3 tricks to removing stumps

By Michel RoyMichel Roy



Here’s the thing. There’s a stump where the new deck post should be, and you’re unwilling to redesign the deck and live with the stump. Well then, cottager, you have three options to get rid of it: a rental grinding machine (noisy and potentially dangerous), a chemical kick-start to natural decomposition (slow), or the manual labour of digging it out (arduous).

1. Induce rot: Slow but easy

A closely cut stump will rot away, eventually. You can speed the process by encouraging fungal growth; just don’t expect your stump to turn to mush by next spring. Drill deep holes into the top of the stump with a 3/4″ auger or spade bit. Pour in some nitrogen-rich fertilizer and top up with water. (Look for a high first number and low second and third numbers on the label: A 30-0-3 lawn fertilizer is ideal.) Cover the stump with mulch or dirt and keep it damp. Rotting out a stump does carry a risk: Unfriendly fungi could take hold, jeopardizing healthy trees nearby. Commercial stump-removal products (difficult to get in Canada because the chemicals can be used in explosives) often recommend burning out a stump after treatment, but the underground fire will smoulder for days, and your neighbours won’t appreciate the noise of circling water bombers when it gets out of hand.

2. Grind it out: Noisy, risky, and fast

Rent a small stump grinder (picture a Rototiller with a circ-saw blade) to quickly make mulch of stumps 6″ to 12″ across. Anything bigger will need a large self-propelled machine. These babies spin a massive toothed blade and are tricky to use on sloping or uneven ground. The large grinders are rare in rental yards, so you’ll probably have to hire a pro; even if you could find the machine, a pro would have the stump gone before you could finish the safety check.

3. Remove it by hand: Virtuous, cheap

If you’re not fitness-challenged or you have some under-motivated teenagers to occupy, you can remove a stump with muscle power. Begin by digging out as much of the soil as possible with 
a spade and a pick—a narrow drain spade gets right in between roots. Cut small roots with a bucksaw, but 
for anything larger, you’ll probably need a chainsaw. But first, blast the roots with a pressure washer to knock off dirt and rocks; you’ll save the chain and keep projectiles from smashing your windows. Don’t forget to scrub the underside of the roots.  If you left your ox team in the city, some heavy-duty webbing or tow line and a come-along secured to another tree can pull out a stump, once you’ve severed the roots. Try some basic physics too: Because a long lever multiplies force, you may be able to shift a massive stump with a log and a fulcrum. You can even gain leverage if you can get a jack, supported by a stout piece of lumber, under the stump. Just don’t cut any part of the stump while it’s under tension—the backlash is dangerous.


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Apr. 3, 2015

10:51 am

It seems like rotting a stump might be the safest and easiest method of getting rid of a tree stump. However, I am curious as to whether rotting it will affect the ground/soil around it? Also, is the high nitrogen substance harmful to pets? I wouldn't want to lost a family dog to the tree stump product. http://www.brandywinetree.net


Mar. 25, 2015

5:48 pm

These seem like great tips for removing a stump. I really liked the third tip. Removing a stump my muscle power is no easy task. That's what unmotivated teenagers are for. I have three boys under my roof who enjoy playing football and flipping over tires for exercise. I'm sure that removing a stump with their own bare hands should be an enticing challenge for them. In all seriousness though, I just might get a stump grinder to get rid of the stump that's been in my yard for the past ten years once and for all.


Jul. 1, 2013

7:19 pm

If you have not yet cut the tree, you have the opportunity to avoid having to deal with a stump if you follow the practice I've done when removing a big tree. Cut the tree as high as possible, 5 ft or so, above the ground level then get a person with a back hoe on a tractor to use the bucket to cut the roots near the stump then hook the bucket over the top of the stump and pull it over and then hook it under the back edge of the root ball and lift it out. Takes all of five minutes after the tree is down and you aren't dealing with stump problems for years after. The biggest tree I've used this for was a spruce with a 24 inch dia trunk that was too close to our house but it's only limitation would be the size of back hoe you need. We used a larger tractor unit and it had no trouble at all.


Jun. 29, 2013

5:52 pm

I have been faced with this problem many times and the answer was to use high pressure water and a 'Shopvac'. It made for easy clean up and disposal of the slurry and a totally exposed root system which could be cut away with ease and little damage to equipment. Just watch for the splash back from the pressure washer! You may be wise to wear protective equipment.

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