Have you ever cut down a tree, only to have it send out new shoots within a month? Then, after you cut those and the stump to the ground you are sure it is dead? Only to have new sprouts pop up a few feet away? Yeah. Me too. Read on to learn how to kill a tree stump permanently.
In order to kill tree stump permanently by cutting the stump low to the ground. Then you need to paint the stump as soon as you can with a herbicide such as 9% Triclopyr or 20% Glyphosate. If the stump is painted quickly, within 10 minutes the tree will die and no new sprouts will emerge.
How to stop tree stumps from sprouting can be maddening. Especially when after repeated cuttings a tree or shrub keeps ‘springing’ back to life.
I used to encounter this with large invasive plants such as Bush Honeysuckle (Amur Honeysuckle) that borders my property. But it is also a common occurrence for many other unwanted invasive plants and trees such as the Tree of Heaven, Chinese Elm, Wisteria, or Oriental Bittersweet.
So, I’ve made this illustrated guide with pictures and video so you can learn how to kill a tree stump for good.
The Cut and Paint Method
This illustrated guide to kill tree stumps is quite simple – use the Cut and Paint Method.
In a nutshell, you just need to cut and paint the stump with herbicide.
Yep, that’s it. But, below I will describe it in more detail. Also, this is the method I use. Please always read the labels of herbicides to make sure you use them effectively and safely.
- A paint brush
- Disposable plastic container
- Latex or protective gloves
- Chainsaw, handsaw, machete, clippers (depends what size you are cutting)
Process to permanently kill tree stumps
- Cut off the stump as low as you safely can do so. Or if already cut – make a new, fresh cut. As this a fresh cut will absorb the herbicide better.
- Put on protective gloves
- Pour a herbicide into a plastic container. Enough so you can immerse 25% of your paint brush.
- Paint the Stump with herbicide within 15 minutes of cutting. Use the foam paintbrush to apply a coat of herbicide to the freshly cut stump.
- Pour excess herbicide back into the bottle, carefully
- Dispose of your latex gloves. Wrap foam paintbrush and plastic container in newspaper, and throw into the trash.
- Do not touch the stump for a day or so. Triclopyr rapidly breaks down due to light, so I wait one day.
That’s it! This is a very effective method for killing tree stumps permanently. The sooner you can paint the stump after cutting, the more effective it will be.
Using a disposable paintbrush to lightly apply a herbicide is about the safest, most environmentally friendly way of using chemicals. Below is a 90 second video covering the entire process of painting the stumps, with some results from the previous season. That way you can see the proof that this is a very effective method to kill stumps permanently.
You need to paint the stump quickly.
Ideally you should work with a partner. One person cut the stump to the ground, while the other paints the stump with herbicide. The quicker you are to paint the stump, the less time the tree has to use it’s natural defenses and heal its wounds.
The Cut and Paint is very effective
The cut and paint method works extremely well if you apply the herbicide immediately after cutting the stump. The only time I have had it fail was when I would go and cut a large number of stumps, and then not get back to paint them very quickly (approx. 15 min delay).
You can use the Cut and Paint method Year Round
The cross section of a tree trunk contains wood, cambium, and bark. The cambium is the thin membrane/tissue between the bark and the actual wood. Cambium is what transfers nutrients and water between the roots and upper parts of the tree.
The Cambium layer never goes completely dormant. So even in winter, you can kill trees with the cut and paint method. In fact, Autumn is the best time to kill tree stumps as nutrients are being transported down to the roots!
Normal methods aren’t always the best option
With small seedlings you can often pull or dig them out relatively easily if the soil is moist. Many large trees can be killed if cut low enough to the ground (although, if you don’t have a chainsaw this can be a problem). But many species, particularly invasive just keep popping up no matter what you do. It is for these species, or very large versions of them that I will resort to a very small, targeted application of herbicide.
Why using herbicides to kill stumps is the most effective solution
For large trees and shrubs, it is possible to dig out the root ball. But doing this will greatly disturb the soil, causing other problems to soil structure and erosion. So, I have found a product that allows me to use very little chemical herbicide, in the most targeted manner possible, and have success in killing the stump / plant permanently. It also will break down naturally (discussed at the end of the article).
What are the best herbicides to kill tree stumps?
There are two chemicals that work extremely well against tree stumps and their root systems. 8%Triclopyr and 20% Glyphosate.
Triclopyr is used in broad-leaf weed control. But, Triclopyr also happens to be very effective at killing woody plants such as trees, stumps, and vines. One bottle will hopefully last you a lifetime. The price is normally $20 on amazon, but sometimes goes on sale for $12-$13.
Glyphosate is basically roundup. And you can buy it at higher concentrations at stores such as Tractor Supply, then dilute it.
Personally, I prefer Triclopyr.
How long does Triclopyr stay in the soil?
Triclopyr is an organic chemical, meaning it will naturally breakdown in approximately six months. Studies have shown that at the soil surface, Triclopyr breaks down rapidly due to sunlight. Triclopyr also breaks down rapidly in water, most likely due to sunlight. But what about soil?
The half-life (rate at which something dissipates/breaks down) of Triclopyr has been measured in various studies and has shown to be anywhere from two weeks to about three months.
The most extensive study I found was done in Arkansas where soil containers were placed at depth (in-situ) and chemical applied above. They measured the amount of chemical at various depths (up to 60 cm / 2 ft deep) at intervals to detect the amount of chemical present.
They measured the amount present at day 1 of the study, then at various intervals, measuring the amount of chemical present as a % of the original amount (from day 1). The study found that in six months, over half of the chemical had degraded at all soil depths of 2/20/60 cm (~1-24″). And at 371 days, there was almost no trace left.
So, Triclopyr is not a permanent pollutant. It is a an organic compound that will break down in the soil.
This is 2019’s results, or at least a nice picture of it. I still have about 10-10000 more honeysuckles to go!
These invasive plants are suited to thrive and survive in the climate of Eastern North America. But through evolution they have really adapted some key traits that allow them to survive.
Whether it is long rhizome roots that sprout new growth after they are cut (Oriental Bittersweet), or lots of stored energy in their roots (Bush Honeysuckle) these plants generally can’t be killed by cutting alone. Even with repeated cuttings these plants seem to sprout new growth just as you turn your back after cutting them.
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