Tree Stump Removal

Once a tree is cut down and removed, the question of what to do with the stump arises.. The objective of the stump removal should first be clearly defined. The use of the area after stump removal needs to be assessed, since it may determine the extent of removal operations.

Once a live tree is cut down, the roots soon stop growing. There is no longer the stimulation from hormones produced in the canopy to encourage new growth of roots. In most cases, the roots stop growing within a matter of days or weeks, and usually die shortly after that. Some tree species develop root sprouts, however, pushing out new stems from the root system. If allowed to grow, these shoots will produce the hormones and the carbohydrates the roots need to survive. Simply mowing the sprouts as they develop will usually result in the final death of the root system within a few months or a year.

Removal Methods


There are several methods of removing tree stumps. Mechanical routing is the quickest method.. Stump grinding machines generally operate with a large flywheel equipped with cutting teeth. The operator moves the cutter head over the stump, grinding it away a little at a time. The machines currently avaiable come in many sizes, and some are designed to work in tight places. Efficiency of the grinding process is a factor of the size of the cutter head, the power of the machine, and the proficiency of the operator.


Other methods of stump removal depend mostly on the chemical decomposition of the wood. If left alone after tree removal, the stump will gradually decay in the ground, from natural fungus and bacteria. This process can take from one to many years, depending on the size of the stump, the species of tree, and the soil conditions. The process of decay can be encouraged by keeping the soil in the area moist. Piling soil or mulch over the stump encourages the decay fungus. The addition of some nitrogen fertilizer will also help speed the process a little. At best, this method may cut the decay time in half.

Commercial products have been marketed to dissolve tree stumps.. Most of these products claim rapid breakdown of the stump.. However, few, if any of these products dissolve the stump much faster than natural decay processes.


Digging the stump out is another removal option. Using large equipment such as a backhoe can accomplish the job efficiently, for smaller stumps. Hand digging the stump can be very difficult, even for the stumps of small trees. If hand removal is considered, the trunk of the tree should be left as tall as possible, to provide leverage to loosen and break the roots as the digging progresses.

It is not practical to remove all of the roots of a tree. In most cases, the main part of the stump is routed or dug out, leaving the smaller lateral roots in the ground to decay. The stump should be routed to a depth that will allow the proper function of the area: if turf is planned, the stump should be at least 8 to 12 inches below the ground level. If landscaping or replanting is anticipated, the stump should be removed to a deeper level, depending on the intended purpose. Some stump router machines can grind the stump to 24 inches deep, or more.

Contracted Services

When contracting with an arborist or tree service for stump routing, be sure to specify the depth and the extent of the grinding to be done. Cleanup should also be detailed. Determine how much cleamup the contractor is to do, and what will be done with the debris. Some options include piling the debris on the stump site, leveling the area and removing the excess debris, or removal of all debris and backfilling the hole with clean soil. Be sure these details are specified in writing, and the various costs clearly stated.

Small stump routing machines can be rented. These machines can be dangerous to operate, if the operator is not properly trained. Be sure to get the proper instruction before operating this type of equipment, and read and follow all safety warnings and precautions. Eye protection is required, along with other appropriate safety gear.

Stump removal is the final step in the removal of a tree. The method chosen to get rid of the stump will depend on the use of the area, and the time frame desired. Mechanical stump routing is fast and efficient, and may be well worth the cost. If the slower approach is acceptable, consider simply adding some fertilizer, then burying the stump in soil or mulch, and letting Nature do the job for you.

© Copyright 1996, Russell E. Carlson

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This page was last updated on June 11, 2003.