10 DIY Tree Stump Removal Tips for Grinding, Digging, Prep, Stump Rot

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | November 24, 2023

Man using a stump grinder demonstrates stump removal options for tree stump removal and stump grinding service for diy stump removal and green tree root killer options.

Removing a tree stump can be a pain in the back and expensive to boot if you are hiring an expert, but stump removal doesn’t have to be a huge chore.

If you’re planning to update your landscape or establish a flower or vegetable garden, stumps can be an impediment.

Fortunately, there are a many ways to remove stumps from the ground. The key is understand which method will work best for the stump you’re dealing with.

Therefore, if you want to tackle tree stump removal by yourself, consider the size of the stump, how old it is, and how soon you need to have the area cleared.

This complete guide outlines 10 do-it-yourself stump removal techniques that can be applied depending on your specific situation.

Tree Stump Removal Safety Tips

The first step before enacting stump removal tips is to understand the significant dangers associated with tree removal.

If you are planning to use tools such as wood chippers, chainsaws, and other hand or power tools, you need to understand that accidents can lead to a severe injury. Always consult a professional if you are unsure about proper usage of machinery.

Likewise, when doing the work by hand, safety gear such as heavy boots, gloves, and safety glasses are a must have.

A huge chained tree stump along with its roots loaded on a truck bed by a wheel loader in the middle of a road with debris of fallen trees on the background.

(Image: U.S. Army Photo/Chris Gray-Garcia.14)

Even the smallest distraction can cause an ax or a chainsaw to inflict serious damage on the arms, hands, and legs.1 Besides the injuries, you will incur financial damage in the form of recovery and hospital costs.

Second, the tree stump itself can cause a major hazard. If an old stump is not removed completely, it can lead someone to fall and hurt themselves.

Additionally, attempting to remove trees comes with a wide range of dangers. Without proper equipment or technique, people run the risk of doing shady work, hurting themselves, or not completing the process, which may be costly down the line.

Also, be aware that some of tree stumps are home to poisonous plants or insects that can be dangerous if you don’t wear proper clothing. This is the reason why professional tree removers as well as tree trimming service providers wear protective gear and heavy-duty work gloves.

These professionals also inspect the trees thoroughly before cutting them down because, on rare occasions, there may be poisonous chemicals from power lines leaking onto them.

Tree stump removal safety tips will not be complete without providing the equipment needed.8 They include:

  • Helmet/face shield
  • Gloves
  • Chainsaw protective clothing
  • Goggles/safety glasses
  • Earmuffs/earplugs
  • Work shoes

10 DIY Stump Removal Techniques

The first question to ask when doing a DIY stump removal is, Can I cut tree down on my property?

The answer to this will depend on where you live and as long as you can cut down trees on your property and take safety very seriously, you can remove a tree stump by yourself without any professional help.

Graphics of DIY tree stump removal techniques showing an illustration of step-by-step procedure on tree stump grinding or using stump grinder, using a chemical tree root killer or stump removal chemical, digging out the tree stump, burning the tree stump, using a stump removal tool, using Epsom salt, using rock salt and using a plastic bag or tarp.

Choose the best stump removal technique for your specific situation and always consult a pro if you’re not sure about the best method.

1. Tree Stump Grinding or Using a Stump Grinder

A tree stump grinder is the best tool for large stumps.

Tree stump grinding is also the best way to go if you have several tree stumps to remove.

Close up of a cutting disc of a tree stump grinder.

(Image: Arpingstone15)

Stump grinder machine safety is very important. Using a tree stump grinder is not hard to muster but simple carelessness might cost you a limb.9

Stump grinders are available to rent at most local home improvement stores with a $150 – $200 price range. You will also need a few additional tools such as:

  • Chainsaw
  • Rake
  • Mattock
  • Shovel

A tree stump grinder can weigh about 1,000 pounds so before renting one, make sure you have a vehicle that can ferry it from the store to your home and back. Some rental companies will deliver the grinder and take it away once you are done.

To use a stump grinder, take the following steps:

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

Step 2: Use a chainsaw to cut the tree stump to ground level.

Step 3: Turn on the stump grinder a few inches above the stump.

Step 4: Grind the stump down about 4 – 6 inches below the ground.

Step 5: Fill the hole using wood chips or tree stump remnants, then with topsoil.

2. Using a Chemical Tree Root Killer or Stump Removal Chemical

If you want the least labor-intensive way to get rid of a tree stump, then you should consider using a tree removal chemical. It’s well to note that this is a time-consuming technique, especially if you are getting rid of a large stamp.

You should consider using manufactured chemical root killers such as Dichlobenil or copper sulfate.10 However, a mixture of salt and baking soda will work just as well and be much friendlier to the area where the stump is located.

Using chemicals to kill roots or get rid of stumps might take almost a year because the stump rot will take a while depending on the chemicals used.2 However, this method is relatively inexpensive and can be sped up using a drill or chainsaw.

You will need about $20 to purchase the chemical needed to rot a stump. For this process, you will need:

  • A drill and chainsaw
  • Potassium nitrate
  • Plastic tarp
  • An ax
  • Garden mulch

This is the step-by-step process of removing a tree stump using chemicals. It’s important to note that it will take at least four weeks after applying the chemical remover for the stump to rot.

This process is much quicker as opposed to letting the stump rot naturally which may take up to eight years.

Step 1: Cut off the part of the stump that is above ground using a chainsaw. Cut as much as possible.

Step 2: Drill holes through the remaining tree stump. Use a spade drill bit to make holes as close together as possible drilling both deep and wide.

Step 3: Fill the holes with water then potassium nitrate.

Step 4: Soak up the ground around the tree stump with water then use a plastic tarp to cover the area. This helps add moisture and speed up the rotting process.

Step 5: Put mulch on the tarp and add water to help soak the area and retain moisture.

Step 6: Check on the process periodically and keep on adding nitrogen and water on the stump and also add water on the mulch.

Step 7: Continue checking on the progress for four to six weeks. At the end of this period, the tree stump will be spongy and you can use an ax to remove the rotting stump.

3. How To Dig Out a Tree Stump

An alternative to using a grinder or tree-killing chemical is learning how to dig out a tree stump.

This is not an expensive process if you already have the tools, but the elbow grease required can be substantial.

Close up of an axe cutting through a tree stump with a pile of logs on the background.

(Image: herbert251216)

It only takes a couple of hours to dig out a tree stump. For this process you will need:

  • Mattock: $50
  • Axe: $40
  • Bow Saw: $30
  • Digging Bar: $50

Step 1: Dig around the stump using the mattock’s broad end to loosen the dirt.

Step 2: Use a shovel to remove the dirt and keep doing this until you see the tree root.

Step 3: Use the mattock to severe the tree roots.

Step 4: Keep on digging and chopping until you reach the tap root then clear the area around it.

Step 5: Cut through the tap root using an axe.

4. How To Remove Small Tree Stumps Manually

The best way to remove tree stumps is to do it manually. You can follow the above steps for digging out the stump or use an even simpler process (if the stump is small) which involves loosening up the soil next to the root and pulling it out.

Once the soil is loose, you can wiggle the stump and pull it out of the topsoil. You can also use a wedge to remove the stump.

First clear out the area around the stump. Second, use a chainsaw to cut as much of the stump as possible.

Third, use the chain saw to cut across the stump all the way to the ground. Cut the stump into halves or quarters.

Make different size wedges using wood then hammer them inside the crosscut. Finally, use a wedge hammer to drive the wedges into the cuts until they give way.

You can now safely remove the roots.

5. Burning as a Tree Stump Remover Technique

Burning is the riskiest technique among tree stump removal tips.

This process may be daunting but as long as you adhere to the required safety measures, it’s easy and very effective.

Close up of a burning tree stump with smoke spreading in the forest.

(Image: USDA photo by Andrew R. Mitchell17)

To burn out a tree stump, take the following steps:

Step 1: Use a spade drill bit to make halls on the stump. Put some powdered tree stump removal product inside the holes to make the wood more porous.

Step 2: Pore fuel oil or kerosene on the holes and soak the tree stump completely.

Step 3: Light the tree stump on fire and let it burn. The flames should smolder and once the stump burns out, cover it with topsoil and put out any remnant embers.

Though this is a quick and easy removal process, it works best if the tree is dry and brittle. Additionally, you need to be careful not to spread the fire anywhere else.

Knowing how to burn a stump may be useless in areas that do not allow lighting public fires such as populated urban areas.

Check with your local fire department before creating an open fire.

6. Using a Stump Removal Tool

Several tools in the market today have been made specifically for stump removal. One such tool is the NW Quik Pull which allows you to pull a whole stump from the ground.

All you have to do is loosen the soil around the stump, attach the machine, and pull the stump right out of the soil.

Additionally, you can use the leverage of the handle and attach the chain to it, wrap the other part of the chain on the stump, and pull it out of the ground without digging.

7. Allow the Stump To Rot Naturally

Since you already know how to rot a tree stump fast, one other alternative is allowing the tree to rot naturally. This process involves cutting the tree stump as low as possible using a chainsaw.

Then you wait about four to eight years for the stump to decay naturally.

The actual time it takes to decay depends on the type of tree, climate, environment, and location.

8. Using Epsom Salt

Using Epsom salt is the most common among the 10 DIY tree stump removal tips. The technique quickens the decomposition process to less than a year as opposed to the 4-8 years it takes a tree to rot naturally.3

The salt contains sulfur and magnesium which are beneficial to plants only in small quantities but kill plants when used in large portions.

The Epsom salt will remove moisture from the stump,11 kill a tree stump fast and accelerate the decaying process. Take the following steps:

Step 1: Use a power drill and a spade drill bit to make as many holes in the stump as possible.

Step 2: Add water saturated with Epsom salt to the holes and other parts of the stump.

Step 3: Use a tarp to cover the stump to prevent rain from washing the salt away.

Step 4: Repeat this process periodically, once every few weeks to ensure success.

If successful, the stump dies after three months and decays after a year. This process is suitable for those who want a slower and more natural process of how to kill a tree stump.

9. Using Rock Salt

Rock salt works the same way as Epsom salt.

It kills and decays the stump at a faster rate than letting it decay naturally.

A rock salt placed in a tree stump hole with two small fawns beside it.

(Image: ŠJů (cs:ŠJů)18)

You can kill a stump using rock salt in the following steps:

Step 1: Drill holes in the stump.

Step 2: Add Rock salt to the holes.

Step 3: Pour mulch and oil over the stump.

Step 4: Pour water over the mulch to help the root absorb the salt.

You should repeat the above steps after every few days for two months to make sure the stump absorbs the salt water solution, and facilitate the growth of fungi which accelerates the decomposition of the stump.4 You are also free to add fertilizer such as potassium nitrate to facilitate the growth of fungi.

Rock salt is a great tree stump killer if you want to kill a stump without actually damaging the environment.

Related Reading: How to Kill a Tree Without Cutting It Down (Fast and Easy Trick)

10. Using a Plastic Bag or Tarp

Among the 10 DIY tree stump removal tips, the easiest way to kill a stump is using a tarp or plastic bag. This forces darkness on the tree and without sunlight, the stump dies and quickens the decomposition process.

Rotting will start two to three months after covering the stump with a tarp. This is a great tree stump killer.

All you have to do is to cover the stamp with a tarp or black trash bag and add heavy rocks or bricks to prevent it from moving. Though this technique uses little to no effort, the process is much slower than all the above-listed methods.5

Tree Stump Removal Service and Tree Stump Removal Cost

If operating heavy machinery, lighting a fire, waiting weeks, or working on the stump for hours does not appeal to you, then consider hiring a tree stump removal service.

Large tree stumps chained by workers, wearing safety gears, on a truck bed.

(Image: U.S. Army Photo/Chris Gray-Garcia19)

Some companies will remove the whole tree in exchange for wood from the tree. Other companies will charge you an additional fee for removing the stamp.

Tree stump removal cost is generally between $175 and $550 per stump.6 If you want an estimate, multiply the diameter of the stump by $2 – $5.

This formula is the best tree removal cost calculator.

The average cost of a tree removal service is usually about $326 and you can learn how to negotiate tree removal from this amount.

You can look at it this way, since you are already sinking more than $200 to hire equipment such as a stump grinder, might as well add a couple more bucks to get the job done properly.

Kill Tree Stump: What Should You Avoid When Killing Tree Stumps?

Here are a few factors that you should consider when trying to get rid of a tree stump.

  1. Do not use bleach: If you pour bleach on the stump in high quantities, it will kill the stump. However, it will also kill the surrounding plants.12
    It’s best to use natural methods such as Epsom salt which are beneficial to both the soil and the plants.
  2. Do not use diesel fuel: If you want to use the burning technique, avoid using diesel or gasoline because these solutions do not offer the effective slow burns needed to break down the wood properly. Additionally, diesel and gasoline may have an adverse effect on the plants in the surrounding areas.
    Instead, experts recommend using small amounts of kerosene or kindling the wood to create stump fires.
  3. Look out for potential dangers: For those who live in cities that permit burning stumps, you will need to monitor the fire until it burns up to prevent it from spreading beyond the area. You should also wear safety gear when using tree removal equipment such as a chainsaw and stump grinder.7
  4. Look out for proximity to other plants: If you wish to protect the stumps that are near your stump, you need to be careful when adding the stump-removing chemicals. Don’t use too much solution on the soil around the plants.

Which Tree Stump Removal Tip Should You Use?

Before removing a tree stump, you need to consider several aspects such as:

  • Does the stump have a deep root system?
  • Is the stump small, medium, or large?
  • What’s your budget?
  • How much time do you have to remove the stump?
  • How close is the stump to other plants, flammable objects, and buildings?

Large tree stumps do not come out as easily as small tree stumps. This is especially true if the tree had deep roots.

Once you consider all these factors you are ready to choose the right method.

What are the best ways to get rid of small stumps? You can remove small stumps manually, chemically, or by burning them.

What are the best ways to get rid of a medium stump? The best way is to dig it out or burn it.

Removing it manually will be too taxing and a grinder will be too expensive.

Any other method is feasible but you must look at the root system, age, and size of the stump before choosing.

What is the best way to get rid of a large stump? The best way is to use chemicals though you should probably call an expert for this.

What are the cheapest ways of removing a stump? The cheapest ways are manually removing it or burning the stump.

Disadvantages of Using a Stump Grinding Service

There are several disadvantages of using a stump grinding service.13 The main one is the stump grinding cost.

Even a small stump grinder can cost a lot, and the prices soar if the grinder comes with a professional. Furthermore, the process can be quite messy as the ground-up chips will collect on your lawn.

If these chips contain chemicals from the stump, they may even damage the vegetation in the surrounding areas.

What’s more, a stump grinder may not remove a tree stump completely. If the stump is lodged more than 10 inches below ground, you will have to use other stump removal methods.

Depending on the depth of the grind and the size of the stump, there could be some root systems left behind which could regrow.

To summarize, you can totally remove a tree stump on your own without any professional help. It’s important to take precautions in any method you choose.

Understanding the different methods of stump removal can make the job much easier. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Stump Removal

How Much Is Stump Removal?

It costs about $170 to $500.

What Is One Cheap Tree Removal Technique?

Removing the tree manually or digging it out.

What Are the Methods on How To Get Rid of a Stump in 2 – 3 Days?

Dig it out or use a grinder.

What Is the Cost To Remove Tree Stump?

It costs about $170 – $500 to remove a tree stump.

What Is the Best Tree Root Removal Technique?

This depends on many factors but the best is to remove it manually.

How Do You Facilitate Stump Rot?

Using Epsom salt, rock salt or other chemicals.

What Are the Methods on How To Kill a Stump?

You can kill a stump by covering it and preventing it from reaching the sun, using chemicals, or using homemade ingredients such as rock salt and baking soda.

What Is the Best Method on How To Use a Stump Grinder?

The best way to use a stump grinder is to turn it on a few inches from the stump and drill the stump 4 to 6 inches below ground.

What Is the Most Recommended Stump Remover Chemical?

You can use high amounts of potassium nitrate or Epsom salt which, once the process is done, will nourish the soil around the stump.

What Is Tree Removal Insurance Coverage?

Very rarely, some homeowners’ insurance will cover dead tree removal or preventative tree removal. If the tree is in danger of falling the insurance will be responsible for removing it.

What Is the Range of Tree Stump Removal Prices?

The price range for tree stump removal is $170 – $500.


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