How to Remove a Tree Stump with Stump Grinding or Other Methods

If you had a professional tree service remove that oak for you, then they probably offered to deal with the stump as well. It’s not uncommon for arborists to perform tree stump grinding when they haul away a tree. But for whatever reason, you turned down the offer, and now you’re regretting it.

Tree Stumps Can Cause More Harm Than You Realize

The truth is, that stump can be hazardous!

If you’re a homeowner in Denver with a tree stump in your yard, then you may have some questions about what risks it poses and why you should do something about it, such as:

  • Why should I get rid of my stump?
  • What do I do with that space?
  • How do I get rid of my stump?
  • What do I need to know before I begin?
  • Can I get rid of my stump myself?

Tree stump grinding involves heavy equipment and, as such, it can be dangerous. You should always consider hiring a professional instead of taking on the job alone. While we offer tips for tackling the job yourself, we also offer a note of caution. Fielding Tree Care believes in safety first. We urge you to further educate yourself about stump removal before attempting it. Any reader who undergoes stump removal on their own using this information is assuming liability for their own actions. If you have any questions or would like to talk to a Fielding Tree Care certified arborist, then we encourage you to reach out.

Why Your Tree Stump Needs to Go

Aside from being an eyesore, your tree stump could threaten your yard and home. 

Tree Stumps Attract Pests

Tree stumps attract wood-eating pests, like carpenter ants and termites. When these pests are done with your stump, they’ll start looking for a new food source in your other trees or even your house. Tree stumps can also attract issues like fungi that could be poisonous to other plants and wildlife. That said, some mushrooms could also be a natural part of the decomposition process and are not always cause for alarm.

Tree Stumps Can Keep Growing

Stumps may also keep the former tree’s root system alive, allowing it to continue to grow. These roots could impact the structures like foundations, driveways, or sidewalks as well as sap nutrients from the soil needed by other plants. If the roots are close to the soil, then they and the stump itself could be challenging to mow around. Tree stumps can also sprout suckers which may eventually lead to new tree trunks that are not structurally sound. These poorly attached “sucker” trunks are more likely to fail in stressful weather situations and cause harm.

Tree Stumps Can Take a While to Decompose

If you do nothing, then your tree stump will eventually decompose. However, this could take several years. How quickly the stump decomposes may depend on the size of the stump, the type of tree that it was, pests, environment, and other additional factors.

How to Remove a Tree Stump

The number one way to rid yourself of a tree stump, and the way we’ll be discussing in the most detail here, is to have the stump ground. However, if you’re concerned about the cost of renting stump grinding equipment or paying for a professional, then you could use chemical decomposition as an alternative, but less effective or efficient, method.

Chemicals to Speed Up Decomposition

You can help your tree stump rot more quickly by dosing it with chemicals. This method is only effective for a stump that has already begun to dry out and decompose. Start by drilling several holes in the stump about 10 inches deep. Fill the holes with a mixture containing potassium nitrate, which is used to burn the wood. You can buy tree stump removal chemicals specifically tailored for the job. Fill the holes with water to dissolve the chemical and wait. This will speed along the stump’s decay. It could take several months for the stump to decay enough for you to effectively chip it away and dig it out. Remember that some chemicals can pose a risk to you and the surrounding environment.

Leftovers Can Cause Problems

Finally, if you fail to fully rid yourself of the trunk, you’ll continue to have the same problems and risks listed above. Unfortunately, you may put a lot of effort and sweat into a stump removal without achieving your desired results.

Tree Stump Grinding

Grinding is the fastest and most effective way of removing a tree stump. It involves essentially mulching and breaking up the stump using a large machine with a toothed wheel called a stump grinder. Although it is most effective, it can be extremely dangerous if you’re not properly prepared. There are several precautionary steps to be addressed prior to stump grinding to make sure you are completing your goals safely.

How to Prepare for Tree Stump Grinding

First, decide how deeply you want to grind the stump. Shallow or surface stump grinds go down roughly six inches below the surface grade of the area. This will get the job done, removing the stump and some surface roots. However, it doesn’t leave as much room for fresh soil, making it harder to grow grass or more substantial plants in that area. A deeper stump grind goes about 20 inches below the surface of the immediate area. 

Next, you’ll want to get the lay of the land beneath the surface, especially if you’re planning for a deeper grind. How close is the stump to major buildings? Are there any irrigation lines, wires, or pipes that could get in the way? The last thing you want is to discover you have a nearby electrical line because you dig through it. If you’re not sure, then call the Utility Notification Center of Colorado (811). They can help you find out if there’s anything buried there.

Finally, ask yourself how accessible the stump is. Many homeowners in Colorado have 36-inch wide gates, which can be an impediment to large machinery. Where the stump is located could affect what kind of grinder you or an arborist can use. Hiring a reputable company should take all of this off your hands. We take care of the entire process from site assessment, to utility line markings, and all the way through clean up.

Additional Considerations for Stump Grinding

Technically, you can rent a stump grinder, haul it home, and get the job done. However, this can be confusing, costly and dangerous. You’ll want to think about what kind of grinder you want to use, what other equipment you’ll need, and how to actually remove the stump. Additionally, you will need access to a truck that can haul a large stump grinder back and forth from a rental location.

Types of Tree Stump Grinders

There are several different stump grinders out there. If you’re renting one, you’ll probably end up with a handlebar grinder of some sort. These grinders look a little like toothy lawnmowers. You’ll hold onto the handle and gradually advance the grinder as it works on the stump. There are also vertical stump grinders that attach to larger machines in which a driver sits. These are significantly more substantial, making them costlier to rent and harder to get home. 

Finally, there are track stump grinders. These middle-of-the-road grinders are larger than handlebar grinders and don’t require you to push them to advance the grinding mechanism. Instead, you stand behind a set of controls and direct the grinding from there.

Most of the grinders readily available for rent through a hardware store are not designed to tackle stumps larger than about 10 inches in diameter. Take note of how large the stump is and make sure to consider the spread out surface roots as well. Many homeowners find themselves in an extremely frustrating situation when the rented machine doesn’t match up to their project needs.

Other Necessary Equipment

In addition to the grinder, you’ll want several other pieces of safety equipment, including heavy boots (preferably with steel toes), pants, long sleeves, safety goggles, and ear plugs. These, plus fuel for the grinder, should factor into your cost estimate.

How to Use a Stump Grinder to Remove the Stump

Once you have everything you need, it’s time to start grinding. Since you’re most likely to end up with a handlebar grinder, we’ll focus on those. Use a shovel or similar tool to remove rocks on top of and around the stump. Rocks can get stuck in the grinding mechanism and cause damage. You may use a chainsaw to trim the stump down lower to the ground. This is not necessary, but it could help speed up the process. Remember to relocate or shield anything fragile in the area. A kicked up rock could take out that nearby house window and ruin your day quickly.

Raise the grinder a few inches above the stump in a manner according to that grinder’s directions and begin. Slowly lower the grinder as it spins. Dig down a few inches, raise it, advance, and repeat. When you’re finished, rake up the wood debris to fill the crater left by the grinder. Empty craters are safety hazards.

Replanting After Stump Removal

Stumps can negatively impact the value of your home, while new growth could give it a boost. If you’re getting rid of a stump, you may want to plant something else to fill the empty space. However, it’s not as simple as just putting a sapling where the stump used to be. There are some things you’ll want to consider before planting that new tree.

Don’t plant that new tree directly where the old one used to be. In fact, if you can avoid doing it in the same area entirely, that would be best. The soil has likely been stripped of nutrients by the old root system. However, if you’ve got limited options and you must plant the new tree near the old root system, aim to make it at least a few feet away from the old stump – more if the tree was large.

You also want to help the old root system die. Dig up as much of it as you can. Consider waiting a year or two to give it time to further decompose. If the old root system is too healthy, then it will compete with the new tree for resources. The old root system and any remaining stump material could also negatively impact the new plant’s root development due to soil compaction and a lack of space.

Finally, think about what killed the other tree. If it was a disease of some kind, then choose a new tree that won’t be affected by the same condition. For Colorado, it helps to consider trees that are well-suited to dry climates as under-watering can also affect tree health.

Hire a Certified Arborist

There are no two ways about it, stump grinding is dangerous and messy. Doing it improperly or incompletely could risk your health and safety, lead to the spread of harmful pests, and severely damage your property. Additionally, correctly removing a stump has a lot of steps. Hiring a professional takes every step of the process off your shoulders. Between renting equipment, calling 811, and the clean-up, there’s a lot to complete in order to finally say goodbye to that stump. Not to mention the risks associated with using stump grinders!

Fielding Tree Care offers year-round tree stump grinding services, starting with a complimentary on-site estimate. Schedule yours with our team today and make your stump removal safe, smart, and simple.