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Methods of Removing a Tree Stump

Use a Digging Spade, a Stump Grinder, or Chemical Disintegration

© 2013 by Carly Fierro; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without written permission.

Tree Stumps

Tree stumps in natural afternoon lighting

This article was updated on 02/20/20.

You have two choices with tree stumps: live with them or remove them. Living with them is certainly the easier of the two choices. If you’re comfortable planting a flower bed around the stump and letting nature slowly reclaim it, go for it. Mind you, there is no guarantee that it won't start sprouting again.

But if you want to get rid of a stump, now you have three choices. You can remove it by hand (ouch!), rent a stump grinder or hire someone that wields one, or employ a little chemical warfare to speed up the decomposition process.

Removing Stumps by Hand

Small, older stumps with plenty of trunk are easiest to remove by hand, although by “easiest” I mean an afternoon of hard work and aching muscles. This process usually works best when the ground is neither too wet nor too dry.

At a minimum, you’ll need a hose, limbing saw or chainsaw, a digging bar, spade and axe. These instructions also assume you know how to use these tools safely (standard disclaimer: we take no responsibility for your actions).

Remove any branches from the trunk with the limbing saw or chainsaw, and then lop off the top of the trunk. Don’t cut the trunk level with the ground—you’ll want some trunk left for leverage.

Dig up the roots around the trunk with the spade, rinsing the roots occasionally to wash away solids and reveal more roots. Cut the visible roots with the axe.

Using the digging bar to push the trunk, cut the roots as they appear. Continue the process until the trunk is uprooted. How do you know when you are done? Generally the tap root is central and goes deepest. Cut that one, rock the stump out of the hole and then grab a cold drink and relax.

Stump Grinders

If you have a large stump, or a large number of smaller stumps, the job will go faster if you rent a stump grinder. Bear in mind a grinder is a heavy-duty piece of equipment requiring training to operate.

Put another way, if you don’t know what you’re doing, the machine can kill or seriously maim you. Often it’s best to hire a pro with a grinder, rather than try doing the job yourself. As usual, make sure he is insured and bonded.

The operator clears all rocks away from the stump, and uses a chainsaw to cut the stump level with the ground. He then grinds the stump until its surface is at least four inches below the ground.

Grinders are also noisy. If you’re using one near areas where peace is valued, such as near churches or inpatient rehab centers, be courteous and give them some warning first. It's only right.

Chemical Stump Removers

A third option is to use a can of chemical stump removal. The can usually contains powdered potassium nitrate, which greatly speeds up wood rot and decomposition. Starting at the outside of the stump, drill 1-inch wide holes into the wood. The holes should be 8 to 12 inches deep.

Poor the potassium nitrate into the holes and top them up with water. Let the solution rest untouched for 4 to 6 weeks. At the end of 6 weeks the stump wood will be spongy and easily broken up and removed with an axe. Of course these are generic instructions. Always read the instructions on your particular product.

Garden Line radio host Randy Lemon also recommends this method. Any over the counter brush killer liquid chemical may be poured into the holes and then secure a plastic bag over the stump to keep the liquid undiluted.

Of course, it goes without saying that using brush killer should never be done in the proximity of food crops. Whichever of these methods of removing a tree stump you use, your property will look much better. And it might just be the ideal spot for a vegetable garden.

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