I don’t know if there’s a topic that my husband gets more fired up about than when people leave too-tall stumps after cutting a tree.
As somebody who teaches chainsaw operation and forestry management to others, he gets beyond frustrated when he sees these eyesores jutting up out of the ground. While it is, of course, necessary to leave some kind of stump when you leave a tree, that stump doesn’t need to be super tall.
Of course, a stump of any height is going to pose potential hazards on your property. Tree stump removal is a major industry, with tree care companies spending lots of their time cleaning up after the job is done.
If you have stumps on your property that you want to get rid of, you may want to keep these tree stump removal tips in mind.
Why Do You Need to Get Rid of Tree Stumps On Your Homestead?
There are several reasons why it’s important for you to get rid of tree stumps on your property.
The most obvious reason for tree stump removal is for aesthetics. Not only do tree stumps take up a lot of valuable garden space, but they’re serious eyesores. Of course, tree stumps left to rot in the ground can regrow, too, which will become even more costly and difficult to remove as they keep coming back.
There are several safety concerns associated with errant tree stumps. Most obviously, they present a tripping hazard for pedestrians. They can also snag vehicles and equipment (like lawnmowers) that you might be using on your lawn.
Tree roots can also damage pipes or sewer lines. In some cases, growing roots can absorb offshoot water from leaky water lines, allowing the root to spread even more.
3. Can Kill Nearby Plants
Left unattended, tree stumps can release chemicals that will inhibit the growth of nearby plants. As they break down, they can also become home to invasive plants. These plants can become unsightly and difficult to remove.
4. Clears Up Space for a Garden
If you’re planning on growing a new garden, a tree stump can wreck your plans. You’ll have to get rid of it before you start tilling and laying down new garden plots.
5. Reduces Disease Spread
Tree stumps spread decay and can invite unwanted pests and diseases. From fungi like mold to pests like termites, tree stumps can spread these issues to healthy plants on your lawn. In some cases, tree stumps can cause issues for the wood in your home (think termite or carpenter ant infestations).
Tree Stump Removal: 6 Ways
1. Use a Stump Grinder
If you have to get rid of a large stump or have multiple stumps to remove, you may need to consider renting a stump grinder. These cost a couple of hundred dollars to rent and are heavy to maneuver – they weigh around 1000 pounds. Make sure you have a way to transport this piece of equipment if you decide to rent one.
You’ll start by clearing away any debris near the stump. Then, use your chainsaw to cut away as much of the stump as possible. Put the wheel of the stump grinder a couple of inches above these trumps and power it on. Lower it 3-inches, then move it back and forth, from side to side, by using the lever.
You will need to grind the stump down to about 4-inches using the grinder wheel. Repeat this until the perimeter of the stump is 4-inches beneath the ground. Fill up the hole with wood chips and then bury it with grass or topsoil.
2. Cut It Out With a Chainsaw
Be careful trying to cut a stump out with a chainsaw, as it can seriously damage your saw if done incorrectly. Rocks in or around the stump can break your chain or can injure you if they happen to cause a kickback.
That said, if you’re skilled with a chainsaw and know what to look for, give this method a try. Simply dig around the stump so that you can use your saw to cut at ground level. Cut the stump as low to the ground as you can, cutting a criss-cross pattern of slices into the stump.
Once you get to a few inches above ground level, you may need to finish the job with a stump grinder.
3. Burn It
Ready for a bonfire? You can also burn the tree stump that’s driving you crazy. You can use this method alone or with any of the other techniques we’ll describe.
To burn a stump, start by drilling a few holes in it. Sprinkle some powdered tree stump removal powder into the holes. This will open up the wood and make it more porous. Then, pour some kerosene into the holes. Soak the entire stump, then ignite.
While the stump is burning, keep a close eye on it to make sure the fire doesn’t spread beyond the confines of the stump. Once it’s more or less finished burning, bury it in the soil to put out the rest of the fire.
4. Use Chemicals
One of the most common techniques people use for tree stump removal is to soften them and allow them to rot by using chemicals.
Some chemicals people use to dissolve tree stumps include:
- Potassium nitrate
- Fuel oil
- High-nitrogen fertilizer
- Muriatic acid
Be careful about using any kind of chemical. They can be caustic and hurt your eyes and skin. Some can damage beneficial fungi so you may have to avoid using them if the stump is located near your garden.
To do this, you will need to first remove as much of the stump as you can. Drill small, 1-inch holes around the perimeter of the stump. Moving slightly deeper into the interior of the stump, then drill a few more holes. Each hole should be roughly 9-11-inches deep, depending on the size of the stump.
Continue drilling until you’ve met all the holes on the other side of the stump. Pour your choice of chemical into the holes. The goal of the holes is to provide channels for the chemicals to penetrate through the stump. In some cases, you may also have to add water to push the chemicals through.
Then, you’ll need to wait for 4-5 weeks. The stump will become spongy, no longer hard, and difficult to chop through. You can then use an ax to cut up the stump, or, if you are using something like kerosene or fuel oil, simply burn the stump.
If you’d rather not use chemicals but want your stump to break down over time, consider using compost or some Epsom salts. If the stump is located in a high-traffic area, like on your lawn, this might not be the best technique. It can take several years for compost to break down the stump. However, it is far more natural and safer than the tactics listed above.
5. Dig and Chop It Out With a Mattock
This is my least favorite method of removing a tree stump – perhaps because it is the most cumbersome and labor-intensive. However, it will get the job done, and it won’t require you to set anything on fire or to expose yourself to potentially caustic chemicals.
Use a mattock to dig around the stump and to loosen up the dirt. Remove the dirt with a shovel. Then, sever the tree roots from the trunk. Dig and chop until you meet the taproot of the tree. Cut through the root with an ax. Then, you can wiggle the stump until you’re able to pull it from the topsoil.
6. Pull it Out
I won’t lie – this method of tree stump removal is pretty fun.
However, it shouldn’t be your go-to option, as it might not be the safest (or the most desirable in the eyes of your insurance company!). You can, however, use a truck and chain (or a tractor or ATV and chain) to remove a tree stump.
Simply wrap some chain around the stump and connect it to a vehicle with a 4-wheel-drive. Slowly pull forward, then shift into reverse to wiggle the stump loose. As an alternative, you could also consider renting an excavator to get rid of several stumps, if you need to.
What to Do With Your Tree Stump
Once the tree stump is out of the ground, you need to decide what to do with it.
Most of the time, people burn their stumps or compost them to get rid of them. Depending on the size of your stump, you may be able to process it with a wood chipper. In some parts of the world, stumps are sometimes removed and then ground up to produce wood fuel that is used for biomass power stations.
Don’t be afraid to put that stump to use once it’s out of the ground!
To Leave the Roots or Not?
When you remove a tree stump, you might be wondering whether it makes sense to pull the roots or to leave them in the ground. The choice is yours – but there are benefits and disadvantages to either option.
Leaving the roots in the ground is, of course, the easier and more convenient option. If you can’t burn a stump or use chemicals based on local regulations where you live, it also might be the most logical.
In most cases, major roots don’t need to be removed once you remove the main portion of the stump. These will usually rot on their own underground, but they can occasionally spread disease or prevent other plants from growing, so keep this in mind.
The main reason to remove roots is to eliminate the possibility of them sprouting suckers. It’s not common for roots to sprout suckers, but this can create more problems for you later on. If you’re worried about this but don’t have a way to remove the roots, consider applying a brush killer product.
When All Else Fails, Don’t Be Afraid to Call in the Pros – or Get Creative
Sometimes, it will make more sense to leave the heavy lifting to the pros.
If you don’t have a lot of time to spend monkeying around with the stump, you’re better off leaving the task to someone else. The same applies if you don’t want to deal with labor-intensive stump removal or with chemicals. Another situation in which it makes more sense to outsource this task? If you have multiple stumps to remove.
Call in a professional stump grinding or stump removal company. Many tree care companies will take care of this for you, too.
If that stump isn’t bothering you, don’t think for a second that you have to remove it either. Although it makes sense, in most cases, to get rid of errant tree stumps, there are creative ways you can embrace their existence in your landscape.
For example, you might turn it into a planter. Tree stumps won’t last forever without breaking down, but in the interim, you can use them to plant things like petunias or even strawberries. You can invite a chainsaw artist to create a unique carving for you or even plant vines to go up and around its base.
Sometimes, a tree stump that is left in the ground will be able to regenerate into a new tree. This is most common with deciduous trees that have been cut – they can often report in multiple places from the roots. In fact, there is a practice known as coppicing that refers to deliberately cutting a tree to its stump to allow it to regrow.
Embrace those stumps! While you are usually better off getting rid of them, sometimes it is possible to find beauty even in the biggest eyesores on your lawn. Don’t be afraid to get creative!