How To Remove A Palm Tree Stump And Roots

For those living in warm or temperate climates, palm trees are a vital part of the day-to-day landscape. But — whether due to disease, pests, storm damage, or remodeling — there will come a day when every palm tree is replaced by an unsightly stump. 

Stump removal is a chore no one looks forward to. It can be expensive, labor-intensive, and seems to always take longer than it should. This is just as true for palm stumps as it is for any other type of tree.

I might not be able to make stump removal enjoyable. But I can definitely teach you how to remove a palm tree stump as easily and quickly as possible. Keep reading for expert tricks and troubleshooting tips that will make this chore a little less daunting.

Did you know that palm trees are neither trees nor made of wood? Instead, they’re more closely related to grasses like bamboo. 

As a bit of a plant nerd, I think facts like these are super interesting. In practice, however, there’s plenty of overlap in how palms and deciduous or coniferous trees are maintained. The average person doesn’t necessarily need to know the differences to effectively remove a palm tree stump. 

Methods of Removing Palm Tree Stumps and Roots 

There are several effective ways to remove a palm stump but the most effective methods include:

  • Chemical decomposition
  • Natural decomposition
  • Digging by hand
  • Burning
  • Stump grinding

Factors such as location, stump size, and budget will determine the most appropriate method for your own circumstances.

In some cases, you may even decide to leave a palm stump in place. This is fine if the stump isn’t in the way of other landscaping or building projects.

Note that stump removal isn’t always enough to prevent a palm tree from resprouting. If the tree was alive when it was cut down, new sprouts may emerge from the root system. The only way to prevent this growth is to kill and/or remove the roots as well. Root removal generally isn’t necessary if the tree has died.

Stumps affected by disease, also require special care. Many palm diseases can survive deep in the root system and spread to other plants, including any future trees planted in the same location. 

Using Chemicals Stump Removers

Chemical stump removers work by accelerating the natural rotting process. Depending on the size of your stump, applying a chemical remover could cause decomposition to take just a few months instead of several years.

Most chemical stump removers utilize potassium nitrate — a.k.a. saltpeter — as an active ingredient. Picloram is another chemical that can be applied to palm tree stumps to both kill the roots and speed up decomposition.

Chemical stump removers are safe to use as directed by the manufacturer, but always wear protective gear when handling these products and read usage guidelines carefully. Note that many potassium nitrate removers are sold as powders and care should be taken not to inhale the dust.

How To Remove A Palm Tree Stump

  1. Cut the palm tree stump as close to the ground as possible. The less material there is to be rotted away the better.
  2. Begin by drilling 1/4-1/2 inch holes vertically down into the stump surface. The holes will need to be approximately 10 inches deep and spaced at 2 or 3 inches apart.
  3. Drill further holes down diagonally from the outside edge of the tree trunk, downwards into the center of the stump. These holes will intersect with the vertical holes creating a network of drill holes that interconnect.
  4. Pour your chemical stump rotting product into the diagonal and vertical holes, aiming to fill the drilled-out space with the chemical product.
  5. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, add the recommended quantity of water to activate the chemical process.
  6. Cover the stump to prevent children or animals from coming into contact with the stump removal compounds.
  7. The stump rotting chemical will remain active for between 14 and 30 days, so check it periodically to make sure it is active and remains covered.
  8. After 30 days, the stump may be ready to dig out, or you may choose to leave it to rot down further, or your can burn out the remaining stump material.
  9. To burn out the stump, soak the stump with gasoline or similar flammable fluids each day for up to 7 days.
  10. Ignite the stump and monitor it for the period it burns before putting out any residual embers.

Burning The Stump

Burning is technically one of the most effective ways to remove a tree stump and roots. Unfortunately, it’s not always appropriate due to the fire risk involved, and burning is not legal in all regions, so be sure to check your local legislation. Even if it is legal in your area, care must be taken to avoid this method when the risk of wildfire is high. 

Before moving forward with any plans to burn the stump, be sure to get in touch with the local fire safety authority and discuss your options. A permit may be required. I strongly recommend hiring a professional to help with the process if you’re not experienced yourself.

There’s also the fact that not all palm tree stumps are in a good location for burning. For example, you shouldn’t attempt to burn stumps that are near permanent structures or other trees. Stumps should only be removed in this way if they are in an isolated location that can be easily fireproofed or has no obvious flammable materials around the stump.

  1. After removing the palm tree and leaving the bare stump, allow the stump to fully dry out before attempting any burning process.
  2. As a priority, be sure you clear all flammable items surrounding the tree stump to prevent any risk of the surrounding area catching fire.
  3. Drill 10-inch holes vertically down into the stump surface or cut cross-hatch grooves across the surface of the stump, using a chainsaw.
  4. Pour a flammable liquid such as gasoline into the holes or onto the grooves and allow it to soak into the fibrous tree stump.
  5. Using a charcoal grill or BBQ light up some charcoals and burn them until they are red hot.
  6. With extreme caution, place a number of the burning coals into the tree stump. This will ignite the palm tree core and cause it to burn deep into the stump fibers.

The average stump will take several hours to burn out and must be supervised the entire time.

According to the University of Florida, palm tree roots can extend out up to 50 feet in larger specimens. Keep this in mind when sequestering and monitoring the burn area.

Natural Methods of Removing Palm Stumps

Using caustic chemical products is not for everyone, and in many circumstances, it’s not appropriate to do so for safety or environmental reasons. With that in mind, there are other natural methods of removing palm stumps, that can be equally effective but will require a little more physical labor or lateral thinking.

Let The Stump Rot Naturally 

Letting the material rot naturally is the least invasive option. This might be a viable strategy if the stump is located somewhere out of the way on your property.

There are a few steps you can take to aid in the decomposition process. For example, you should cut the stump as short as possible. You can also drill holes in the stump to allow air, moisture, and microorganisms deeper into the wood.

Potassium nitrate ramps up decomposition because it is a rich source of nitrogen. If you value speed and efficiency but want to avoid concentrated chemicals, you can achieve similar results using an organic source of nitrogen. To do so, follow the steps I outlined above but replace the saltpeter with a nitrogen-rich material like compost or manure. 

Digging by Hand

It may be the last thing you want to hear but manually digging up a palm stump is often one of the best methods of removal. I strongly recommend at least trying to dig up the stump before turning to more aggressive strategies.

Of course, this approach is infinitely more effective on a small tree stump and perhaps not as hard as you may think. Palm trees can have long roots, but they tend to be more stringy than wood, which allows you to dig and cut much closer to the tree trunk than you otherwise would with a standard softwood tree.

If your palm tree stump is on the smaller side with a shallow root system, you may be able to pry the entire thing up and out of the ground by hand. Usually, though, it’s best to cut around the stump base and sever the roots before digging.

You can make removal a bit easier by cutting into the top of the stump with a chainsaw and dividing the trunk into smaller segments. Or even by splitting the trunk into four quarters by making vertical cuts on the stump surface and using an ax and splitters to create smaller easier to handle sections of the stump.

In my experience, digging up a stump is rarely a one-person job. Having a second pair of hands doesn’t just divide up the labor. It’s also very helpful to have someone pull at the stump or roots while the other slices and digs.

Using The Stump In Your Landscaping Design

Removal is not the only way to address a tree stump in the landscape. With a little creativity, you may be able to integrate it into your yard or garden.

I know of many people who have hollowed out tree stumps and turned them into natural garden planters. Succulents make excellent fillers in most areas where palms grow. You can also turn a palm stump into an organic stool or the base for an outdoor table.

No matter how you choose to utilize the stump in your landscape, it won’t last forever. But, since palm trees take so long to decompose, it’s sure to be around for several years. Applying a coat of polyurethane to the cut end of a stump may slow down decomposition even further.

Hiring A Stump Grinder

You won’t find a removal strategy more straightforward than using a stump grinder. This piece of equipment has one job and does it extremely well.

The downside of stump grinding is that very few homeowners have direct access to the necessary machinery. Instead, they must rent a grinder or hire a stump removal service to do the job for them.

Consider hiring a stump grinder to remove a palm tree stump
Consider hiring a stump grinder to remove a palm tree stump

You can rent stump grinders from many home and garden retailers for about $100 to $300 per day. Keep in mind that you will also need a vehicle large enough to transport the grinder to your home. The time and money required to access a stump grinder often aren’t worth it unless you have several stumps in need of removal.

Always wear safety equipment when operating a stump grinder and keep clear of bystanders (including children and pets). Carefully read all instructions before using a stump grinder.

Stump grinders work best on level surfaces. I recommend cutting the stump as close to the ground as possible with a chainsaw in preparation. 

For the best results, operate the stump grinder slowly and approach the stump from as many angles as possible. Most grinders can effectively remove about 3 inches of stump per pass. It will take several passes to grind down the average palm stump fully.

Heavy Machinery

First, I’ll admit that this isn’t the most delicate strategy. It’s also not accessible to everyone, as you’ll need a heavy-duty vehicle or similar piece of equipment.

If you have a vehicle or piece of machinery that can easily tow a car, you can probably use it to remove a palm tree stump. You’ll also need equipment like a sturdy tow strap and, ideally, a cable winch.

Start by preparing the stump as much as possible by digging around the base and cutting through any roots you come across. You can then secure the tow strap (this might require some creativity) and slowly begin pulling the stump out of the ground.

Be careful with this removal strategy as driving or parking a heavy vehicle across your property can damage turf and soil quality. Keep the area clear of all pets and people. Don’t attempt this method if the stump is near buildings or other pieces of property that could be accidentally damaged. I also advise against using any vehicle that you’re not 100% confident can handle the wear and tear of stump removal.

Vinegar To Kill Palm Stumps

It’s true that vinegar can be used as a herbicide to kill off living stumps and tree roots. However, you won’t see great results using vinegar in your kitchen cupboard.

Vinegar that is effective on palm tree stumps typically has 20% acetic acid by volume. Such formulas are often sold as horticultural vinegar. In comparison, most household vinegar has only 5% acetic acid. 

Horticultural vinegar will kill most plant life it touches. It is an effective way to kill new sprouts that emerge from your palm stump’s root system. If you want to target the roots themselves, though, you will need to expose the root system and apply the vinegar directly.

Calling in Professionals

I’m a big proponent of hiring a professional whenever you’re unsure of how to handle something yourself. Professionals don’t just have past experience and knowledge you probably don’t have. They also have access to high-quality tools the average gardener does not.

Nearly any tree service company will offer stump removal. If this is your first time hiring a tree service in the area, turn to reviews and personal recommendations to narrow down your search. You may be able to request free consultations from multiple companies before deciding who to hire.

If you’re dealing with a stump from a diseased palm tree, I recommend reaching out to a certified arborist. Arborists are licensed professionals who specialize in tree health. An arborist can provide a diagnosis (if you don’t already have one) and create a management plan to reduce the risk of disease spread via the stump or roots.

Verdict: Removing Palm Tree Stumps

Palm trees may not be real trees in the botanical sense. But if you can remove the stump of a deciduous or coniferous tree, you’ll have no trouble getting rid of a palm stump.

My preferred stump removal method involves chemical decomposition or digging the stump out by hand. Larger stumps may require the use of a grinder or other piece of heavy machinery.

If all else fails, hiring a professional is sure to get you the results you’re looking for. 

FAQs Removing Palm Trees

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.