Removing a Tree Stump

Tired of that unsightly tree stump in the landscape? Here’s a summary of the many ways to remove a stump.tree-stump-901627_1920Grind it – By far the quickest and best, but also the most expensive, way is having a tree company grind out the stump and it’s major roots. If the area is to be sodded, have the stump ground to a depth of 12 inches. If another tree is planned to be planted nearby, grind the stump deeply enough to remove most if not all of it.

Pull it – Not as common for urban sites, but the norm for those with access to a tractor is to pull out the stump. In this case, leave a foot or more of the tree trunk intact when its cut so a chain can be wrapped around it. Be aware that roots travel beyond the drip line of the tree and may be under sidewalks, home foundations, driveways, etc., and damage could occur to these structures when pulling out the stump.

Dig it – Not a practical solution for big trees but shrubs and trees smaller than 15 inches in diameter can be dug out of the soil using a spade, pick mattock, digging bar, and lots of elbow grease.

Treat it – There are several products sold as “stump removers” containing chemical solutions which claim to break down stumps faster. These products use phosphorous or potassium nitrates which encourages micro-organisms to digest the stumps quicker. However, they have mixed reviews online and they still take years to work.

Burn it – Although not a recommended practice, some people have tried to burn out stumps by building a charcoal fire on the stump. Because stumps contain a lot of moisture, they will burn slowly and this process is probably very time consuming. It is also illegal within most city limits to set fires outside of your fire-pit or barbecue grill and burn laws also govern what, where, and when items can be burned in the county. The liability that comes from open burning makes this a less than ideal solution.

Leave it – Stumps will rot down on their own given enough time. Cut the stump as close to the ground as possible. Decay organisms will begin rotting the wood. You can accelerate the process by covering the stump with a few inches of soil and keeping it moist. You could also bore several vertical holes in the stump using a large diameter bit or a ship auger. Fill the holes with a slow-release fertilizer before covering with soil to hasten decay. If not grinding out a stump, this is probably the next best solution.

Use it – Maybe removing the stump isn’t always necessary. I’ve seen several that were cut level right at the soil line and used as a solid surface to place a birdbath. With landscape plants you can also hide the stump. If you are really creative, you could consider leaving the stump much taller and cutting it into a unique shape such as a garden seat.

Keep in mind, it is not uncommon for mushrooms and other fungi to appear in the landscape or lawn for 10 years or more as remaining wood chips or roots decay. These will eventually dissipate. Also, watch for new shoots to grow from the roots and promptly remove these. A woody brush herbicide could be sprayed on the new foliage of these shoots to stop their development. Shoots should cease after a few years.

Submitted by Kelly Jackson, Agent for Horticulture, Christian Co. Cooperative Extension