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 youre comfortable planting a flower bed around the stump and letting nature slowly reclaim it, go for it.
If, however, you want to get rid of a stump, you have three choices. You can remove it by hand, rent a stump grinder, 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.
At a minimum, youll 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.
Remove any branches from the trunk with the limbing saw or chainsaw, and then lop off the top of the trunk. Dont cut the trunk level with the ground—youll want some trunk left for leverage.
Dig up the roots around the trunk with the spade, rinsing the roots occasionally to wash away solid 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.
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 dont know what youre doing, the machine can kill you. Often its best to hire a pro with a grinder, rather than try doing the job yourself.
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 youre using one near areas where peace is valued, such as near churches or inpatient alcohol rehab centers, be courteous and give them some warning first.
Chemical Stump Removers
A third option is to use a can of chemical stump removal. The can 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.
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.