How to Remove a Tree Stump – 4 effective ways

What can be more laborious than cutting down a tree? It’s removing a tree stump.

According to some research, tree roots can extend out well beyond the branch spread. In some cases, they penetrate to great depths, depending on the species of trees involved and the factors affecting their growth.

Unless you want to leave the tree stump to decompose naturally (which I’m pretty sure will take three to seven years to decay on its own), you wouldn’t want your front yard to look unsightly by its mere presence. If you want to keep it for a while, one remedy is to make an artwork out of it to add beauty to your surroundings, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But that wouldn’t be practical in the long run.

Rotten tree stump becomes home to a variety of insects like carpenter ants, wood-boring beetles, termites, and other pests. The decaying matter can pose health concerns or disease to other live trees nearby; they attract wood-destroying insects that could potentially damage your home or any building and can cause diseases that may result in killing plants and trees close to it.

While tree stump removal can be quite difficult, it is workable. All you need to do is to use the right method or technique to extract the tree stump to its roots. For that reason, I put together this tutorial so you can choose from any of the practical options available.

So let’s get started.

4 Ways to Remove a Tree Stump

Option # 1. Use Chemical Stump Remover/Killer

If you want a less strenuous and inexpensive way of getting rid of a tree stump, using chemicals is the way to go. Rather than waiting for the pesky stump to rot naturally, you use a chemical stump remover to speed up the process.  However, it could take some time to complete the stump removal process, especially if you’re dealing with a large stump or freshly cut stumps. You’ll need to wait at least a month, or in some cases, years, to see results.

Recommended Tools and Equipment:

  • An ax or shovel
  • A chainsaw
  • Power drill

Other Materials:

  • Chemical stump remover
  • Garden mulch (optional)
  • Plastic tarp (optional)
  • Safety gear such as work gloves, goggles, and steel toe boots
  • Protective clothing

Steps to Remove a Tree Stump Using Chemicals

  1. Cut off the stump as low to the ground as possible using your chainsaw. Be sure to put on your protective gear like safety goggles and steel toe boots.
  2. Drill holes through what is left. Drill several holes using a large drill bit (at least 3/8 of an inch in diameter) on top of the stump. Try to drill them down at least eight to 10 inches deep. Space them evenly so the chemicals can easily penetrate the holes.
    Drill holes through what is left
    Drill holes through what is left / Screen captured from YouTube courtesy of Ozgur Coskun
  3. Choose your chemical stump remover. Chemicals accelerate the natural decaying process of tree stumps so it would be a lot easier to eradicate it. While you can use any chemical stump remover available in the market, the most commonly used one is potassium nitrate (KNO3). Other alternatives include:
    • Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) contains magnesium and sulfur, which are beneficial to plants’ survival. But if used in excess, they can killplants and weeds. When used on a tree stump, Epsom salt will dry out the root system and prevent it from absorbing the moisture and nutrients it needs to live.
    • Picloram – a liquid herbicide that kills or damages annual and perennial broadleaf herbs and woody plants. However, a product with this substance should be used with caution because picloram and its derivatives can be highly toxic when inhaled and can cause severe eye damage.
    • Triclopyr – An herbicide that’s used for freshly cut stumps to prevent its regrowth.

    Whether you’re using stump remover in powder or granules, add hot water to dissolve the product. Read the directions of the product carefully to know how much water to use. Don’t over-dilute; otherwise, it may not work properly or quickly.

  4. Apply the stump remover. Pour the stump remover liberally into each hole. Make sure that they get as deeply into the stump as possible.  Then, drench the soil around the tree stump with water.

    Additional tip: You may cover the stump with a plastic tarp, and then cover the tarp with organic mulch to keep moisture in and make the rotting process faster.

    Apply the stump remover
    Apply the stump remover / captured from YouTube courtesy of Ozgur Coskun

    Once chemicals are applied, keep your children and pets away from the area. Chemicals are dangerous if ingested, so make sure they don’t go near them.

  5. Monitor the progress. Check the stump from time to time. You may need to soak the area again to help retain moisture. The stump should look spongy within four to six weeks. By then, you can start removing it. 
  6. Chop up the softened stump. Use an ax or a shovel to cut the softened stump into pieces. Keep going until you’ve fairly flattened the stump.
  7. Burn the rest. Typically, it’s not possible to completely get rid of the stump by using this method, so you might need to soak the remaining stump in kerosene and let it sit for several weeks. When the kerosene has been completely absorbed, build a fire over the remaining porous wood and let it burn down.
  8. Fill the hole with loam soil or another filler. After the fire goes out, all that will be left is a hole with some ashes and the roots where the stump once stood. Dig them out and replace them with loam or sawdust. Keep adding more material over the next few months until the ground stays level.

Option #2: Remove Stump by Hand

If you’re dealing with small to medium-sized tree trunks in your yard, the manual removal method can do the trick. Although it’s labor-intensive, is more inexpensive than using chemicals.

Remove Stump by Hand
Remove Stump by Hand / captured from YouTube courtesy of Greg the Gardener

Recommended Tools:

  • Saw ( hand saw, reciprocating saw, or chainsaw)
  • Digging bar
  • Ax
  • Mattock or shovel
  • Shovel
  • Sledgehammer

Other Materials

  • Safety gear such as work gloves, goggles, and steel toe boots
  • Protective clothing

Steps to Manually Remove a Tree Stump

  1. Dig around the roots. Using the broad end of the mattock or a shovel, keep digging around the stump and remove the loosened dirt until you’ve exposed all of the major roots around the tree.
    Dig around the roots
    Dig around the roots / Screen captured from YouTube courtesy of Greg the Gardener
  2. Cut through the taproots. Use either an ax or a root saw to cut the roots into pieces. If some roots are still embedded, use a hoe to pull them out of the ground. Make more cuts if necessary until you’ve removed all of the taproots, then pull out anything that’s left.
  3. Dislodge the stump. After all or most of the roots have been cut off and pulled, you can now twist the tree stump around and pull it out of the soil surface. Chop them into manageable pieces to be used for cooking purposes or add them to your compost pile if you wish.
  4. Fill in the hole. When the stump is successfully removed down to its roots, you’ll be left with a large dent at that spot in your yard. The next thing to do is to fill up the hole with loam or sawdust to prevent the ground around the hole from collapsing. Keep adding material to the area every few months until the affected area becomes firm and flat.

Option #3: Burn the Stump

Burn the Stump
Burn the Stump / Screen captured from YouTube courtesy of The Neals’ Homestead

The burning technique can be used alongside any of the two stump removal methods I mentioned earlier.  That said, when a tree stump is not entirely removed using a chemical or through manual labor, your next option would be to burn the residue.

However, this method can also be used primarily for some trees that are rot-resistant, which means those species of trees that don’t decay at all. This is also one of the inexpensive methods for removal; however, you should only try this if the stump is far from any structures like homes or barns and if burning is allowed in your neighborhood. In this case, check if it’s legal to have open fires in your area. You may also consult with the local fire department to make sure it’s permissible to burn your stump.

 Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Power drill
  • Kerosene or fuel oil
  • Alternative materials: a tree stump removal product (i.e. potassium nitrate), hot water, and chopped up woods
  • Protective clothing like gloves, goggles, and steel toe boots

Steps to Burn the Stump

  1. Drill holes in the stump. Using a drill with a large bit, bore some holes in the stump, which should be roughly 8 inches (20 cm) to 10 inches (25 cm) deep or far enough down to reach the roots. Make as many holes as you can but space them evenly. Then clear the debris out of each hole after you finished drilling.
  2. Soak the tree stump with kerosene or fuel oil. Pour the kerosene or fuel oil liberally into the holes to penetrate the wood. Leave it for a week until the stump is soaked up with kerosene or fuel before burning it.Alternatively, you can sprinkle your stump removal product (i.e. potassium nitrate) into the holes. Next, pour hot water into each hole to dissolve the potassium nitrate and help distribute the product throughout the stump.  This makes the entire structure more flammable. Then build a wood fire on top of the stump and surround it with more wood.
    Soak the tree stump with kerosene or fuel oil
    Soak the tree stump with kerosene or fuel oil / Screen captured from YouTube courtesy of Filipino Cooking Channel and Filipino Fitness
  3. Set the tree stump on fire and let it burn. It will take several hours to burn the stump. Don’t leave it until the flame smolders. When it’s nearly finished, you can cover it with topsoil to help put out any remnants of the fire
  4. Fill the hole.Replace the ash with loam or sawdust. Keep adding matter to the area when it sinks every few months.

Option #4: Use a Stump Grinder

If you have a larger stump in your area, or multiple old tree stumps to remove, removing them with a stump grinder is the most practical thing to do. You don’t have to buy your stump grinder because you can rent it at your local home improvement store. The rental fee usually ranges from 50$ to $200 depending on the size and/ or the number of stumps you’ll have to remove.

Use a Stump Grinder
Use a Stump Grinder / Screen captured from YouTube courtesy of The Home Depot

One thing about stump grinders is that they’re big machines that can weigh around 1,000 pounds. These machines can be a challenge to operate and you need to have a strong back to be able to operate them yourself. You also need to have proper safety gear and attire to avoid harming yourself in the process.

On the other hand, if you’d prefer to not run the grinder yourself, you might want to hire someone with the machine to do the job for you.

Recommend Tools and Equipment:

  • Stump grinder
  • Shovel
  • Mattock
  • Rake
  • Chainsaw

Other Materials Needed:

  • Safety goggles
  • Heavy-duty work clothes
  • Workboots
  • Gloves
  • Ear protectors

How to Remove a Tree Stump With a Stump Grinder

  1. Prep yourself with protective gear. Because you’re using a heavy-duty machine, you’ll need to protect yourself from the loud noise and flying debris. Put on your hearing and eye protectors as well as heavy-duty work clothes.
  2. Clear the area around the tree stump. Toss the dirt, debris, and rocks away from the tree stump using your mattock or shovel. You may also dig a furrow around the stump to easily collect wood chips.
  3. Cut as much of the stump as possible. If the stump is tall, cut the stump to ground level using your chainsaw.
  4. Position the grinder over the stump. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, place the stump grinder above the stump. You might need to adjust the handlebars at a height you’re most comfortable with.
    Position the grinder over the stump
    4. Position the grinder over the stump / Screen captured from YouTube courtesy of The Home Depot
  5. Start the engine. The machine will grind the stump’s surface and work its way down into the ground to grind up the roots. You’ll need to move the stump grinder around the circumference of the stump to take care of the aerial roots as well.
  6.  Fill the hole. Replace the grindings with loam or sawdust to fill the hole. Continue adding matter to the area as it depresses over time.

So, what’s the best method?

There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to the best remedy for removing tree stumps. Each method or technique can be a feasible solution to choose from, but you have to consider certain factors like the potential dangers, proximity to other plants, trees, and building structures like homes, and of course, your budget.

The bottom line is: Whatever method you use, always follow safety precautions to avoid any potential dangers. When burning a stump is allowable, don’t leave the fire unattended to avoid spreading it and causing unnecessary damage to property or alarm in the neighborhood. When using chemicals, be careful in applying them to safeguard surrounding plants and trees. When using heavy-duty tools and equipment like a chainsaw, power drill, or stump grinder, always wear proper protective gear.

What stump removal method works for you? Don’t hesitate to leave any comment, suggestion, or information to help us improve this tutorial.

Nicolas Wayne

Gardening and lawn care enthusiast

Nicolaslawn
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