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Tree Stump Removal, the Lazy Way

I did an experiment several years ago to see if I could kill a tree stump by shielding it from light, and it worked. Here's how I did it.

Learn how to remove tree stumps easily.

Learn how to remove tree stumps easily.

Get Rid of Tree Stumps Without Breaking Your Back or Your Budget

Tree stump removal is not a topic that lends itself well to a glamorous photo spread, such as what you will find in your typical home and garden magazine. Nevertheless, it is a very real and common problem that plagues many homeowners and others who get saddled with yard work.

Stump removal is a lot more difficult than it may first appear. In fact, it requires a fair amount of skill and labor, so much so that arborists and other tree professionals often charge a pretty hefty fee for this service. Generally, they do not include it as a standard part of tree removal.

In this article, I will walk you through my simple tree stump removal method that is quick, low-cost, easy, highly effective, chemical-free, and perfectly safe, with very little labor involved. This method relies on natural tree decay processes but gives Mother Nature a push. If time is not a major consideration and you are lazy like me, my technique is hard to beat.

However, the one disadvantage of my method is that there is a long waiting time, so if you need to have your stumps removed in a hurry, then I also present various alternate methods to get you pointed in the right direction.

My Lazy Method for Removing Tree Stumps

If you have given up trying to deal with tree stumps and decided to let nature take its course, the method I outline below should appeal to you.

Supplies You'll Need

  • A bucket or other cylindrical container (preferably black) is large enough to cover your target stump.
  • Some lopping shears or other tool to trim the stump of new growth. (Lopping shears or loppers are great for trimming large branches, vines, and small trees (less than 2" diameter), and they also come in handy when you need to trim a stump. Stumps often sprout new branches (which is one reason they're so hard to kill), and loppers are the perfect garden tool for removing this nuisance regrowth.
  • Some basic gardening tools for gathering dirt and leaves, grass, and/or mulch.

Since many of the tree stumps in our yard are still alive and resprouting, I did a quick experiment several years ago to see if I could kill one of them off by shielding it from light. (The idea is that this accelerates the natural decay process and makes it easier to extract from the ground).

The experiment was very simple. All I did was put a metal coffee can over a stump about 6" diameter by 12" tall and let it sit for a couple of years, testing it every so often by kicking it to see if it would budge.

Step 1: Select Tree Stump for Treatment

For this demonstration, I will be using a stump that is about 7-8" in diameter by about 10" tall. Although this tree was cut some time ago, it is still very much alive and refuses to die, as you can see from the many new branches it continues to sprout (see photos below).

Step 2: Prepare Stump for Treatment

For this step, I trimmed the stump of its branches (see photos below) so that it will be able to fit inside of the container I'm going to use to cover it.

Step 3: Add Dirt and Other Ingredients

Adding dirt plus leaves, grass, and/or mulch (whatever you have handy) will help to accelerate the decay process as it supports the growth of fungi in the tree. For this step, I applied some dirt to the stump, enough to cover the top, and pressed it down with a bucket to make it stick. (I could have added more dirt, but digging is hard work and I'm too lazy.) I then filled the container to be placed on top of the stump (a black bucket) with wet leaves about halfway. (See photos below.)

Step 4: Cover the Stump

For this step, I used a black rubber bucket that is sufficiently large so that it covers the stump from top to bottom (see photos below). Black is best because darker colors absorb more light, creating more heat within the enclosure so that the chemical reactions associated with the tree decaying process are accelerated.

(However, if you don't have a black or dark-colored container handy, feel free to use whatever container you can easily get a hold of as this method works well even with light-colored containers and partial stump coverage.)

I then placed the bucket upside down on top of the stump, carefully turning it over so that the leaves would stay inside. (The first time I tried this, I noticed that the bucket still felt loose around the stump, so I removed it and added some more leaves.)

With all those leaves and dirt, there is more organic matter to support the growth of fungi, which, combined with the moisture, helps speed up decomposition. The leaves and dirt also serve to make the bucket fit more snugly over the stump so that way it will more likely stay put in case of a strong wind.

Step 5: Check Back in One Year

Now that the stump has been covered, nothing else needs to be done except wait.

Once you have treated your stump as described above, check back in about one year and give it a good swift kick (but not so hard that you break your foot!). If it fights back, wait another year, and once it starts to budge, you're in business! This means that the tree decay has propagated down to the roots so that the stump can now be easily removed.

The stump from my first experiment was killed off by keeping it partially covered with a coffee can for a couple of years. Good things come to those who wait.

After not having looked at the stump for many months, just the other day, I decided to test it again, and lo and behold, the stump fell to the ground with hardly any effort on my part! Extracting it from the ground was extremely easy, requiring absolutely no pulling, digging, or cutting. The neat thing was that I had made no special preparations other than putting the can on top of the stump, which didn't even cover it entirely.

Other Ways to Remove Tree Stumps

There are several other ways to remove tree stumps ranging from brute force methods that employ heavy-duty stump grinders to various chemical techniques that accelerate stump decay. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.

When it comes to deciding which method is best, there is no one-size-fits-all technique since tree stumps vary widely in shape, size, age, location, type(s) of surrounding vegetation, and other important factors.

  • Use a Stump Grinder. If you need to get rid of your stumps in a hurry and don't want to dig them up, then using a stump grinder is pretty much the only way to go. It is also a good technique if you have extremely large stumps (e.g., greater than 18" in diameter). Using a stump grinder is the most expensive of all the ways to remove tree stumps, whether you rent the equipment and do it yourself or hire someone to do it. (If you do it yourself, then make sure to remove any rock and debris from the area, and take other safety precautions such as protective eyewear.) It may also be problematic for stumps that lie very close to buildings.
  • Use Chemical Techniques. If you can wait 1-3 months, there are many chemical techniques available. The most popular of these is to apply potassium nitrate, fertilizer, or other nitrogen-rich chemicals to the stump by drilling several holes into the top and filling them with the chemical mixed with water. Nitrogen-rich substances promote the growth of fungi that accelerate the decay process, making the stump easier to remove. After they are allowed to do their work (typically over several weeks or months), the stump will gradually become soft and mulchy. An axe may then be used to break up the stump and remove it, or it may be burned by applying kerosene and setting it on fire. This technique works best on stumps that have been dead for at least a year.
  • Use Salt. A variation on the above technique is to use salt. To protect the surrounding vegetation, it is important to ensure that the salt is confined to within the stump so that it does not leech out into the soil. Other similar techniques use various chemicals and substances such as diesel fuel, bleach, sodium hydroxide, and even sulfuric acid. In some cases, frequent checking and repeated applications may be necessary,
  • Let Nature Do It. Finally, many people opt to let nature take its course. This is the method I describe in this article, and it's the cheapest and least hands-on method, but of course, it also takes the longest. Depending on the stump, the time it takes for a stump to die off completely naturally can take anywhere from several years to a decade. The techniques I describe above show how to accelerate natural decay so that the waiting time can be significantly reduced.

What About Copper Nails? Do They Work to Remove a Stump?

Another method floating around on the Internet entails nailing many copper nails into the tree stump. For those who have reported good results, the secret is to use many nails (at least four, depending on the stump's size).

The copper nail technique is one of many that is also supposed to accelerate the nature tree decay processes, making stump removal easier. While many claim this method works, others say it is an urban myth (which is also my best guess).

I only bring it up here because those searching for ways to remove tree stumps may have come across this technique while searching the Internet and are probably wondering how effective it is. As for me, I have never tried this technique first hand, but when I do, I will let you know how my results pan out.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Pam on June 17, 2020:

We drilled one inch holes deep into the trunk then filled with vegetable oil instead of toxic kerosene. We waited a day or so and did it again after the oil really soaked into the stump. Then we burned it. It smoldered for a couple of days and we did add more oil. Then a couple of days later, it broke apart easily with a shovel and ax. The diameter was about 10-12 inches. It was a pine tree of some sort.

Kenneth on June 13, 2020:

Use what you have on hand . I had five trees cut down and the stumps ground . The grinder could only go about a foot and a half down so I used my drill with the largest drill bit I had and drilled any many holes as possible ( spade bit ) I also drilled holes into the large roots which where taking over my yard ( some the grinder could not get to ) . Hopefully this will work , I wanted to burn the burn the below ground level stumps but my wife said NO so this was my next option . We are wanting to plant smaller trees in there place so I need to remove them as quickly as possible . If you know of another way let me know @ . This post is 6/13/2020 Thank youn

Brando on August 28, 2019:

I use long cast iron wedges, cast iron mallets, sledge hammer, pic axe, wedge axe and shovel. I love the work out. Takes longer but I don't care. When you are trying to remove a stump that is 3 feet in diameter and 10 inches above the grass I am going to remove it the most affordable way and have a great workout at same time.

steve on June 22, 2019:

I covered it in charcoal, and burnt it out. To speed the process, I used a air mattress pump to provide tons of extra oxygen. It gets hot! Be careful.

Florita on October 10, 2014:

This is my first visit to Hub Pages and I choose to read your article. I'm reminded of the trees that were cut down in our backyard . . . mango, kamias, santol and coconut trees.

My mind is spinning. I'd really like to get into writing. So, one of the first things I need to do is to finalize a couple of half finished writings.

I'm thinking . . to get encouraged and inspired, I will visit HubPages regularly. Thanks

DebMartin on December 12, 2012:

Cool lens. I like anyone who knows the value of patience. d

Snakesmum on November 28, 2012:

Since I have a native and natural looking garden, the natural way of stump removal is always used here. Don't even cover them, just wait until nature takes its course. The insects help, of course. One old stump is now our cat's scratching post in her outside pen.

Itaya Lightbourne from Topeka, KS on November 03, 2012:

I like your technique! If I ever have to remove a stump, I'm probably going to cover it and let nature do the rest. Angel Blessings! :)

floppypoppygift1 on November 03, 2012:

Your technique is very smart. Cost effective and prevents people from tripping over pr falling on the ofending stump! Cheers~cb

anonymous on October 14, 2012:

just burn it think. :d

anonymous on October 09, 2012:

@KimGiancaterino: Did you try this? Checking back with you to see it it works. Just cut down some smaller trees that seemed to relish the hair cut and I'm going to try this.

JlesProductions on October 04, 2012:

Stump removal is really a pain. One great method for those that need a quick fix is

WriterJanis2 on September 26, 2012:

I don't dread anything more than going to the dentist.

Elyn MacInnis from Shanghai, China on September 03, 2012:

Dentist is worse! But there are such good ideas here. Thank you so much! Blessed!

LynetteBell from Christchurch, New Zealand on August 06, 2012:

A lens to refer back to:)

Darcie French from Abbotsford, BC on July 16, 2012:

This is a highly useful and detailed article that I am sure will be helpful for many tree stump removers.

pcgamehardware on July 11, 2012:

I haven't tried your method of tree stump removal before, but the next time I have a stump to remove I will give it a try.

Thanks for sharing... Liked and Blessed.

anonymous on July 03, 2012:

I like your method. Our method was just to chip away at it with an ax (takes forever!).

Mark Falco from Reno, Nevada on June 27, 2012:

We had one enormous stump ground down professionally. Waste of money if you ask me but I rarely get my way in the garden. I got rid of another stump the natural way and it's a pretty fast process and much, much cheaper.

anonymous on June 27, 2012:

"If it fights back, wait another year", how cute and I loved your intro comment that stump removal does not lend itself to a glamorous photo your humor and your get the job done attitude...even if it takes another year!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on June 12, 2012:

Thank you for this. I much prefer doing what you've done.

MartieG aka 'survivoryea' from Jersey Shore on May 13, 2012:

We have two stumps to get rid of and this sounds very easy-nicely explained and the pictures are great ~~blessed~~

KimGiancaterino on May 08, 2012:

We have a fairly large stump that was left behind when a brush cherry got out of hand. Once it was leveled off, I put a piece of flagstone on top and the cats use it as a perch. The trunk still sprouts occasionally, but is now covered with a strange fungi.

JoshK47 on April 29, 2012:

How clever! Blessed by a SquidAngel!

cohenandmaster on April 25, 2012:

Interesting methods to remove the stump for cheap. Thanks for posting!

SteveKaye on April 19, 2012:

This is very helpful. Your method costs almost nothing, requires no chemicals, and takes little time. That's a perfect combination. Thank you for publishing this lens.

Beverly Rodriguez from Albany New York on April 18, 2012:

This look do-able. I know the salt they put on icy roads kills the trees near the street.

anonymous on April 17, 2012:

Removing stumps is no mean feat as they always manage to sprouts roots and live once again. Some great info here

SophiaStar LM on April 16, 2012:

I have not yet needed to remove a tree trunk but this was very interesting and full of great information:)!

Harriet from Indiana on April 16, 2012:

This is a great lens with lots of useful information.

Einar A on April 16, 2012:

Well, based on your title I thought I was going to come here and read about dynamite...but I enjoyed the article, anyway! Tree stump removal is something anyone with a significant amount of land will have to deal with at one time or another, and your method, though not one I have tried, looks like a good one.