How to Remove a Tree Stump
A Guide to Removing Tree Stumps and Roots
When a tree is severely damaged or struck by disease, cutting it down is the safest option.
However, felling the tree might not solve all your problems. After the tree comes down, what remains is a stump. The stump might look dead and dormant, but left in place, it can wreak havoc on all sorts of nearby structures:
- Landscaping elements
- Underground pipes, cables, and wires
- Foundations of buildings
Don't leave a stump in your yard to cause damage. Learn how to keep your yard safe and clean by using a stump grinder to remove a stump and the roots surrounding it.
Is Tree Stump Removal Necessary?
Once you cut down a tree and all its leaves and branches, the tree should be dead, right?
Not quite. There’s still living tissue left behind in the stump and in any roots that remain. The roots can be especially problematic because they’re the parts that store a large portion of the tree’s energy.
The tree can use that energy to start regrowing shoots at ground level or just below it on the stump. In some species, shoots also can sprout from roots that lie shallow in the ground.
Left unchecked, stump sprouts and shoots usually grow in spots where you likely didn’t plan to establish trees. Not only that, but the shoots growing directly out of the stump often do so at unsafe angles that can pose risks once they get larger.
As the shoots and sprouts continue to develop, they push their developing root systems further underground. Because they’re developing in spots where you didn’t intend to grow a tree, these roots might begin pushing against pipes, cables, and even foundations, which they can crack or damage. They also can trip people walking through if they grow along the ground.
If your tree has an extensive root system that spreads throughout your property, you’ll need to be vigilant to catch and mow down any shoots that sprout far from the tree. However, stump removal can help stop some of the most troublesome shoots to prevent this in the first place.
How to Use a Stump Grinder to Remove Stumps
It is possible to dig out a stump manually, using several different tools:
- An ax or a hoe to sever the shallowest roots
- A shovel to dig around and below the stump and sever deeper roots
- A lever bar to pry and push the stump from the hole
However, removing a stump by hand is an extremely difficult, exhausting, and time-consuming task. A tree grinder can save you time and spare you some strain provided that you take key safety precautions before you work:
- Call 811. Always call your local utility locator service to mark buried cables and pipes before you dig with any kind of power equipment (required by law in some states)
- Use your stump grinder on flat, level ground where you have one to two feet of clearance on any side of the stump
- Wear proper safety gear, including safety glasses, hearing protection, closed-toed shoes, and long pants
- Read the stump grinder's product manual and review all safety requirements—a stump grinder should be used only by someone who is comfortable with power equipment and informed about its proper usage
With those tips in mind, it’s time to start digging.
1. Cut the Stump Low
Often when a tree is felled, the stump that’s left can stand close to two feet tall. However, grinding down a stump this tall isn't practical and would take an extremely long time, even with the most powerful stump grinder.
Use a chainsaw to cut the stump as close to the ground as you possibly can without either damaging the saw or putting your limbs at risk.
2. Apply an Herbicide to the Stump (Optional)
If you want to use an herbicide to reduce the chances of sprouts or shoots developing from far-reaching roots, the best time to apply it is immediately after the tree is felled.
Use a basic, inexpensive paintbrush to apply a broadleaf herbicide to the top of the stump. Applying it this way will allow it to be absorbed into the channels that will carry the herbicide into the roots.
Take care when using these herbicides, as the chemical sometimes can seep into the systems of other nearby trees. Wait several days for absorption before grinding the stump.
3. Start the Stump Grinder
Make sure you work with at least one partner nearby but have that person and anyone else present stand at least fifty feet away from the stump to reduce the chance of being struck by flying debris.
Bring the stump grinder’s cutting wheel against the stump and start the grinder with the throttle in the “low” position.
4. Clear the Stump
As the machine grinds, continue to reposition the cutting wheel across the stump by raising it a few inches and then slowly lowering it onto another portion of the stump’s surface.
Push the tree stump grinder closer to the developing hole as needed for the wheel to reach the wood. You should grind to a depth of about six to eight inches into the ground.
5. Clear Nearby Roots
Turn the throttle or grinding speed higher and start to gradually sweep the cutting wheel side to side and around the top and bottom edges of the hole. The goal is to widen the hole by a few inches and grind away any roots remaining in the immediate area.
Turn the throttle down and slowly bring the grinding wheel to a stop. Shut off the grinder before backing it out of the hole.
6. Fill the Hole
In addition to keeping people who walk across the property safe, filling the hole where your stump used to be blocks sunlight from reaching any living tissue that still might be left.
Several kinds of material can be used as fill:
- Wood chips
The choice depends on how natural or manicured you want your landscape to look.
Other Ways of Dealing With Stumps
You also can get rid of tree stumps by drilling several holes into the top of the stump and filling them with Epsom salt and water or a specially formulated tree stump removal liquid that will cause the stump to decompose. However, not everyone wants to use chemicals in their landscaping or wait a month for Epsom salt or a liquid stump remover to take effect.
A similar method involves filling the drilled holes with saltpeter and water, letting that mixture soak into the wood, saturating the stump with kerosene, and then burning the stump. This method has several disadvantages:
- A stump can burn for hours, even a couple of days in some cases, and can pose a safety risk
- Local ordinances might prohibit stump burning
- Roots and the subterranean part of the stump will remain, requiring you to do more work to dig out what's left
Alternatively, you can leave the stump in place. Some people choose this option because they want to leave a natural habitat for animals or they simply like the rustic look. However, you must take care to actively remove sprouts and shoots from your property. Otherwise, the tree will continue to grow, and the damage mentioned earlier will continue to be a risk.
But if you want to prevent damage to nearby structures and give yourself a new patch of fertile soil where plants can grow, use a stump grinder to get rid of that stump once and for all.