge once again.

Things You Can Do With a Tree Stump

While a tree stump can be unattractive in your landscape, there are ways to enhance its appearance instead of removing it. Here are some things you can do with a tree stump:

  • Use it to make a fairy or gnome house.
  • Turn it into a seating area.
  • Create a flower planter on top.
  • Transform it into a table or a stand.
  • Use it as a base for artwork or a birdhouse.

FAQ About Tree Stump Removal

Can You Remove a Tree Stump with Rock Salt?

Yes, you can remove a tree stump with rock salt. Removing a tree stump with rock salt is a slow process that may take several weeks or months. Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Drill deep holes in the stump.
  2. Pour rock salt into the holes.
  3. Fill the holes with water to dissolve the salt.
  4. Wait several weeks for the salt to penetrate and kill the stump.
  5. Once the stump has become soft and spongy, remove it using an ax or other tools.

The other option is to make a 2:1 water: salt solution and dump it on the stump, then cover it with a tarp, and repeat the process a week later. Both methods will slowly draw the moisture out of the stump and kill it. Chip away at the dead pieces as they form until, eventually, the stump shrinks enough to pull out of the ground.

If I Grind the Stump, What Will Happen to the Roots?

Eventually, they’ll decay and break down, returning to the environment. Because the roots are below ground, they don’t cause the same issues as leaving the tree stump. However, if you’re concerned, you can use the same methods to remove the roots as the stump.

What is the Cheapest Way to Get Rid of a Tree Stump?

The cheapest way to remove a tree stump is by using a lightweight and waterproof tarp to cover it. However, it is important to note that this method is slower compared to other methods, although it is faster than allowing the stump to decay naturally.

If you have the necessary tools, you can opt for manual stump removal or accelerate the process by drilling holes and adding Epsom salt. These methods are relatively inexpensive as well.

No Longer Stumped

If you’ve got an annoying stump in your yard that you are ready to remove, you have options. This final stage of tree care depends on how quickly you want the stump removed, how much work you are willing to put into it, and how much you want to spend.

If you’re ready to take action, contact a local tree care professional to remove the stump and take this chore off your lawn care to-do list.

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* LawnStarter participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. LawnStarter may earn revenue from products promoted in this article.

LawnStarter writer Nicki DeStasi updated this article.

Main photo credit: Shutterstock

Jennifer Lester

Jennifer Lester

Jennifer Lester is a freelance writer and social media strategist who covers a variety of home and garden topics. She’s a graduate of Texas A&M University and the proud mom of three boys. In her spare time, she volunteers in her community and her children’s schools.