Removing a Tree Stump with HIgh-Nitrogen Fertilizer?

KendraSchmidtJuly 16, 2012

There are a few tree stumps that I would like to kill and remove. I would like to know how to remove the tree stump using high-nitrogen fertilizer?

I've seen on a few sites that this is possible, but I don't even know what high-nitrogen fertilizer options would be. I've read that cow manure would be one example, but I'm not sure?

I really want to use the fertilizer option, but can anyone here instruct me on how this works? Also, how long does this take, on average to finally kill and rot the tree so that it can be removed from the ground? Or does it simply turn to ash? (I know this depends on the size of the tree and probably the circumference too; it's a fairly average tree, nothing like an oak or anything.)

For the record, I don't want to use Roundup in or around my home, so that's not an option. Grinding the tree is not an option either, nor is hiring someone to do it. I also cannot purchase salpeter (Potassium Nitrate, I think) in my area, because it is now forbidden for whatever reasons. And I definitely have no intention of using oil/petrol or dynamite to remove the stump! Oh, and the product they sell in stores that you put on the stump (I think it's made with saltpeter or is simply saltpeter, not sure), is not at all available here.

And last, I don't want to compost on top of the stump or put grass on top of the stump. I've spent some time looking into options, and the fertilizer option seems to be the best.

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"I've seen on a few sites that this is possible [Removing a Tree Stump with HIgh-Nitrogen Fertilizer.]

Your question is a little unclear... are you trying to kill the trees with with an overdose of N? That's possible, but not practical as it would require a whole lot of N and (inadvertently) killing many things in the vicinity of the tree. (How you think that's better than a small amount of biodegradable Roundup is highly questionable.) If the trees are already dead and you seek information about only how to decompose the stump with N, then maybe you should scour the sources who claim it's possible for the directions on how to do it. I don't personally believe it is possible or it would by now be common knowledge. Maybe it's possible to use N in a certain way to shorten the stump decomposition time from 10 years to 8 years, (though I doubt that, too) ... but what great gain is that?

Why don't you explain why you want to decompose stumps rapidly in the context of your objectives? Maybe there's a better way to approach your goal.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 10:12AM
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Thank you Yardvaark. I want to kill the tree and remove the stump. However, we want to get it done as soon as possible, both killing the stump to make sure the tree doesn't return, and removing the stump.

All of the options that I mentioned earlier, including the Roundup, are options that we cannot do for whatever reasons - they vary according to the option. Cow manure seemed the safest option.

If there are any options such as the use of the cow manure/fertilizer that are available, or even options outside of the options that I mentioned in my original post, I'd be open to suggestions.

I've even been told that garlic cloves inserted into the tree will work, but I am having trouble finding more information on it. Thanks in advance for any suggestions you can provide.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 10:22AM
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I should've provided the link as well, to the nitrogen stump removal posting I read that sparked my initial question:

Here is a link that might be useful: Removing Tree Stumps with High-Nitrogen Fertilizer

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 10:29AM
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Kendra, the method I've used is to drill a bunch of holes in the stump. I use a 3/4 or 1" spade bit. Then I drizzle a high nitrogen fertilizer in the holes, moisten it, then cover with soil - although using some composted manure would be better, I think. You'll get results, but they won't be quick ones. Think it depends a lot on whether these are hard or soft woods. Currently hoping for results on a holly.

If this is fairly close to the ground, after doing this just throw mulch/wood chips to cover it. Good luck. And glad you don't want to resort to some of the toxic remedies available.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 10:43AM
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Thanks Rosie, is this your first time using this method? Have you seen results thus far?

I'm wondering if it will take years to break down? Months even? Someone mentioned that cow manure might not be high enough in nitrogen and that poultry manure might be better. Is it safe to plant food crops in the ground after this method?

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 1:35PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

What kind of a tree and what's the situation/setting?

The resprouting issue varies a bit with species, and whether you are able to stay on top of it (as in, is this your yard or a vacation property where you are rarely there?) matters.

Are you having the tree cut down or are you trying to kill it standing?? There is just enough yet not enough information to be sure of not giving bad advice.

Karin L

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 4:17PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

My sneaking suspicion is that this is one of those questions that is assuming some rather fundamental violation of a law of nature. Where things just don't work the way the OP assumes.

For example, it may take several decades for a typical tree stump to decay, depending on the type of wood, the climate, and other variables. Decreasing that time from 20 to 10 years is speeding it up considerably - but it is still going to take a long time. If the tree isn't even dead yet, then it will have to be killed off before this process even starts. How you would begin to kill off a tree using nothing but fertilizer is beyond my comprehension. The closest I can get is essentially a salt overdose. That's not cow manure, but straight urea, and even then I'd be skeptical about killing a reasonably mature tree.

In other words - Reality Bites.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 4:45PM
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Mad's right regarding certain realities. To be philosophically one with nature is a good thing - but nature does things on nature's schedule.

If one must do something (short of cutting the tree down as close to the ground as humanly possible drilling the leftovers full of holes and piling stuff on top) there is always the copper penny approach... make sure the pennies are dated before 1982. :-)

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 5:19PM
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Years, Kendra. Lots and lots of years.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 5:23PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

This post has a mysterious tone to it, as though you want to be sneaky about killing the tree. Is this tree on your property, or your neighbor's? (just being mischievous)

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 6:55PM
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Food crops should be fine. Only prob I see is interference from remaining root system of the tree.
If you want to stay organic, use Milorganite. Keeping the drilled then filled stump damp will accelerate the rotting, but it isn't a quick process.

Uncovered part of my holly stump, see nothing happening yet. Did it about a month ago. Hoping that after a year it will be soft enough to rogue out with a mattock to below ground level.

HTH, Rosie

    Bookmark   July 16, 2012 at 8:18PM
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Thank you Rosie, I read elsewhere too that the fertilizer method could take as much as five years. I would love to simply grind it down (though this costs a lot of money that I cannot afford) and simply plant next to it, but the roots are obstructing in the space next to the tree.

When they grind down a tree, is it true that typically grind it down a foot below ground?

    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 5:22AM
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I tried a drill and decay solution on a stump at my property because it was directly over a gas line (forget what tyoe of tree, but most likely a holly). After two years of ZERO change I got tired of looking at it and very carefully dug it out by hand.

It's accepted that best practice for grinding a stump is to go down a minimum of 12". The reality is that you should probably specify that's what you're after.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 12:53PM
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I'm not sure in what world cow manure is considered a "high nitrogen" fertilizer. Put simply, any fertilizer derived from a living source is going to carry a relatively low nutrient load (including nitrogen) compared to a chemical based fertilizer. Cow manure is somehwere in the .25-1.0% nitrogen range. Of the animal-based manures, cow manure is the lowest nitrogen source.

A high nitrogen fertilizer would be something like ammonium nitrate or urea (25-45%). One drills down into the stump and then compacts the fertilizer into the holes. Both the stump and the fertilizer should be kept moist to speed decomposition but as others have indicated, this is not a rapid process. Depending on the type and size of the stump, 3-5 years, perhaps more.

Manual removal is possible but requires some physical effort - and the lower/smaller the stump the better.

FWIW, there are a lot of old wives' tales out there about dealing with trees and their removal. High nitrogen fertilizer will not kill a tree (although it could certainly shock it). Neither will a copper penny or driving a nail into one. Neither will spraying the tree with RoundUp or similar herbicide although again, that could do some foliar damage for sure. Your best plan for tree removal is with a saw.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 4:09PM
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I'm with Kim. I have heard of many money saving schemes but piling cow s hit on a tree to kill it sounds a bit strange. I think there is a strong possibility that this is someone else's tree that has an accidental death planned for it.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 6:42PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I don't understand "the roots are obstructing in the space next to the tree." I would love to see a photo of that - can you post one? Grinding the stump is not expensive relative to the cutting down.

We just dug around where a willow stump was left at least 20 years ago, before we bought the house. The stump was still evident underground though it has disappeared up above.

Karin L

    Bookmark   July 17, 2012 at 9:43PM
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1 - Cut down tree, leaving as little as possible above ground

2 - Use a spade bit (wood bit) and drill a lot of holes in the stump, as deep as possible. Space them from center to edge, a 4-6 inches apart.

3 - Fill the holes with any high-nitrogen fertilizer. Ammonium nitrate is readily available.

4 - Fill the holes with water to dissolve the fertilizer.

5 - repeat steps 3 and 4 every few months until the wood is "punky" and can be hacked out of the hole.

This will take a few months to a few years, depending on the size and type of tree.

I prefer dynamite.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2012 at 6:07PM
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Might the answer depend on where KS lives? And if the answer is out in rural areas, how close are the neighbors? And are there male members in her household?

What is high in nitrogen, free, mild, and fairly harmless (but is yucky to many)?

See where I'm going with this.

But even if you live in a populated area, how trainable is your dog?

    Bookmark   November 16, 2012 at 5:11PM
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robert, what a brilliant idea, training dog to help with tree stump removal! I've known many dogs trained to use only one area to do their business, but never quite so specific.

Use urine here all the time. As soon as I can get the twelve wheat straw bales up to where I want to use them to help my piss poor soil, will liberally apply to hasten decomp.


    Bookmark   November 17, 2012 at 6:51AM
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Wow, this string of posts is really strange and fascinatingly unhelpful.

First, Yardvaark claims it is implausible to use high nitrogen fertilizer to speed up stump decay or it would be common knowledge (which it is as any quick Google search will reveal).

A string of people asking whether the tree is cut down or not. How can the tree not be cut down if it is a tree stump??!

A few folks accusing the OP of covert activities and trying to kill a neighbor's tree! Ha. Piling manure on a tree stump could not possibly be considered "covert" or "sneaky."

Then those advocating the use of Round-up and salt on the stump! The OP stated they wanted to plant other things in the location of the stump after removal. Dousing the stump with chemicals, petrol, Round-up or salt would render the soil barren for some time if not permanently unless affected soils are removed.

And finally those that cannot seem to comprehend how roots adjacent the trunk can be obstructing the OP from planting other plants. Seems pretty obvious the OP just wants to remove the adjacent roots as well. No picture needed!

Yes, small amounts of high nitrogen chemical fertilizer inserted into holes in the trunk will speed natural decay, although yes it could take 2-5 years depending on conditions or type of tree. It accelerates the natural fungus and bacteria that feed on the tree. As it begins to decay, one can take a sledgehammer or ax to the decaying stump and speed up decay further with additional applications of high nitrogen fertilizer (just small amounts or it will leave the soil unsuitable for planting afterwards or burn roots of nearby plants.) The approach is to accelerate decay so that the stump can be more easily mechanically removed/broken apart. You are obviously not using this approach to decompose every wood particle into soil, which would indeed take a very long time. Good luck OP, if you followed your other sources, this stump is hopefully broken down and removed by now!

    Bookmark   December 1, 2014 at 3:07AM
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What a relief that this has been resolved finally!

    Bookmark   December 1, 2014 at 4:46AM
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How about cutting the tree down, killing the stump by whatever methods, then setting it on fire and burning it and the roots away?

    Bookmark   December 1, 2014 at 12:07PM
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Well done, sagitarrius - very well done.


    Bookmark   December 2, 2014 at 12:29PM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

Do you ever wonder how some one found a 2 year old post and decided to "answer" the questions?

    Bookmark   December 2, 2014 at 12:49PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

in this setting.. they are NOT talking about bagged compost.. aka manure ... this composted product is useless for this job ....

they are talking about what is freshly scooped out of the barn which is high in urea [which is the old fashioned basis of high nitro fert . the NATURAL version... rather then the chem version] .... it comes out of a different part of the animal ... lol ... it is the raw product ...

and by the time you get it delivered ... cost might be prohibitive ...

in the alternative.... a high N fert would be 49-0-0 .... sold in places like tractor supply.. or any high end nursery ...

but even that.. the key to rotting wood.. is water ... the nitro is barely relevant ... if you cant keep the wood wet ...

in my sand.... it can take a decade... for a stump to rot naturally ... on 5 acres... i have no hurry on removal ... but have added the nitro to huge wood chips piles.. to speed decomposition ...

the problem with my sand.. is that it is bone dry for about half of the year.. when it isnt frozen solid in MI ... in other words.. my rotting season is short ...

i kill ALL my stumps with generic RU ... but you dont want to hear about that ...

i think it is speculative to try to kill a tree with the nitro .. not saying it cant be done... but i dont know how it can be accomplished ... many suggest a trees root system is twice as large as what you see above ... and if thats the case ... one might ask ... where is the best place to apply such ... and what you will end up doing to the soil if in fact you do kill the tree ... it MIGHT end up.. a scorched earth ... think romans and carthage ... [boy thats obscure.. lol]

all that said.. we also dont know what tree ... if its a suckering tree ... juicing it with fert.. might only result in you ending up with hundreds of them... all over the place ...

your base problem.. is not that you want to save money ... in my reading.. the issue is you want it done FAST .. and wood simply.. does NOT ... rot fast ... no matter what you do ... to speed wood rotting.. you chip it into the smallest possible format... thereby increasing surface area ... and you dont want to do that ...

many answers here are extremely optimistic .... IMHO .... again.. in my sand.. i would say... 7 to 15 years ... at least ... and the harder the wood.. the longer it takes ...

i have no idea.. why you posted this in a design forum .... you might want to try other forums ....

good luck

    Bookmark   December 2, 2014 at 12:52PM
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"Do you ever wonder how some one found a 2 year old post and decided to "answer" the questions?"

Naah. Happens all the time! Can I tell you about my tree stump now? Pleeeeeease?

This post was edited by grubby_me on Tue, Dec 2, 14 at 12:54

    Bookmark   December 2, 2014 at 12:53PM
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I don't know about the fertilizer method but should work. A stump grinder really takes a year or years out of the project.
We put stone from Lowes etcc around a couple of stumps and filled with good potting soil and grew tomatoes and peppers and flowers.
One hickory stump, at our old home ,was gone in four years but the Folks kept the planter going. Required a little watering but the rich soil and plants worked.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2014 at 9:01PM
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Hmmmph...I have had this same problem sortta. I cut down a lot of trees in my yard and not having a stump grinder I was forced to leave about 12" above ground so I don't hit with my lawn mower (again). I heard gas kills so I poured gas on one stump and tried to burn. well obviously it was not good enough because it did not burn down into the ground and later it sprouted leaves and is trying to grow again, like the gas actually fertilized it. Then there is the fertilizer. I had chickens so I scooped up a bunch of poop out of the coop and poured on another stump and that happened? I had baby trees growing all over the yard. WHAT? There is just no substitute for grinding the stumps. I had a tree cut down that was hollowed out and over 40 high, fearing it would fall on my house. I left it about 8' high thinking I would have someone carve something out if it. like a totem pole or something. Did not even get a chance to do anything because to look at it now it looks like afull fledged tree. Some trees are just evil!! If you love it, it will fall down if you hate it, you can't get rid of it LOL

    Bookmark   December 26, 2014 at 8:58AM
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