Ways to Remove a Tree Stump

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.

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6 Comments

  1. Jack Palmer, April 28:

    It’s good to know that, “…the only truly effective methods of stump removal are patience and hard work.” I can see why it would take a lot of work to remove a stump from the ground, especially if it’s larger. I’ll need to look more into this now that it’s spring time. Thanks for the help!

  2. Judy Wilson, May 16:

    Knowing about these stump removal methods will help me get a better idea of the best way I should remove my tree stump. It’s interesting that I can use a chemical additive to make it porous before trying to burn out my stump. Will this chemical affect the other plants in my yard? This seems like something I should know if it can affect my soil and surrounding plants.

  3. Jeff Curtis, May 20:

    Thanks for this helpful post on tree stump removal methods. I have some pretty large trees in my backyard that I am planning on having removed. It is good to know what my options are as far as methods for removing them goes. I didn’t know that there was a method to burn the stump with chemicals. That is pretty interesting. I will have to consult a professional to find the best method. Thanks for the help!

  4. David Hawkins, May 23:

    Stump grinding sounds like the technique I would need for my yard. I recently cut down a very large tree and the stump most likely won’t be easy to remove. I’ll have to talk to a service and see if they offer this solution. Thanks for the great advice and info!

  5. Colbert, July 19:

    Quite pleased to know that bar 1 there are no chemicals out there to destroy a stump. In Virginia the burn method is most often utilized. I believe the stump grinder method is by far best though possibly more costly. I had to remove a stump at least 3.5 in. diameter x 6.2″ tall and it’s very long reaching roots that extended underneath a concaved concrete drain. The stump was situated in the corner of an old weedy flowerbed which is right up against a brick foundation wall so I had very little wiggle room. It took 2 days but using everything I had handy including a kitchen butcherknife and scissors I managed to get under it, sever those roots and remove it. Whew! Took all my strength & messed up shoulders & lower back to this day!

    Then a home improvement store associate advised that I could use water conditioner salt versus rock salt. So I dug out around the remainder of the root down to the hardened clay dirt. Then I put plastic from those huge empty toilet tissue bags down to protect the foundation wall and pushed back dirt from any contact with the salt. Then poured in the water conditioner salt and poured water over that to activate the salt. Then civered the entire bed with clear and black plastic garbage bags to kill any growth of the root and weeds. Hoping this works! As of this date I have not checked the results but the associate assured me it would work.

  6. Luke, August 11:

    I grew up in the sticks. Used to remove stumps all the time. The easiest and most fun way to do it is to burn it out. I’m currently burning a stump out as I write. Yes, depending on how long you want to sit out by the fire, it may take 2 or 3 fires to remove a stump, but you can make an event out of it. Grab a cooler and some beers, and start burning. Put a fire directly on top of it. There are probably some roots growing out of the side into the ground, simply start shifting the fire over the roots and burn them out too. The best part about it is grass will start growing there in no time. No chemicals, no grinding and no digging. Grab a beer and have a fire! Cheers

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