If a prior owner started getting rid of trees in your backyard but didn't finish the job, you may be left with unsightly tree stumps. Lots of people want to know an easy way to get rid of stumps, but there is no magic bullet for this. Stump removal isn't easy, and it may be worth your money to bring in an expert. In some cases, however do-it-yourself stump removal is possible.
How to Remove a Tree Stump
If you are looking for a one-size-fits-all stump removal product or technique, you will be disappointed. There are as many types of tree stumps as there are trees, with different root systems. For example, trees like pines have wide, flat root systems, while many others, like those in the oak family, anchor their weight with deep roots including a tap root that goes straight down for a long way. To complicate matters, the age of the stump can also impact the ease or difficulty of removal.
Nature solves this problem by the natural stump rotting process. Over time, dead tree stumps disintegrate and become part of the soil, nourishing other trees in the process. But this can take years and not everyone is willing to wait. The common methods used to take out tree stumps include removing them entirely or speeding up the disintegration process. Each may be appropriate in some situations.
Taking Out a Tree Stump
If you've got a small pine tree stump (or the stump of another shallow-rooted tree species) in your backyard, you may be able to dig it out manually with a shovel and hoe. The idea is to dig down until you expose roots, then cut them off with a hand lopper or garden saw and pull them out. The roots can go on the compost pile to help enrich your soil later.
This doesn't work if the stump is from a large tree or one with a long, deep taproot. For small or medium stumps, you can try renting a skid steer machine and popping out the stump. To physically remove bigger or deep-rooted stumps, you may need to call in an arborist with a backhoe. This is effective but has several important downsides. It makes a mess of your yard and also costs quite a bit.
Hastening the Stump's Demise
If you decide against physically removing the stump, you can try to speed up nature's disintegration process in one of several ways. Stump grinders are machines that actually grind down the exterior portion of the stump until the stump top is below ground level by six inches or more. The good thing is that you can rent a stump grinder and do this yourself, adding the grindings to the compost pile. But this has obvious risks to your health and safety. Be sure you know how to use the machine and wear all suggested safety gear and equipment. Or better yet, hire an arborist to do the work. They generally charge by the inch.
Another way to hurry along the stump rot process is by using chemicals to break down the wood. Essentially, you buy chemicals at your local garden center to speed up the rotting. Usually, you drill a series of holes in the stump and pour in the chemicals. It will still take quite a while for the stump to decompose. One chemical frequently used for this is epsom salts, also known as magnesium sulfate.
Finally, if your local officials say it's okay, you can use fire to decompose the stump wood. Basically, this involves setting a fire on top of the stump and keeping it burning for hours until the stump turns to ash.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. A professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler has written about home and garden for Gardening Know How, San Francisco Chronicle, Gardening Guide and Go Banking Rates. She earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.