How to Kill a Tree Stump That Keeps Growing Back – The Best Way to Remove a Stump Without A Grinder

by David Lavalley on June 27, 2011

As a homeowner, you have likely cut down a tree at some point in time. Within a few weeks you may have noticed sucker limbs sprouting up around the trunk. There is an old saying that goes “Cut down one tree and twenty come to its funeral”. There is a lot of truth to this saying and it applies to many species of trees. After a tree is cut down, its roots are still thriving underground. When the tree realized that it no longer has branches or leaves, it sprouts new ones so that it can continue to survive. You may remember from science class the term photosynthesis. A tree uses its leaves to capture sunlight which then combines with carbon dioxide to form sugar. Sugar is the trees food source. Without this process, the tree simply can not survive. In order to kill a tree you must stop the photosynthesis process.

There are numerous methods that can be used to stop a tree from producing suckers once it has been cut down. Some suggest drilling holes in the tree and filling them with Rock salt, Sugar, Potassium Nitrate, or a Roundup concoctions. Others say that you can kill a stump by simply driving copper nails into it. While all of theses methods are plausible, I have a method that will finally kill that stump once and for all. This method uses a combination of a liquid Glyphosate and shading with black construction grade plastic. Within a few months, your stump will finally begin to decompose.

I once had a beautiful Crape Myrtle on the side of my home that had been there for at least 15 years. This tree was well established with deep roots. One night a beaver showed up in my yard for a midnight snack and leveled the Crape Myrtle tree. This happened to be located where I wanted to place a storage shed so it wasn’t too devastating. For month, suckers appeared twenty at a time and seemed to grow inches a week. After cutting the suckers off several times, I realized that this tree just wasn’t going to give up so I declared war on the stump. I used the following items to eradicate my Crape Myrtle stump:

  • Shovel
  • Chainsaw
  • 4 mill construction grade black plastic
  • Stakes
  • 5/8” drill bit and drill
  • Funnel
  • Glyphosate (Round-up Concentrate)
  • Peel and Seal self sticking roofing
  • Dirt or gravel

How to Kill a Tree Stump That Continues to Grow

 

Cut the stump down

Start by cutting the tree stump off below ground level. In order to do this you are going to need a shovel and a chainsaw. Start by digging all of the soil from around the tree stump. Dig about a foot to foot and a half out all around the stump. The hole should have a depth of at least six inches. Once you have excavated around the stump, use a garden hose to rinse off the stump so that you can prevent dirt from getting on your chainsaw blade. This also allows you to see exactly what you are working on. Start the chainsaw and remember to wear protective clothing, hearing protection and safety goggles. Cut the stump as far below ground level as far as possible.

 

Drill several holes

Use a 5/8” drill bit (or larger) and drill several holes into the stump. Drill the holes around 4” deep. After you have drilled several dozen holes, run your drill bit through the holes once again to remove any wood shavings that may have fallen in. When you are finished, brush off the stump and ensure that all holes are clear all the way down. This is key because you are going to need several clear cavities to hold your Glyphosate.

Fill holes with Glyphosate

Funnel Glyphosate concentrate into each hole using a common automotive funnel. It is important that you use the concentrate and not the pre-mixed type because it is much more potent and will do the job. The container that I was using happened to be a free sample that came with a garden sprayer. This little bottle is enough to make 2 gallons of weed killer so you can imagine how potent it is. Although I am not wearing protective gloves, it is a good ideas to do so. There are also specialized liquid tree stump killers available on the market but they can be somewhat expensive. Round-up concentrate should work just as well.

Cover holes

Once each hole has been filled, every hole has to be covered to ensure that all liquid is absorbed by the stump and none evaporates. There are several ways to do this but I happened to have a roll or Peel and Seal handy. This product is a self adhering tar foil that is commonly used by roofers. It can be picked up at Lowe’s for around $15 a roll and has many other uses. Cut off a few pieces and press firmly onto the stump. Another great way to cover the holes is to drive wooden dowels in each hole. This is simple and effective. You can also use a 100% silicone caulk or even putty.  I chose peel n seal simply because I already had some and I could cover several holes quickly. The important thing here is to ensure that each hole is covered and water tight.

Fill hole with dirt and cover

Fill the hole back in with dirt, covering the trench and the top of the stump completely. It’s a good idea to have  3 plus inches of dirt on top of the sump so that grass can grow in the future.  The stump should be unnoticeable when you walk across it. As an additional precaution, you will want to cover the stump and surrounding area with black 4 mil or 8 mil plastic. Mil refers to the thickness of the plastic, 8 mil being thicker than 4 mil. If you are killing one stump then purchase 4 mil plastic. Once doubled over, it is just as effective as 8 mil but much less expensive per roll. Cut a piece of plastic that is around 3’ x 3’ or larger. Center the piece of plastic over where the tree stump once was. The reason why you will want to make this plastic larger than the tree is because sucker limbs will try to sprout from the roots if the trunk is covered. By covering both the stump and surrounding roots, you can ensure that the sucker problem will be solved.

Secure plastic to ground

Secure the plastic to the ground using some type of stakes. I used 8 or so old gutter nails to do the job. Tent stakes are also very effective. The important thing here is to ensure that the plastic does not lift up on the ends as the wind blows. It may be a good idea to fold over the plastic a few times so that your stake does not rip through as easily.

Add weight

Finish off the job by covering the plastic with some sort of weight. Anything will work in this instance from sand to gravel, bricks, concrete blocks, weights or even boulders. I happened to have a bag of sand laying around so I used this for weight.

 

Wait several months and remove

Wait several months and take a look under the black plastic at the stump for indication that the stump may have finally died. Once it has died, take the plastic cover off sow grass seed or sod where the stump once was.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen July 24, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Thank you so much for this article, it was very thorough and helpful. A few questions…. how much round up do you pour in each hole and can you use duct tape to cover the holes afterward?

Thank you!

Reply

David Lavalley August 6, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Thank you for your response Karen. Use enough roundup to fill up the holes. I suppose I used less than 8oz of Roundup concentrate. A few layers of duct tape should work. Some use pieces of wooden dowel or any other material that will help prevent the liquid from evaporating.

Reply

Rose August 18, 2012 at 1:32 am

I wished that I had found your article before I started digging. I have two young myrtle trees that need to be removed because they are cracking my driveway. I had started digging around the trees, and I clipped some of those roots. Do I need to drill holes through the roots that are detached from the trunk and pour the round up to prevent them from growing? Also, one of the trees has a root that is the size of my wrist and is visible above the ground. Do I need to drill holes on it to make sure it dies or just treating the trunk will be fine? Thank you for each step and photos.

Reply

David Lavalley August 22, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Drilling holes in the exposed root will only help, however should not be necessary as the round-up will ultimately travel to the end of the root system. You can also use stump remover or saltpeter which is simply potassium nitrate. The process of killing off the tree is slow and you may see a few sprouts trying to form from the existing root system. Simply pick them off or spray each time they appear. The tree will eventually give up and begin to decompose.

Reply

K Turner August 19, 2012 at 8:26 am

Thank you for the advise.I have a nieghbor whose tree I partially cut down in front of there window seems to be fine right now,the leaves start to grow back heavy each year.

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