How to Kill Stumps & Roots

Updated February 21, 2017

Kill the roots of a felled tree and remove its stump to prevent it from growing back. A stump looks unsightly and poses a safety hazard while mowing surrounding grass or when children are playing outdoors. Even if you cut down a green ash, willow or poplar tree, it still grows back because its roots are not dead. To effectively remove a tree from your landscape, kill its roots so they loosen their grip on the stump, then pull the stump out of the soil.

Cut the stump as close to the ground as possible, preferably from November to March. Position the blade of the handsaw or chainsaw parallel to the ground on the desired spot on the trunk and apply steady, uniform pressure to cut excess wood.

Dill evenly spaced holes that are 1 inch wide and 8 to 10 inches deep through the top of the stump using an electric drill. Drill each hole at an angle to ensure maximum contact with the tissue.

Pour a high-nitrogen fertiliser into the drilled holes to serve as a food source for the fungus in the wood and speed up the process of decomposition. Alternatively, dilute a water-soluble herbicide with water and pour it over the holes immediately after you fell the tree.

Spread 2 inches of soil over the exposed surface of the stump. Spray the soil with water daily to keep it evenly moist and speed up the decomposition process.

Cover the stump with a sheet of black plastic. Ensure it is large enough to cover the sides of the stump. Weigh the edges of the sheet with rocks. The stump will begin to rot in six to eight weeks.

Dig a trench around the stump using a shovel to expose as many side roots as possible. Sever visible roots with a sharp gardening tool such as a root saw. The roots should be weak due to the herbicide.

Insert the shovel under the stump to kill roots and release the stump. Position the tip of the shovel under the stump and apply steady pressure to pry it out of the soil. Cut rotting roots that remain attached to the stump. Rock the stump back and forth to release it from the soil. Collect broken roots from and around the planting hole and discard.


You can also kill the tree with a commercial stump and root killer.

Things You'll Need

  • Chainsaw or handsaw
  • Drilling machine spade bit
  • High-nitrogen fertiliser
  • Water-soluble herbicide (optional)
  • Soil
  • Black plastic
  • Rocks
  • Shovel
  • Root saw
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About the Author

Tanya Khan is a freelance author and consultant, having written numerous articles for various online and print sources. She has a Master of Business Administration in marketing but her passion lies in writing.