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How to remove tree stumps

Tree stumps in the garden can be left where they are, removed yourself or ground out by a professional. As Scott Howfield from Simply Stumps explains, a number of factors will determine the best course of action.

Location of the tree stump

Apart from being unsightly, a stump can be inconveniently located too. It might stop you from easily cutting the lawn, for example, meaning that removal is the best option.

Alternatively, a stump close to a building or fence could be problematic if the tree has an extensive root system. Contact a professional for advice in these circumstances.

Type of tree stump

A tree stump left to its own devices can harbour a number of root diseases. The most notorious is called honey fungus. This fungal disease uses the tree stump as a food source and can attack other trees and woody plants nearby.

Honey fungus

Trees susceptible to honey fungus include: apple; birch; cedars; cherries (flowering); cypresses; eucalyptus; leylandii; lilac; monkey puzzle; privet; walnut; wellingtonia; willow.

Trees which show resistance to honey fungus include: ash; bamboos; box elder; beech; cherry laurel; Californian black walnut; false acacia; grand fir; hornbeam; junipers; larch; noble fir; oaks; whitebeam; yew.

'Some tree stump removal companies will overstate the threat of honey fungus to pressurise customers into removing a stump. The truth is, if a tree has honey fungus, it will be difficult to get rid of. Once it's in the ground, it'll stay there even when the stump is removed,' says Scott.

'Removing the stump will, however, reduce the energy or food source which the fungus is using and may slow the spread.'

Also, honey fungus will not attack everything in the garden. It tends only to attack trees that are already weak.

Size of tree stump

Five inches or smaller in diameter

'If you’ve only got a small tree stump, up to five inches in diameter, you can try digging it out. This is the best way to get rid of a stump – it will remove most of the root system, it shouldn’t grow back and you’re left with an area which you can replant straight away,' says Scott.

Use a mattock. These can be bought from a DIY store for around £15. 'It looks like a pick axe, but it has a flat blade on one side,' says Scott.

'The stump should be left high, around four feet, so you have some leverage. You’ll need to chop around the outside and then cut the roots out.'

Larger than five inches in diameter

Call a stump grinding professional.

'Many customers ask me to come and help because they’ve had a go and have been unable to do it. It might only be a stump that’s a foot wide but, under the ground, the root system can be extensive making it a tough job.

'A stump that you might spend all weekend trying to remove unsuccessfully can be ground in 10 minutes by a professional," says Scott.

The resulting woodchips are usually left behind and can be used as mulch around the garden. If preferred, most stump grinders will take the woodchips away for an additional fee. Damage to the ground is minimal.

Tree stump removal myths

Searching online for DIY ways to remove tree stumps brings up some suggestions that are plain silly and others that are incredibly dangerous. Having seen it all, Scott dispels the myths:

1. Paint-on chemicals to make the stump rot quickly
Scott says: 'There’s a myth about a chemical which can be painted onto a tree stump in order to speed up the rotting process. This product does not exist. I suspect it is being confused with a poison sold in garden centres to kill the stump, preventing it from re-shooting at the base.'

2. Nitrate fertiliser to make the stump rot more quickly
Scott says: 'Drilling holes in a stump and filling them with nitrate fertiliser might shave 12 months from a process which takes many years.'

3. Burning the stump with kerosene
Scott says: 'Another myth! Trying to burn a stump results in it becoming 'seasoned' (dried and hardened). A seasoned stump is more difficult for a professional to remove by grinding. Do not, as widely recommended on the internet, attempt to burn the stump using kerosene either. Apart from being dangerous, it won’t be effective.'

4. Using a chainsaw on roots
'A number of people dig around a stump and then try to cut through the roots with a chainsaw. The chainsaw blade quickly becomes blunt, because it is not designed to cut through earth and consequently will not slice through a root. It's also an incredibly dangerous thing to try.'

How much does professional stump grinding cost?

A tree stump grinding professional will use a chainsaw to cut a stump to the desired height and a motorised machine to grind it away.

'I have a minimum charge of £60,' says Scott. 'I’ll do a tree stump in my local area of up to around 15 inches at that price.'

Hiring stump grinding equipment

It’s possible to hire a stump grinding machine for around £100 per day, but Scott does not recommend it.

'Even though the machines you’ll find in a hire centre are less powerful than those used by professionals, they’re dangerous. The wheel will slice through anything and the machines can sometimes throw up stones which could damage a property as well as injure the operator.

'Stump grinding machinery from a hire centre may not be well-maintained and is usually not supplied with full protective clothing or adequate training,' adds Scott.

In addition, extra charges could be incurred for delivery of the machine and if more fuel is needed.

How to choose a stump grinding professional

'While there is no national association for stump grinders, many are registered with the Aboricultural Association,' says Scott.

Note that non-Arboricultural Association stump grinding professionals should not be automatically discounted as the cost of membership can be prohibitive to small, local businesses.

A good stump grinder will ask the following questions:

  • What type of tree is it?
  • What is the stump diameter?
  • Is the stump in level ground?
  • Is the stump next to a building?
  • Is there space around the stump?
  • What's the reason for removing the stump?
  • What's planned for the area once the stump has been removed?
  • Is there access for the machinery?

Some stump grinders may give you an estimate on the telephone, while others may prefer to visit the site and assess the stump before supplying a quote.

'Avoid a professional who says they will just use poison or dig the stump out by hand,' says Scott.

'Beware anyone who says they will apply a chemical to make the stump rot away in a few months and never pay anything upfront. Also, check that the stump grinding professional is properly insured.'

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