Removing unwanted trees and shrubs can be a labor intensive and challenging job. 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.
These kinds of 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.
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 chemical do I use for permanently killing stumps?
There is a chemical that is widely available called Triclopyr that 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.
The Cut and Paint Method
This illustrated guide to kill tree stumps is quite simple. In a nutshell, you just need to cut and paint the stump. Yep, that’s it. But, below I will describe it in more detail. Also, this is my method I use. Please always read the labels of herbicides to make sure you use them effectively and safely.
Foam paint brush
Disposable plastic container
Latex or protective gloves
Chainsaw, handsaw, clippers (depends what 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 little herbicide into a plastic container
Paint the Stump with herbicide. 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. Occasionally I’ve waited too long and had a couple of random sprouts several months later, but it is easy to kill those again.
But overall, 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.
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!
Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you!
Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!