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How to rot tree stumps

Updated February 21, 2017

Although fallen trees and tree stumps can feed the forest and backyard ecosystems, underground root systems may also generate unwanted plant growth. Stumps can also create construction hazards. Whether you're clearing an area for building development, landscaping or safety reasons, you can rot tree stumps through natural means, the use of chemical and processed products or try a combination of methods.

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  1. Cut trees down to the ground or as close as possible to reduce the amount of wood that you need to rot.

  2. Drill multiple one-inch wide holes into the top and diagonally through the sides of the stumps to break up organic material and allow more moisture to reach the inside of the stumps to speed up the rotting process. Drilling holes into tree stumps also allows wood and decaying-plant eaters---fungi, insects and birds---free access. Make certain that you drill the holes at least 8 to 12 inches deep.

  3. Pour hot water into the holes to help break down the wood and to promote the growth of microorganisms. Cover the stumps with soil and cover with grass or moss. Regularly water the area to maintain the high moisture needed to decay wood. Keep in mind you cannot rapidly decay tree stumps through natural means; if speed is important you must use a brush killer and/or stump remover instead.

  4. Cut your stumps to ground-level and drill holes into them as you would if rotting stumps naturally.

  5. Spray a chemical weed and brush killer, like Spectracide's Brush Killer, on and around your tree stumps and into the holes. Wait 5 to 7 days and then use a stump removal product (for example, Spectracide Stump Remover) to rot your dead tree stumps.

  6. Fill the pre-drilled holes with your stump remover. Stump removers use a high concentration of potassium nitrate, usually in granular form, to rot tree stumps, as potassium and nitrogen increase organic decomposition rates.

  7. Pour hot water into the holes and repeat over several days to dissolve the potassium nitrate.

  8. Wait four to six weeks and remove your stumps.

  9. Tip

    Burn tree stump tops or entire stumps to the roots to increase the decaying process. Contact your local township to confirm that you can burn tree stumps in your area. Stump grinding and grubbing -- physically cutting and pulling out stumps and roots -- are other time-honoured but labour intensive methods.


    Always wear the appropriate safety clothing (gloves, mask or goggles) when sawing, drilling or using hazardous materials. Read the safety instructions that come with chemical products before use. Use a brush killer spray during a warm, non-rainy season, as chemicals in brush killers can wash off of your stumps in the rain and damage surrounding growth or soak into the soil.

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Things You'll Need

  • Saw
  • Drill
  • Moss or grass
  • Soil
  • Water
  • Gloves (grip and rubber)
  • Face mask
  • Work goggles (optional)
  • Weed and brush killer
  • Stump remover

About the Author

Based in Southern Pennsylvania, Irene A. Blake has been writing on a wide range of topics for over a decade. Her work has appeared in projects by The National Network for Artist Placement, the-phone-book Limited and GateHouse Media. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Shippensburg University.

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