Are You Stumped?

Removing Your Old Stumps May Be Simpler Than You Think

Are You Stumped?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

By Mark M. Hall – We have had plenty of old tree stumps on our tiny farm over the years. In fact, there have been as many as a dozen stumps scattered all around the property at one time. Some stand out like a sore thumb, while others are nearly hidden, especially when I’m mowing. No worries, though. The lawn tractor has found them on numerous occasions. Some stumps can be pleasantly incorporated into a particular landscaping scheme, but that is not our desire. Wishing to maximize our yard space instead, we seek to remove them completely in a practical way that does not break the bank or our mower! Following are four basic stump removal methods that can fit into those parameters.   

We have had plenty of old tree stumps on our tiny farm over the years. In fact, there have been as many as a dozen stumps scattered all around the property at one time. Some stand out like a sore thumb, while others are nearly hidden, especially when I’m mowing. No worries, though. The lawn tractor has found them on numerous occasions. Some stumps can be pleasantly incorporated into a particular landscaping scheme, but that is not our desire. Wishing to maximize our yard space instead, we seek to remove them completely in a practical way that does not break the bank or our mower! Following are four basic stump removal methods that can fit into those parameters.   

First, a stump can be dug out of the ground, though I must insert a caveat. Unless one is digging with mechanical machinery, such as a backhoe, I would strongly recommend that this method be used with exceedingly small stumps only. A few years ago, I dug up a 16” diameter stump with only an ax, a shovel, and a spud bar. Although my herculean efforts were eventually successful, the overall experience was decidedly negative. Spending three full days of paid vacation digging, root-chopping, and prying on one stump was quite ridiculous and tiring! At least the procedure was supremely cost-effective (free, in fact), and I enjoyed a high degree of satisfaction and relief when I was finished. I was even able to stand up straight after a couple of days.   

Another stump removal method is to simply burn it. To do so, many holes must be drilled into the top surface of the stump, no more than two inches apart. The holes should be, at minimum, one inch in diameter by six inches deep. Additionally, many of them should be drilled from the outside of the stump, angling down toward the center. By connecting with some from the top surface, much-needed oxygen will be introduced to the fire.

Kerosene is then poured into the upper holes and allowed to fully soak into the wood for one week. After this time, any leaves and all other flammable material are removed from the area, and fire is set to the stump. It should burn for the next few hours, so it is important to stay somewhere nearby with the garden hose close at hand as a precaution. After the fire goes out, the stump can be chopped up, removed, and replaced with soil.   

A third method for removing stumps is to accelerate their decomposition naturally by turning them into compost. To do so, the framework for a small, wooden bin is built around the stump and covered with wire mesh (a five-gallon barrel placed over the top of the stump works just as well). Inside, a layer of carbon material, such as shredded leaves, straw, or wood chips should be piled onto and around the stump. Nitrogen-rich material, such as old coffee grounds, grass clippings, or tea leaves, is then added. Finally, the same layering is done once more, and the whole clump is moistened, although not saturated. The process should be continued whenever new material is acquired, and the pile should be stirred every week. This approach can take a few years to complete, but the stump is eventually turned into soft, black organic material, ready for fertilizing the garden or the flower beds.   

The fourth stump removal method features the use of a gas-powered stump grinder. With its sharp grinding wheel, it is highly effective at reducing a stump to a mere pile of sawdust in a short length of time. This convenience does indeed come at a considerably higher cost, with daily rental fees ranging from $125 to $250, plus a refundable deposit. However, the total expenditure can be reduced dramatically with a little more work and the willingness of a few neighbors to pay for the removal of their own stumps.

For example, in one morning, an individual can pay a $250 rental fee, bring the stump grinder home, and quickly chop up his/her own stump(s). Then, after lunch, a strategic trip through the neighborhood can be made, chopping the stumps of others at, perhaps, $50/stump. If four neighbors have only one stump each, the individual will return the stump grinder to the store that evening with a net outlay of only $50! While this plan can necessitate a lengthy search, it is certainly possible for a well-planned strategy to make this method viable for those of us on a tight budget. It also provides a great way to meet many of your neighbors.   

Do you have unwanted stumps? Have you been wondering how in the world to get rid of them yourself? As you can see, it should not be a problem, so don’t “stump” around, worrying about it. You have many options, and the costs are not prohibitive. Decide which removal method is best for your situation, and then go take them out! You’ll be glad you did, and so will your mower!   

Originally published in the May/June 2021 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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