Stump Removal: Don’t Be Stumped

Screen shot 2013-05-10 at 10.06.46 AMAfter you’ve removed a tree — or a multitude of trees — you’re left with the unsightly and often dangerous stump.  They’re a pain to mow around and can be a tripping hazard for you and your livestock . . . not to mention often ruining a landscape that you’ve spent many man-hours perfecting.  There are a number of options for tree stump removal, some easier and safer than others.  By learning about all the options, you can choose the stump removal method that’s best for you.

 1.  Dig it out.Taproot

One option is to dig the stump out by hand.  Using a mattock, dig around the stump as deeply as you can until you find the taproot.  The taproot is the biggest, most central root attached to the stump; it is the root that all the other roots originate from.  Depending on the size of the tree, you may be able to cut through the taproot with the sharp end of the mattock, or it may require a full-sized axe.  Once the taproot is severed, you should be able to lift the stump out of the ground fairly easily, then fill the hole with soil.  The remaining roots will decompose on their own.

  • Pros: Inexpensive
  • Cons: Difficult, time-consuming, not ideal if you have many stumps

2.  Use chemicals.

Another option is to use a chemical compound that speeds up the decomposition process.  The key to decomposition is nitrogen, which can be applied either in the form of high-nitrogen fertilizer or a store-bought stump removal compound (liquid or granular, usually containing mostly ammonium nitrate).  Whichever method you choose, start by drilling a number of holes at least 1/4″ in diameter in the stump, as deeply as you can, spaced a few inches apart.  If you can, drill holes in the sides of the stump as well, parallel to the ground.  Then fill the holes with either high-nitrogen fertilizer (cow manure works best) or store-bought stump removal granules or liquid.  Then add water to dissolve it.  Cover with a tarp or heavy layer of wet mulch to keep the moisture in.

Chemical Stump RemovalIf you’ve used fertilizer to deliver nitrogen to the stump, the next step is to play the waiting game.  You are speeding up nature by allowing the stump to decompose naturally, but you can only speed up nature so much.  Check back regularly to be sure the stump is still wet and add more fertilizer as needed.  Depending on the type of tree, it could take up to 3 to 5 years for the stump to fully decompose.

If you are using a store-bought product, check back periodically over the next few weeks.  The stump should become spongey and easily breakable.  When this happens, smaller stumps may be able to be dug out manually with little effort.  Larger stumps, however, can be doused with kerosene which will soak into the now porous wood easily.  Let the kerosene soak in for at least a week, then set the stump on fire, ensuring that there are no branches, dry leaves, or buildings nearby.  Ideally, the fire should go out when the stump is fully removed.  Do not leave the fire unattended.  When the stump is gone, fill the hole with soil.

  • Pros: Inexpensive, relatively low difficulty
  • Cons: No immediate results (hardwood tree stumps could take almost a decade to fully decompose using fertilizer), can be dangerous if you use kerosene and fire, the tarp covering the stump can be more of an eyesore than the stump!

3.  Grind it away!Screen shot 2013-05-10 at 10.10.46 AM

Grinding away a stump is by far the fastest and easiest method.  Whether you rent a stump grinder for occasional use or purchase one to use more frequently, your workload will be minimal, and within a few minutes (depending on the size of the stump) you’ll have a pile of woodchips where once there was an ugly stump.  The DR Stump Grinder has 8 steel teeth tipped with mining-grade carbide that spin at 2800 rpm, taking 360 “bites” per second.  By simply pivoting the machine from side to side, you can watch any size stump dissolve into tiny woodchips.

  • Pros: Quick results, super easy, ideal if you have many stumps
  • Cons: Higher cost, may not be ideal if you only have one or two stumps

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