Trees can add a majestic feel to any landscape. However, some trees can prove to be a nuisance by sprouting roots beneath power lines and driveways. If this happens, the tree can be cut down, but the stump and roots will remain—locked firmly in the ground. Manually digging or chopping out left-behind tree, brush, and woody vine stumps is challenging at best, and in some cases, nearly impossible without heavy equipment. Depending on the species, if the tree or vine was alive when cut down, new aggressive shoots may soon appear around the stump—restarting the cycle.
The solution? Chemical stump killer. Stump killer is an herbicide that’s specially designed to kill a stump and its roots. Stump killers eliminate the need to chop or dig up stubborn stumps and prevent new shoots from forming. Read on for tips on how to choose the best stump killer for your yard and find out what happened when I tested one of the products myself.
- BEST OVERALL: Dow AgroSciences RTU548 Tordon RTU Herbicide
- RUNNER-UP: VPG Fertilome 32295 Brush Stump Killer
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Bonide (BND272) Ready to Use Stump-Out Stump Remover
- BEST WITH SPRAYER: BioAdvanced 704645A Brush Killer and Stump Remover
- HONORABLE MENTION: Spectracide HG-66420 Stump Remover
- ALSO CONSIDER: Bonide 274 728639280241 Vine & Stump Killer
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Stump Killer
Stump killer isn’t a quick-fix solution for getting rid of stumps. The degradation process can take from a few months to a year. Eventually, the stump will decompose, and the hole left behind can be filled in and smoothed over.
Stump Size and Location
The size of the stump is a significant factor in deciding whether to manually or chemically remove it. Stumps that sit a couple of inches above ground level can pose a tripping hazard. If the stump is in a part of the yard that sees frequent foot traffic, it might be better to have it manually removed for safety purposes.
Chemical stump removal products help kill any size stump that would be challenging to remove manually. Smaller stumps, less than a couple of inches in diameter, may be worth digging out to get rid of them sooner.
The actual time it takes a chemical stump remover to decompose a stump can vary, depending on the tree or plant species and whether the stump is green and freshly cut.
In the case of newly cut stumps, a stump removal herbicide that travels to the roots is necessary to stop resprouting. Depending on the product, results may appear within 6 to 8 weeks. The stump itself, however, may not decompose for another few months.
Another type of stump that’s a good candidate for chemical removal is a dead or “seasoned” stump. Although these stumps are incapable of sending up new shoots, they can be hazardous or in the way of new landscaping plans. In this case, the stump removal product will contain a chemical that hastens the degradation of the old wood, which can take a few months or longer.
After a few months, the owner may be able to pour kerosene on a partially decomposed seasoned stump and burn it. Some chemical stump remover products are designed to be used in conjunction with stump burning. Before going this route, check with local fire codes to see if burning the stump is permissible in your community.
Chemical stump killers contain potent herbicides and other chemical components that hasten stump decomposition. Most stump-removal products contain one or more of the following active ingredients:
- Glyphosate: Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide that travels within the stump’s vascular system to kill the roots. It’s useful in killing green stumps.
- Triclopyr: Triclopyr is a systemic herbicide that tricks the living roots of a stump into rapid growth that overwhelms the tree and kills it. Triclopyr is found in products that kill green stumps.
- Potassium nitrate: Also called “saltpeter,” potassium nitrate not only kills the stump, but it’s also one of the best ingredients for helping it decompose quickly. It’s found in products for both killing green stumps or for decaying seasoned stumps.
- Picloram: Picloram is a systemic herbicide that destroys woody-type plants. This herbicide is found in products designed to both kill and decompose the stump.
- Sodium metabisulfite: Sodium metabisulfite is an inorganic chemical that helps decay seasoned tree stumps. It’s not meant for use on green stumps that may regrow.
The chemicals in stump killers are often toxic and can irritate skin and eyes or trigger respiratory symptoms if the fumes are inhaled. The manufacturer will usually suggest wearing chemical-resistant gloves and goggles. For ultimate protection, consider wearing a respiratory mask and protective clothing, including long pants and a long-sleeve shirt. Keep children and pets away when treating the stump, and cover the treated stump with a tarp or board during the decomposition process.
Some types of stump remover, especially those containing potassium nitrate, are flammable, so don’t use them near an open flame or smoke during application.
Various chemical stump killers may come with slightly different instructions, but the following application method is standard.
- Using a chainsaw, cut the stump low to the ground and remove side bark to reveal as much surface area as possible.
- Drill holes in the surface of the stump (more than a few inches in diameter). Alternately, use a chainsaw to cut grooves on the stump’s surface.
- Apply the chemical stump killer or decomposing agent. Depending on the product, this might mean sprinkling granules in the holes and then pouring hot water over the stump. It might also mean painting a liquid on the surface of the stump or spraying it. Spraying is usually reserved for stumps with green sprouts, and the sprouts are sprayed as well.
- Cover the stump to keep kids and animals safe.
- Check on the stump every 3 to 4 months. Eventually, it will become spongy and can be dug out or burned and then dug out.
Our Top Picks
To qualify as one of the top picks, the stump-killing product should effectively destroy the roots of a living tree or vine and prevent it from regrowing. If the product is designed to remove seasoned stumps, it should hasten the decay of the stump so that the owner can easily remove the remains with a shovel. The following stump-killing/removal chemicals may differ in type, but each offers a reliable way to eliminate an unwanted stump.
A favorite of farmers and landscapers, Tordon RTU, comes in as the Best Overall pick in this lineup. I used it to rid my 80-acre lot of a cottonwood whose roots threatened my rural water lines. After several unsuccessful attempts with other products, I took the advice of a local landscaper and tried Tordon RTU. I’m glad I did.
Tordon really is a one-and-done product thanks to its active ingredient, picloram. Picloram is a systemic herbicide that travels through the tree all the way to the roots, killing the stump. The key to success is applying the solution immediately after cutting down the tree. Doing that is a breeze. I simply took the recommended precautions and squeezed on the easy-to-see, bright blue solution. While I would have preferred a more accurate dispenser, particularly for a product that can kill surrounding plants, I can’t argue with Tordon RTU’s easy application and fast, dependable results.
- Highly effective against 20 species of young and old trees
- Blue dye lets you see which trees have been treated
- Ready to use without mixing or diluting
- Resists freezing so it works year-round
- Will kill any grass or plants if accidentally applied
Triclopyr is the active chemical ingredient in Fertilome’s Brush and Stump Killer that’s designed to kill tree roots to stop invasive shoots from growing. It’s also useful for speeding the decomposition of the stump. Fertilome is well suited to killing small stumps, up to about 6 inches in diameter, and woody brush and vining stumps, such as those associated with wisteria.
The concentrated chemical comes in a 32-ounce bottle and should be diluted at the rate of 8 to 16 tablespoons per gallon of water. Use the highest concentration for hardest-to-kill stumps, such as poison ivy. Once mixed with water, the solution is painted on the stump with a paintbrush.
- Works best on vines and woody plants
- No need to dilute
- Effective against invasive vines and plants
- More effective on freshly cut stumps than older ones
- Tedious paintbrush application to avoid harming other plants
This stump remover will speed the degradation of seasoned stumps, and it comes at an affordable price point. It contains sodium metabisulfite and is best suited to use on tree stumps where the tree was cut down at least 12 months prior. It’s well suited to use on trees that do not send up sprouts or regrow after being cut down, such as aspens, pines, and cedars.
Drill holes in the stump, fill them with Stump-Out granules, and then pour hot water over the stump to start the decaying process. The stump can degrade by itself, which could take a few months, or removal can be hastened by pouring kerosene on the stump 6 weeks after treatment with Stump-Out and burning the stump. (Check local fire codes before going this route.) The product comes in a 1-pound container.
- Granules instead of liquid
- Easier to apply by pouring into drilled stump holes
- Chemicals kill stump within 4 to 6 weeks
- Works best after a stump has cured for at least a year
For no mix or mess, check out BioAdvanced Brush Killer and Stump Remover that comes in a ready-to-use spray bottle. The product is best suited for small stumps that are commonly associated with woody bushes and vines, including kudzu and poison oak. BioAdvanced is an all-purpose herbicide that also kills noxious and invasive species.
Spray the product, which contains the active ingredient triclopyr, until all exposed surfaces on the stump are thoroughly wet but not dripping. Also saturate any new shoots that may be growing from the stump. BioAdvanced is formulated to penetrate deep into the stump and work its way down to the roots and will kill and hasten decomposition.
- Easily sprays on invasive plants using a garden hose
- Designed to kill over 70 invasive vines and plants
- Won’t wash off in rain
- Can eliminate shoots from dead stumps, too
- May need several applications
Containing potassium nitrate for speeding stump degradation, Spectracide Stump Remover is designed to work only on seasoned stumps where the stump is already dead and is not sending up shoots. The product comes in granular form, and users should either drill holes in the stump or cut grooves into the top of the stump with a chainsaw before applying.
Stump Remover is then used to fill the holes or grooves, and then hot water is poured over the stump to activate the decomposition process. As with other stump decomposition products, once the stump is soft, it can be doused with kerosene and burned, if desired. Stump Remover comes in a 1-pound container.
- Narrow tip for easier application into stump holes
- Made with granules which may be easier to apply
- Accelerates the decomposition process
- Works better in conjunction with a brush killer
- Tends to take several weeks or months to work
Kill small stumps without harming nearby vegetation with Bonide Vine & Stump Killer, which contains the active ingredient triclopyr. This ready-to-use liquid comes in an 8-ounce bottle and features an included brush-top applicator for painting the product directly onto the surface of the stump. It works well on small to medium tree stumps up to about 8 inches in diameter.
It’s also suitable for use on the stumps of other woody and vining plants, such as poison oak and wisteria. For the best results, apply this Bonide product to freshly cut stumps and coat as much of the stump surface as possible.
- Vine and stump killer combination
- Helps prevent new sprouts as the stump dies
- Liquid works well with targeted brush application
- May be more effective on vines than tree stumps
The size, age, and type of tree or vine you’re hoping to eradicate makes up a big portion of how effective a stump killer will be. For most trees that are ready for stump removal, the Tordon herbicide from Dow AgroSciences is the clear winner on our list.
How We Chose the Best Stump Killer
Vines, stumps, and bushes are not created equally, which is why finding the right vine or stump killer is important. These recommendations for the best stump killer have considered factors such as the age of the stump, the type of stump or vine, the length of time needed to kill the stump, and the ingredients used. Our favorite products include a variety of recommendations to fight off even the most invasive of vines, bushes, and shoots from “dead” stumps. The most effective treatments should work within weeks or days depending on whether the stump is alive. Some treatments work best in conjunction with other products, and our list includes options for both solo and tandem stump treatments. Whether you’re more comfortable with pouring granules or spraying or painting liquid herbicide, we’ve included stump killers that have proven effective for many buyers.
Clearing out underbrush or removing woody shrubs and trees can leave unsightly stumps that must be removed before the area can be used for other purposes. Stump killers are designed to either kill a green stump that might otherwise send up shoots or decay an already dead stump, softening it and making it easy to remove. For those looking to use this type of product for the first time, some questions are to be expected.
Q. Should I remove my tree stumps?
To keep new tree sprouts from regrowing, it is often necessary to remove the stump. A stump also poses a tripping hazard and can wreak havoc on the blades of a mower.
Q. What chemical will kill a tree stump?
Chemicals such as glyphosate, triclopyr, picloram, and potassium nitrate are frequently found in chemical stump removers designed to kill a stump and hasten its decay.
Q. How long does it take to kill a tree stump?
Depending on size, it shouldn’t take more than an hour to prep most stumps and apply a chemical product. However, it could take a few months or longer for the stump to decompose sufficiently for removal.
Q. How do you apply tree stump killer?
Application varies by the type of product, but typically holes should be drilled in the stump’s surface and then filled with granules or a liquid chemical.
Why Trust Bob Vila
Bob Vila has been America’s Handyman since 1979. As the host of beloved and groundbreaking TV series, including This Old House and Bob Vila’s Home Again, he popularized and became synonymous with “do it yourself” home improvement.
Over the course of his decades-long career, Bob Vila has helped millions of people build, renovate, repair, and live better each day—a tradition that continues today in the expert yet accessible home advice at the heart of BobVila.com. Today, the Bob Vila editorial team distills need-to-know information into project tutorials, maintenance guides, tool 101s, and more. These home and garden experts then thoroughly research, vet, and recommend products that support homeowners, renters, DIYers, and professionals in their to-do lists.
Glenda Taylor is a freelance writer for the residential remodeling, homebuilding, and commercial roofing industries. She and her husband have been general contractors for over 20 years, and Ms. Taylor has written for leading media outlets, including the Houston Chronicle, SFGate, and the eHow Now Live Handyman Channel (a division of eHow.com) as well as National Association of Homebuilders. In addition to her construction experience, Ms. Taylor is a Master Gardener, a former real estate professional, a universal design enthusiast, and an advocate for green building practices. The recipient of Journalism and Marketing degrees from the University of Kansas and Bauder College respectively, she enjoys life on a farm in the Midwest with her husband and their “children”—five Saint Bernards!