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How to Decompose an Old Tree Stump

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Old tree stumps in the ground can be unsightly, create an obstacle when performing yard work and take up space you might want for another purpose. Unfortunately, removing a stump often involves digging up the soil and ripping out the root system. If you aren’t interested in manual labor and don’t have an immediate need to remove the old tree stump, you can decompose the stump over time by cooking it with a trapped moist heat and an excess of nitrogen.

Buzz the stump of the tree horizontally to remove any trunk portion using a chainsaw. Ideally the stump should be cut to ground level, but only get the stump as short as you can safely, considering any surrounding large rocks or upraised roots.

Drill downward into the cut surface of the stump with the largest diameter bit possible, making six to nine holes in the stump. Drill as deeply as your drill bit is long.

Fill the holes with water and saturate the soil around the stump. Wait five minutes for the water to soak in and saturate the area again, making sure the holes are filled with water. Wait five more minutes.

Pour enough granules of high-nitrogen fertilizer into each hole in the stump to fill them to the top.

Cover the stump entirely with the tarp. Spread 3 inches of any variety of mulch over the tarp to trap both heat and moisture. Water the mulch to wet it thoroughly and add weight to the tarp.

Place bricks on the corners and along the edges of the tarp to hold it down. Let the tarp and mulch remain in place for one month.

Fold back the tarp and repeat Steps 3 through 6 every month until it appears the stump has decomposed completely. Such monthly treatment should rid you of a small stump about 12 inches across in approximately six months and a larger stump over the period of a year.


Wear gloves and keep children and pets away when handling fertilizers.

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