Eradicating Tree Stumps

Details on a variety of methods for getting rid of tree stumps after cutting down trees. June 14, 2014

This spring, summer and fall I'll be cutting down several healthy trees for personal woodworking projects. Should I cut the stump right at ground level? Should I also use a heavy-duty stump chipper to completely chop up the roots, remove the root debris and cover the area with fresh dirt and plant grass seed? Would it be okay to leave the stump at ground level, but soak the stump with a powerful insect repellent, or perhaps a thick coat of tar, so that termites, carpenter ants, and wood-boring beetles don't become a problem? Any thoughts or input will be greatly appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Forestry Forum)
From contributor F:
The closer to the ground you cut the more wood you get to use. Too close to the ground you run the risks of running the blade through sand and soil that will blunt it, and the more vulnerable both you and your saw are to injury if things go wrong. Felling on anything but level ground has concomitant safety problems, some of which are unforeseeable. Bugs (and fungii) of all kind play a vital role in the reduction of cellulose to nutrients that can be utilized by future generations of plants whether that be trees that volunteer or grass that you plant.

From contributor A:
Termites are your friends (unless those trees are real close to your house, and especially if your house is older with no termite caps on the footers). That being said if you want to make the stump decompose faster drill some one inch holes into the stump, pour in some saltpeter (Potassium Nitrate) and cork the holes. On most stumps this method will cause the stump to rot faster.

From contributor K:
Cut the stump as low as reasonably possibly, drill 4-5, 1" holes per square foot of the stump, get some Rot-It or some other brand name product from your local garden center, leave it for one-two years and then rent the stump grinder. These stump grinders are brutal to run. After a year or so you can grind these down without injuring yourself and in about 1/4 or less time.

From contributor A:
Most of these hardware store products are potassium nitrate (aka saltpeter). You just pay more for the same stuff!

From contributor S:
Cut them closer to the ground after the trees are felled. Then call a stump grinding service and have them ground at least six inches below grade. Remove about half of the remaining dirt/wood chip mess and replace with clean topsoil and overseed to match your lawn (weeds in my case).

There are a ton of stump grinding services out there, from one man shows to major tree services and landscapers. You will be happy if you shop around to see who is hungry. Ask about alternatives in the scope of work, like stump height before they start and how deep they go (I recommend at least six from your anticipated final grade after any other landscaping and I also recommend at least two inches of clean top soil before seeding). Ask about removal of some of the spoil and trucking in better top soil and even if they want the whole project from felling to mowing the new lawn once a week.

From the original questioner:
The guy who cut the tree said that he had trouble keeping the stump slices from cracking if he wanted to make a stool or clock. The tree was alive up to about 10' - on up it had been split by an ice-storm.

From contributor A:
You can also burn stumps that have been treated with salt peter, as above. It burns best if you wait about a year. It also seems to burn better if you cover with a bottomless and topless barrel that will fit over the stump. It kind of acts like a chimney. Don't burn your house down!

From contributor X:
I've investigated all the methods posted here and I didn't like any of them. First off if you cut the stumps down to the ground they are difficult as heck to remove later. Only cut them to grade level if you intend to later stump grind. If that is the case then stump rot from your box store will make them rot in about one year if you drill the 1" holes in them and pour it in. Stump grinders aren't cheap to rent and a bear to use. The best option, and the one I did was rent a 331 Mini Excavator. Most machinery rental places have them. They aren't very difficult to operate. If you can drive a bobcat (and anyone can) you'll have no problem with the excavator. Call dig safe before you dig to locate utilities.

Digging out the stumps is the best option. The stump on the ground is the tip of the iceberg. What is under grade is an enormous mass of wood that will take forever to rot out. If you rip the stumps out with the excavator you'll free up all that soil and be ready to plant in the very spot the stump came from. This really is the best option

Digging stumps down by hand so you can stump grind them is an intensely laborious proposition. I hope you love digging and are in exceedingly good shape. Because to dig down more than two or three stumps (12" or more down) in order to grind them out is nearly impossible for most people. Trust me, use the heavy machinery and rip them out. Work smarter - not harder!