Safely killing a tree stump


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Hi, new member here.

One of our backyard mistakes was planting a curly willow in a corner of the yard. We've cut it back a few times, but my bride's ready to make it gone.

Willow is apparently not a durable (in the weather/soil) wood when dead, and we can be patient (the tree's not in a highly visible location/a stump will not be a Yard Fashion Faux Pas), so I'm looking at cutting it down to a stump (trunk is about a foot across) and killing it with epsom salts, which seems to be the least environmentally damaging method that doesn't involve digging up that entire section of the yard to remove roots. The preferred technique seems to be drilling holes in the top of the stump around the perimeter, filling the holes with Epsom salts, moistening the salts, and covering the stump with a tarp, then leaving it alone.

First question: does anyone have experience with this method, and does it work as well as the interweb says it does?

Second question: there's a pluot six feet away from the willow that we want to keep. The interweb says that the magnesium sulfate of Epsom salts is a good soil amendment and won't harm adjacent plants. Again, does anyone have experience with a situation like this who can confirm that it's safe for an adjacent tree?
 
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Greetings, welcome to the Forums.

This method is certainly mentioned frequently on the Internet, though many of these references may just be repeated hearsay. I have not tried it myself. If you do decide to go this route, please do post a follow-up telling about your results. In moderate amounts epsom salts can serve as a fertilizer, but only for soils that are deficient in magnesium or sulfur. Adding a larger amount might cause a toxicity issue. Could this affect your pluot tree six feet away? Maybe, maybe not. You could consider skipping the epsom salt and just covering the stump with a bucket ot tarp. There might still be some stump sprouts that grow around, but if those get removed somewhat regularly, there should be less and less with time. I'd be fine with that added bio-matter as I compost and mulch onsite, which I recommend if you have the space.

Also, here is an odd thought. A stump-coppiced Curly Willow (Salix matsudana 'Tortusa') could be an excellent ongoing source of florist-quality corkscrew willow branches. If you contacted local florists you might have a cash crop on your hands.

An even odder thought. Keep the branches yourself and construct weirdly wild & witchy wickerwork.
 
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I do not understand how magnesium or sulphur could help, but I can point to composting and how adding nitrogen will feed the processes that decompose the carbon which the stump represents. To keep them wet I dig around them and cut them as low as possible. Hopefully low enough to run a mower over them or otherwise not be inconvenienced by them. If I can get them slightly below grade then water will run into the holes I drill around the perimeter and in the center. I will leave them be if they are smaller, and use sugar and blood meal for a little help on bigger ones. Nothing really helps if they are dry though. Protein based sources of nitrogen offer more biology than a chemical. Covering them can help but usually the only thing left is just the top dried out cap. It will come up easily when the process is complete. It takes a year maybe more if they are bigger. Wet is key though, and warmth makes it all work faster.

As to killing it, well that just depends on the plant. Start with the least poison you can. Something with a short half life. Hopefully just cutting it back and covering it with something is enough. This is a bad time of year though because the plants are retreating into the roots for winter. Sometimes I end up using triclopyr. Sometimes its necessary but things like that kill everything and its almost like a preservative because its hard to get any decomposition started when you have also killed off the bacteria. It is also challenging if the area is subject to rain run off that might dislocate a chemical unintentionally. Still, something like glyophosate will allow growth in a 2-3 months (weather). It is also systemic, and will get into the root this time of year. Trees are just so slow to do anything, they will not just sip it all up, and you can use too little. Its easy enough to retreat it though. If you kill it now then it will really start rotting in the warm wet spring.

@Chuck mentioned a technique od mixing diesel fuel and molasses, where the molasses feed bacteria that remediate the diesel fuel. Turns out diesel and gas are from organic sources so that sounds interesting, and possibly faster than other methods. Of course not only will the diesel kill it, but it will help it burn too should you wish to do that instead of cutting. I have put a bag of charcoal on a stump but the results were not spectacular. Plus the underground roots do not burn.
 
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Epsom salts will eventually kill a stump but it takes forever. Diesel fuel and molasses will kill a cut stump quickly. Just mix enough diesel and molasses 50/50 to saturate the soil and the cut stump. To remove a dead stump drill a bunch of holes in it and fill the holes with salt peter (potassium nitrate). It changes the woody stump into cellulose which burns/smolders easily. If you don't want to go the diesel molasses route you can also use Cut Vine and Stump Killer
 

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