Stumped About Stump Removal?

by Matt Goering

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Stump removal is a task surrounded by myths and easy fixes. There are a number of purported solutions to removing unsightly stumps from your property, but very few that actually work. The following is a short list of the most "popular" methods, both effective and not, and the facts about whether they're worth your time.

Chemical Stump Removal
The truth is that there's no chemical on the market that magically removes a stump from your property, regardless of products that claim to do so. These products may accelerate decomposition to a degree, but in the end you're still looking at a long wait before the offending stump decomposes and disappears from your yard. The one exception is chemicals that eat at the wood making it more porous and ready for burning, which brings us to the next stump removal method.

Burning
One of the most popular and age-old methods of getting rid of a stump is burning the stump out of the ground. In actuality, this method is less than perfect, since stumps set deep in the ground rarely receive enough oxygen to facilitate a fire that actually makes a measurable difference in eliminating the stump from your property. In fact, a low oxygen burn can instead create a charcoal material that is almost impossible to decompose and remove.

Press On. If you're still set on burning that stump out, think about using a chemical additive to make the stump more porous before burning, facilitating a more productive fire, and be sure that your stump isn't in reach of any flammable materials or structures that could be damaged by the fire. The most efficient way to burn out a stump is to build a makeshift open stove out of a large metal can or bucket, place the stove over a portion of the stump, let it burn for a time, then move it to another portion of the stump. Remove the charcoaled part of the stump after each fire and continue to whittle away at the stump. It will take some time and multiple fires, but in the end this is the most efficient and effective way to use fire for stump removal.

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Patience
Perhaps the most effective method is simply to exercise patience and let nature do its work. We're talking years here rather than weeks, but as mentioned before, few quick fixes are actually effective in removing tree and shrubbage stumps from your yard. If you want to accelerate decomposition, kick it off by drilling one inch holes in your stump and filling them with a high nitrogen fertilizer such as cow manure. Keep the stump and surrounding area damp and insulated (with a tarp, hay or other organic matter) and it will decompose a little bit faster than it would on its own. After the first year, shift from high nitrogen fertilizer to carbon based additives (i.e. granulated sugar) and you'll further accelerate the decomposition of the stump you're aiming to rid.

Grubbing
Grubbing doesn't refer to introducing small caterpillars to your stump, but is instead the industry term for good old manual labor. If you choose to grub, or dig out, your stump, there's a few basic rules to follow. First, dig a trench one to two feet out from the circumference of your stump and several feet deep. Once you've done this, begin working under the stump, severing roots and freeing the stump for removal. As you might guess, this can be grueling work, especially with large stumps or trees with large tap roots, such as pine and hickory, but if you're persistent and have the right tools, including a shovel, pick ax, and axe, you'll eventually succeed in getting that stump out of there.

Stump Grinders
While decomposition and grubbing are effective stump removal techniques, stump grinders are by far the most effective way to get rid of stumps, especially if you need it gone today. A stump grinder is a large piece of equipment that grinds the stump down to below the surface of the ground. Stump grinders can be rented, but most homeowners choose to hire an experienced arborist or landscaper to do this work for them. Grinding out a stump takes only an hour or two in most cases, but it isn't easy work and requires the willingness to use large power tools that most homeowners just aren't comfortable or experienced with.

If you're looking to remove stumps from your property, take into account the fact that the only truly effective methods of stump removal are patience or hard work. Don't be fooled into purchasing products that promise quick and easy stump removal, and keep in mind that hiring professional arborists, landscapers, or tree removal services are well worth the cost and is often the easiest way to get rid of an unsightly and unwanted tree stump in short order.

Matt Goering, formerly a carpenter and house painter, is a freelance writer for the home improvement industry who has published over 600 articles.