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What Happens to Tree Roots When a Tree Is Cut Down and What Can I Do About Them?

Cutting down a loved tree is a difficult decision, but sometimes it becomes necessary. When a tree becomes a nuisance or a safety hazard, whether due to its falling fruit, weak wood, or disease, the best option may be to cut it down. Once the work of cutting the tree down is done, however, you may be wondering what happens to tree roots when the tree is cut down. What about the stump?

Always consult a professionally trained arborist to inspect your trees for damage and to help you determine the best solution for your landscape. Here are some tips to get you started.

What Happens to Tree Roots When a Tree Is Cut Down?

What Happens to Tree Roots When Tree Is Cut Down and What Can I Do About Them

Once a tree is cut down, the trunk is chipped into mulch and hauled away, or cut into smaller logs or blocks for other purposes, but the roots remain in the ground. Without leaves, the cut tree cannot produce food for the growth of its roots. However, the roots might have enough nutrients left to allow the growth of sprouts from the roots or from the leftover stump. If a sprout develops enough leaves, it can eventually grow back into a tree.

If a tree doesn’t produce root sprouts, then it’s unlikely it’ll regrow. Instead, the roots will eventually decompose. Trees like pines, oaks, and maples do not grow back from roots. Conversely, some tree species aggressively sprout from the roots even after the tree is cut down and the stump ground up. These tree species are considered invasive due to their aggressive spread. Trees like elms, ficus, and willows can grow back from roots. As a rule of thumb, fast-growing trees can grow back and slow-growing trees cannot.

What To Do with the Tree Stump

Once your tree is cut down, you are left with the tree stump. Now you have to make another important decision—let it stay or get it removed.

Here are a few things to consider when you make this decision:

  • Tree stumps can be hazardous

Stumps sticking out of the ground can trip children running around in your yard, causing injury. Additionally, yard work becomes more difficult, as you have to keep track of and go around all the tree stumps while mowing your lawn. If you don’t, you run the risk of ruining your lawnmower by running over the stumps.

  • Tree stumps can ruin your aesthetic

Tree stumps scattered around a well-manicured lawn stand out like sore thumbs, ruining the aesthetic of your landscape. The aesthetic of your land, in turn, has an effect on its real-estate value. A large number of tree stumps could drive your property value down. Besides that, tree stumps take up a lot of valuable space in your yard. This space could be repurposed into an outdoor gazebo or a space to entertain guests and hold family picnics.

  • Tree stumps can give access to pests and insects

Tree stumps are living systems that can be host to a number of pests and insects. During the long decomposition process stumps go through, they invite insects like ants, termites, and beetles. These pests can spread to other plants in your lawn, or even your house, if not contained properly.

  • Tree Stumps Can Regrow in Uncertain Ways

Multiple small trees and even fungi can grow out of the spot where the old tree stood. This haphazard growth of small trees is often unsightly and very difficult to remove. Moreover, these trees steal nutrients from plants situated close to them, causing harm to other trees.

How to Remove Tree Stumps

Tree stump removal is professional-level work, and you should consult certified arborists in your area to get this work done. Alternatively, here are a few ways to handle tree roots after the tree is cut:

  • Natural removal

You can control regrowth of trees from tree stumps naturally, without pesticides, but this requires patience and persistence. This method requires cutting off any sprouts as soon as they appear. Cut them with pruners just below the ground level or, preferably, at the point where they meet the roots or stump, removing parts of the stump that are sprouting. These cut sprouts should be trashed and not put in the compost pile. Digging up the roots doesn’t help, as sprouts can still come out of any remaining bits. Consistently removing sprouts from stumps can take anywhere between two to seven years to completely exhaust the nutrients stored in the roots.

  • Chemical removal

A quicker and more permanent way to deal with tree stumps is to treat the leaves from the sprouts with herbicide. The poison from the herbicide will be absorbed by the leaves and travel to the roots. This process takes about a year to completely kill the roots. Painting the freshly cut tree stump itself with herbicide prevents new sprouts from growing out and also helps kill the roots. Another option is to drill a few holes in the trunk to allow the herbicide to seep inside and be absorbed by the roots more quickly.

Herbicides that contain glyphosate or triclopyr-amine work best for killing a tree stump. Apply this on a dry, calm day with no rain in the forecast, and be careful not to over apply herbicide, as it could spread to surrounding plants. Be sure to take proper safety precautions while handling and applying the herbicide: wear pants, closed shoes, and a long-sleeve shirt to protect your skin and goggles for your eyes. Remember to dispose of the paintbrush you use as soon as you’re finished.

Both options take a while to work, and during that time, the stump will stick out unpleasantly in your lawn. To hide the stump, you could decorate it with bright colors, repurpose it to act as a stand for a bird-feeder, or hide it under a picnic table.

Another great way to deal with tree stumps is to use stump grinding services to get rid of them altogether.