how to treat tree stumps for outdoor use

How to Treat and Seal Tree Stumps for Outdoor Use

In Exterior Wood, Lawn & Garden by Jamie

Tree stumps in the garden can be used for all sorts of creative things like furniture or planters. However, if you are going to use them, they need to be protected from the elements so they don’t rot. By treating the tree stump, you can preserve it for years to come and make it an amazing garden feature.

To treat a tree stump for outdoor use, you must follow a number of steps. Firstly, the stump needs to be cleaned and sanded to remove dirt and debris and kill any fungus. You may also need to remove the bark. Then, you can apply a sealant to stop the stump from decomposing.

Treating a tree stump in this way protects it from weathering and stops fungus from breaking it down. Once it is properly treated, you are free to use it however you please. Although further treatments may be necessary for the future, your stump should remain healthy for a long while to come. Read on to find out more about treating tree stumps and some of the excellent ways you can use them.

What Can Tree Stumps Be Used As Outdoors?

There are many creative ideas for using tree stumps outdoors. If you have a small garden, try using it as an outdoor side table or even as a chair for sitting and relaxing. Tree stumps can also make excellent planters; simply cut a hole in the top and add some plants. If you want to attract some wildlife, your stump could make a nice birdbath too. It could even be turned into a sculpture if you are artistically minded.

The possibilities are endless really and if you are creative with it, an old tree stump can be an excellent garden feature.

Can You Preserve A Tree Stump While It’s Still In The Ground?

Yes, you can, although there are potential issues with this. If you remove loose bark, clean and sand the surface of the stump, and then apply sealant, you can prevent rot above the ground. However, when the stump is left in the ground, you cannot fully dry it out, so the likelihood of rot is increased. It is important to consider this when treating your stump and deciding how to use it.

Alternatively, you can cut the stump out of the ground and treat it afterward. This allows you to fully dry it out and preserve it for longer. The stump can still be used outdoors after treating it in this way.

How to Treat Tree Stumps for Outdoor Use (5 Steps)

1. Remove and dry the tree stump

Firstly, if you are removing the stump, you need to cut it out of the ground. Cut straight across the stump roughly six inches above the ground. It then needs to be dried outside, away from moisture, for six months before you continue the treatment process.

2. Remove loose bark

Next, you need to remove the loose bark. Start by peeling any large pieces away with your hands. The rest can be removed with a pry bar or wood chisel. Do this carefully so you don’t mark the stump.

3. Clean the surface

After all of the bark has been removed, gently take away any remaining dirt and debris with a damp washcloth. Try to avoid using any harsh chemicals that could damage the wood.

4. Sand the stump

Sanding the stump will give you a nicer finish to the wood. This step is not always necessary, but if you are using it as a table or chair, for example, you want a smooth surface. Start with low-grit sandpaper and sand the rough areas. Then work your way up to a high-grit paper before you apply your sealant.

5. Apply wood sealants

Finally, you are ready to apply a sealant to protect the tree stump from decay. You can also apply stain first if you are interested in adding some color. Thompson WaterSeal can be a great stain and sealer option if interested. Adding a sealer after that would just be double the protection!

Anyway, begin to use an exterior wood sealant product and apply two to three coats using a small brush, giving it time to dry between each coat. Always follow the application instructions provided by the manufacturer. Once you have applied the final coat, leave your stump for a further 48 hours before using it outside.

The best exterior wood sealer for a tree stump would be spar urethane, my favorite is Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane. This stuff can be applied in multiple different ways, but the easiest is to use a brush or a foam applicator. Dip it in your spar urethane product and begin lathering it on. This product will seal the wood from moisture and also protect it from UV damages.

Other exterior sealers can be found in our article How to Treat Untreated Wood for Outdoor Use.

Treating a Tree Stump FAQs

Can you seal a stump with bark?

It is possible to seal a stump with bark on it, but you need to make sure the bark has no damage or fungus growing beneath it. If there are any cracks in the bark, open them up using a chisel and check for decay. Once this is done, treat the rest of the tree stump as recommended above.

Can I Use Wood Stain on a Tree Stump?

Yes, you can use wood stain to add a different color to your tree stump. This should be applied after sanding and allowed to fully dry before you apply your sealant.

How to Tell if Your Stump is No Good to Save?

If there are any cracks in your tree stump when you remove it, the wood may be too damaged for treatment. You can also tell if the rot has gone too far by smelling inside of the stump. If it smells earthy, leave it to dry out in a well-ventilated area away from moisture. If the smell goes away, you should be ok. Look out for any signs of fungus too. Any wood that feels soft or smells as though it is rotting is probably not good enough to save.

What if My Tree Stump Has Termites?

If your tree stump has termites, you will need to treat the wood as soon as you cut it out of the ground. Using insecticides will kill the termites but the wood may be too damaged for the stump to be useful. However, if you apply wood hardeners before preserving it, you may still be able to use it.

How Long Would an Untreated Tree Stump Last Outdoors?

The length of time it takes for a tree stump to decay all depends on the size of the stump, the type of tree, and the surrounding conditions. On average, the stump from a fallen tree will last around a decade before it is completely decomposed.

When treated properly following the steps outlined above, a tree stump will last for years to come. However, it must be treated quickly before rot begins to set in, or it may be unusable.