Everyone wants a fast, affordable, and easy way to kill tree stumps using remedies they can put together at home. This is where killing tree stumps with bleach comes in, but does it work? Depending on the type of tree you’re aiming to kill, it may be enough to do the trick.
Killing tree stumps with bleach involves exposing the live stump by cutting it with a chainsaw below where you can see live branches coming out. It may be a good idea to drill holes around the outer layer of the tree, but most tree killers work without doing this extra step. Paint your bleach onto the stump or fill in the holes you drilled with bleach. If the stump doesn’t die from this, repeat the process a few more times or consider using a chemical tree killer.
There are several ways to get rid of tree stumps, but bleach is one that a lot of people try on young trees or smaller stumps.
Killing Tree Roots With Bleach
The key to killing tree stumps with bleach is to aim for the roots. This may sound like an unlikely solution, and you may not believe that a chemical like bleach will get rid of a tree stump down to the roots, but it can work. The main idea behind this process is that the bleach will slowly dry out the wood on the tree. So, this means that the stump will get to a point where it can’t use or retain moisture from irrigation systems or rainwater.
When plants are deprived of water, they will eventually die. This being said, it’s still up for debate on whether killing tree stumps with bleach is a great method to use or not. Some believe that bleach is completely safe to use and it’s effective when you apply it in specific ways. Other people claim that there is a lack of evidence that bleach kills leftover tree stumps and roots. This is because bleach is not considered harmful to the tree’s system.
In particular, mature trees will be less likely to respond to the chemicals found in bleach, primarily due to the tree’s size, and this means that killing tree stumps with bleach can be a challenge to do effectively. However, this doesn’t mean that bleach won’t have very damaging effects on the tree, but it’s more likely to damage sensitive areas like the foliage instead of the roots.
Killing Tree Stumps with Bleach – Effectiveness
Bleach is much more likely to damage young trees or trees that you’ve recently planted over mature ones. This is due to the fact that younger trees don’t have the extensive root systems yet. However, bleach is very unlikely to kill a mature tree. Instead, it’ll most likely cause the leaves to turn black or brown and fall to the ground. You may also notice that some twigs or branches start to lose the normal color when you attempt killing tree stumps with bleach. But, if the tree is mature or established, bleach by itself isn’t going to kill the whole root system, and with proper care and time, the tree will bounce back in a few growing seasons.
Instead, when it comes to killing tree stumps with bleach, it’s much more effective to dig the root systems and stumps out after you cut the tree down. Grinding the stump down will also get rid of the underlying root system and take any future potential growth away. This being said, higher concentrations of weed killer has glyphosate, and this can effectively kill a tree and the roots.
This is exactly why you’ll typically see warnings on these weed killers, including on RoundUp. While some formulas are selective products, there are non-selective mixes that will eventually kill your tree. If you don’t want to hurt or kill the tree and the surrounding foliage, avoid spraying any non-selective weed killers near the roots.
Killing tree stumps with bleach involves allowing the bleach to dry out the tree to stop it from absorbing moisture, so it’s not a quick process.
How Bleach Affects Trees
Bleach has the most impact on any area of the tree it comes into direct contact with. This means that if you spray bleach or any chemicals containing bleach on the tree’s leaves, they’ll turn black or brown or die. Bleach dries out the leaves and causes them to turn colors. Because the leaves can no longer use moisture, they’ll start to fall and die.
This is very similar to what happens to tree leaves during the autumn months. The main difference is that the process goes much faster, and the leaves will go from green to yellow before they fall off. Think of this as what happens when a hard freeze comes through and the leaves are still on the branches. Within a day or two, the leaves will turn black and fall.
Bleach that comes into contact with the foliage and has a similar effect. The leaves won’t grow back during the same season, but they will return next spring. You can prevent some of the damage by spraying your leaves with water after they come into contact with the bleach. This will help dilute the effects of the bleach and, but you have to do this as soon as you can.
Killing Tree Stumps with Bleach – Step-by-Step
Below, you’ll find the steps neatly laid out to tell you how to kill tree stumps with bleach. Remember, this may take a few applications if it’s a more mature tree instead of a newly planted or young one.
Step 1 – Reveal the Live Stump by Cutting Into the Bark
If you were to just pour bleach all over your stump it may kill some of the branches, but it won’t get to the root system. To kill the entire tree, you’ll cut below where the branches are coming out and make sure the live tree is exposed. Trees transfer their nutrients back and forth through the tree’s outer ring. After you cut the stump, you want it to look wet. If it looks like it’s very dry, then you need to go lower and cut again.
It’s also possible to cut each branch out that is growing on the stump and treat each spot individually. Some people try to drill holes all around the stump, but most arborists don’t recommend this. Instead, they paint the outer ring of the tree with a good tree killer. If you want to drill holes, then drill them into the outer layer of your tree. This will expose a lot of the live tissue to help it absorb more bleach.
Step 2 – Treat Your Tree Stump Using Bleach
It’s essential that you treat the tree stump right after you make your cuts to have success with killing tree stumps with bleach. The tree will start to heal itself right away, so the longer you wait to apply the bleach, the less effect the bleach will have. Pain the bleach over the cut areas or pour it to fill each hole you drilled earlier.
You want to repeat this process at least once each day for a week to increase the amount of bleach that the tree absorbs to make it more effective. However, you want to hold off after this and see what dies. Generally speaking, the bleach will dry out this area of the stump and the top will die off, so you may have to move lower and repeat it.
Allow your tree stump to sit for a few weeks. Most chemical tree killers will start to work within a few days, but give it a few weeks to make sure it actually dies. Bleach can be slower acting, but you’ll know the stump is dead if you don’t see any more new branches coming from the stump.
Step 3 – Remove the Dead Tree Stump
Hopefully, you were successful with killing tree stumps with bleach, and now it’s time to get rid of the stump. The best but most expensive option is to rent a stump grinder. If you have a lot of stumps to get rid of, you can justify the price more easily.
A few other ways you can remove the tree stump is to remove it by hand by digging around where the stump is and cutting through the major roots before prying it out using a pry bar or pulling it out with your vehicle. You can try burning it but you will have to wait a few months until it dries out. Another option is to cover it with compost and allow nature to take course. However, this will take roughly a year before you can chip it out.
There are several ways you can go about removing the tree stump once you kill it, including digging or pulling it out or grinding it down.
What if Bleach Didn’t Kill the Stump?
If you see new growth or branches starting to pop up out of the tree trunk or roots then you need to either try again or use a chemical weed killer. Repeat step one by fresh cutting your stump and treat the spots with a chemical-based weed killer or bleach again. One of the most powerful tree killers that works is Tordon. You can use any killer you’d prefer. You do so by painting the outer ring of your stump and allowing it to sit for a few days. This should finally kill the tree stump.
Rotting the Tree Stump Using Bleach
Some people like to use bleach to rot the tree stump. To do so, you’ll follow the steps we outlined above and paint the outer ring of the tree stump with bleach. Once you do, you want to bury the tree stump with compost and allow fungi to go to work. Once it’s rotted, you can pull or pry it out of the yard and fill in the hole it leaves behind. Be aware that this process can easily take upwards of a year, so if you’re in a hurry to remove the stump from your yard, this isn’t the way to go.
Killing Tree Stumps with Bleach – Safety Precautions
If there isn’t anything else near your tree, you may not see any further damage to other foliage or plants. However, you’ll run into problems if you want to put new foliage where the stump originally was after you get done killing tree stumps with bleach. This is because the bleach will get into the soil and alter the pH levels. Plus, the bleach from the stump and soil can come into contact with nearby grass.
Bleach Effects on Soil
Bleach can and will alter the pH levels of the soil and kill off the microorganisms. This means that you’ll see grass and any other plants by the stump slowly dying off. Also, you’ll have a very difficult time getting anything to grow successfully in soil that doesn’t have good pH levels. You may find yourself watering to flush out the bleach from the soil or adding things to restore the soil’s pH levels before you can grow anything.
Bleach Effects on People
Bleach is very toxic to people. In mild cases, it can cause a rash or skin irritation. However, bleach exposure can irritate your eyes and lungs. You could easily experience a migraine headache, vomiting, nausea, stomach problems, and respiratory issues.
Bleach Effects on the Surrounding Plants and Microorganisms
As we touched on earlier, bleach can easily kill off the surrounding plants and microorganisms. This includes worms, bunnies, birds, and any small mammals that happen to get into it. Cats and dogs that come into contact with bleach in the soil or on the foliage can experience some of the same symptoms humans do.
How Much Bleach You’ll Need to Kill a Tree
Bleach isn’t a recommended chemical used to control tree growth, but if you were to use it in large enough quantities, beyond the amount most people consider normal, it would be effective for killing tree stumps with bleach. However, we also touched on how this method will lead to another set of problems like contaminating the surrounding area and being more expensive. In short, it’s cheaper to go out and buy a herbicide.
How much bleach you need to kill a tree depends largely on the size of the plant. The optimal amount should cover the foliage or tree stump a few times over, plus you should have some left. This allows you to spray the foliage multiple times to increase your chances of success.
If you just want to apply it to the stump, you’ll need enough bleach to cover the stump three or four times over. With most small plants or trees, you can get away with using roughly two 14-ounce bottles of bleach.
There are two types of bleach you can use, and the first one is the traditional diluted bleach we talked about earlier. You can use this straight out of the bottle without having to dilute it. The advantage of this is that it won’t negatively impact the surrounding soil nearly as much, but the drawback is that it won’t be as effective. The other variety is a more concentrated type of chlorine bleach that is popular in industrial applications.
For concentrated black, it’s recommended to dilute it in a 50-50 ratio of water. This bleach will be much more effective at killing tree stumps with bleach and it can cause a lot of damage to small or medium-sized trees. The disadvantage of this is that it can cause damage to the soil and surrounding area a lot more, and it can lead to breathing problems, skin irritation, and other health issues if you’re not careful when you use it.
Whether you choose to use concentrated bleach or a diluted mixture depends on your personal preferences. Concentrated bleach tends to work better as it’s stronger.
Killing Tree Stumps with Bleach – Benefits and Drawbacks
There are several benefits and drawbacks of killing tree stumps with bleach, and it’s important that you know what each one is so you can make an informed decision on whether or not this process is for you. They include:
- Bleach can be very effective for killing young or small tree stumps
- Bleach doesn’t need special equipment or knowledge to be successful
- If you’re careful, bleach can be safer than herbicides for killing tree stumps
- It’s generally inexpensive to stock up on bleach to use
- It’s more environmentally-friendly than some commercial-grade herbicides
- Bleach can be harmful if you inhale or swallow it
- Bleach can stain surfaces or clothing
- For larger stumps, bleach can be expensive to buy enough for it to work
- It can alter the pH levels in the soil and make it hard to grow anything else
- It can damage any surrounding plant life if you’re not careful
Killing tree stumps with bleach can take several applications, and you have to be very careful when you do so to avoid damaging the surrounding plant life and altering the soil’s pH levels. However, it works best on small or younger trees that haven’t established extensive root systems, so consider these things carefully if you decide to use this method to get rid of an old tree stump in your yard.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.