You finally made the difficult decision to cut down the old family maple. You’ve called the tree service and made an appointment. Problem solved, right?
Wrong! When the tree service finishes their work, they will leave behind a smooth, flat, innocent-looking reminder of the banished tree – a stump. Barely visible above the surrounding grass, the stump looks like a harmless temporary guest that will soon dissolve into the surrounding soil. In truth, stumps are the original Undead.
Too dense to burn, too large to easily dig up, stumps play possum in your lawn until spring, when they come back to life like zombies, sending tentacle-like resprouts out to search for human brains to feed their insatiable appetites.
As with any zombie invasion, the key to surviving this one is timing and preparation. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the best time to kill a stump is within seconds after the tree is cut down. Immediately spraying the stump with a water-soluble herbicide recommended for woody plants is your best hope for killing it. It’s crucial to spray right away because for the first few seconds after the tree is felled, nutrients are still flowing and the water-soluble herbicide will be pulled deep into the roots. For this method to be most effective, trees should be cut down after the spring bloom but before they go into dormancy in the fall.
It’s especially important to spray carefully and at close range to avoid overspray that can accidentally endanger animals and other plants. It’s also important to carefully read and follow the directions and warnings on the packaging of any herbicide that you decide to use.
But what if it’s too late for all of that? What if, as we speak, your family is hiding in the root cellar from last year’s mismanaged stump? Don’t despair. You can still save them if you keep a cool head.
First, relax a little. Stumps are notoriously fast runners but they are also easily fooled. One trick that works well is to dress as a female stump in order to safely get within spraying range. For older stumps, Ohio State University recommends spraying the entire stump, especially the bark and exposed roots, with an oil-based herbicide designed for woody plants. Because oil-based herbicides penetrate the bark of the tree rather than relying on natural movement within the tree, they are more effective at killing an older stump.
What happens if you tried the water-based spray on the fresh stump but didn’t get the entire thing sprayed within the first few seconds after cutting, or your aim was off and you missed a little? Your stump will likely resprout in the spring. If this happens, cut the sprouts flush with the ground one at a time and spray the tiny stump that results with water-soluble herbicide just as if it were any other stump.