How to remove a tree stump

How to remove a tree stump

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

Guide written by:

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

61 guides

Once you've cut down a tree, you're inevitably going to be left with the stump which you might want to remove for several reasons. While removing the stump manually or using tools will give you immediate results, it is usually best to take the long route and apply a bit of patience. Read on to find out more!

Important features

  • Removing a tree stump by hand
  • Removing a tree stump using machinery
  • Chemically removing a tree stump
  • Burning a tree stump
  • Let nature take its course
  • Using salt or garlic to remove a tree stump
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Removing a tree stump by hand


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Removing a tree stump is no mean feat and before you dive into the task it's always best to start by asking yourself: do you really need to get rid of it? It's a lot of effort to tear out a tree stump so be sure you are up to the task! Bear in mind that the following advice only applies to small tree stumps. Proceed as follows:

  1. Dig around the stump using a pickaxe. This will help to break up the largest roots. Ideally, you should dig a circular trench all around the stump
  2. Cut any roots you can reach using a saw or axe. Please note that a chainsaw is not suited to this task as soil and stones will quickly damage your chainsaw blade.
  3. Use a crowbar to apply leverage to the stump. Slide it under several parts of the stump to try and shift it.
  4. Use can then use a winch to extract the stump from the soil.

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Removing a tree stump using machinery

Of course, tackling a 200-year-old cedar isn't something that can be done by hand! If your tree stump is really big, you've got no choice but to pull out the big guns.

For this you can hire a mini digger or stump grinder.

Mini diggers


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A mini digger will make quick work of your stump but they come with three major disadvantages:

  • they are expensive to hire;
  • they are heavy; diggers weigh about a ton which begs the question: how are you going to get it into your garden? What's more, they are likely to leave marks all over your lawn, paving or pathways;
  • while there is no specific legal requirement to drive a digger, it is highly recommended to attend a digger course before attempting to use one. 

Stump grinders


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If your stump looks impossible to dig out, you can use a stump grinder to plane it down to ground level. These machines can also be hired from special hire stations. Easier to use, stump grinders are more compact and lighter than mini diggers (with an average weight of about 130 to 150 kg). These machines are equipped with sharp-toothed blades that work to break down your wood into chippings to your desired depth.

Be sure to use appropriate PPE including safety goggles, ear defenders, protective gloves and safety boots when using these machines.

Once you're done, you can fill in the hole with the wood chippings from the stump which you can mix in with the soil. Alternatively, you can use the chippings to mulch your flowerbeds. The wood will decompose in about a year.

Chemically removing a tree stump


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In the past, a range of now-banned products (such as certain acids, sodium chlorate or ammonium sulphate) were used to tackle tree trumps.

These days, stump and root killers can still be found but are often not the best course of action as

they often contain sodium nitrate. Even products that you can pick up in the shops can be very toxic and dangerous both for the user and for the environment. They may be:

  • combustible or even explosive;
  • toxic for animals and humans;
  • very polluting for the soil and groundwater.

They should therefore only be used as a last resort and using extreme caution.In fact, many countries have restricted the use of stump killers.

Burning a tree stump


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This method should be carried out in dry weather but be sure never to burn dry material during a drought. It's important to check any local regulations before lighting a fire. Always ensure you are close to a water point.

Use a sharp tool, like an axe or chainsaw, to make deep gashes all around the stump, or create wide, deep holes using a drill fitted with a wood bit. Then proceed as follows:

  1. Remove any items that could catch on fire from the area surrounding the tree stump.
  2. Remove any dried leaves.
  3. Cut the grass around the stump using a brushcutter or strimmer.
  4. Carefully rake away any debris, ideally using a leaf blower.
  5. Cover the tree stump with dry vegetation such as pine needles, pine cones or kindling and set it alight.
  6. Make sure to burn down as much of the tree stump as possible.
  7. When you're done, water generously to ensure the fire has been extinguished.

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Let nature take its course


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The most environmentally friendly solution is to simply cover up the stump with tarp and let nature do its thing. Fungi, worms and other microorganisms will eventually break down the wood. After a few months, the stump will have broken down enough to be able to chop it up in small parts with an axe.

You can speed up the process by forming large holes with a drill and leaving the stump exposed to the rain or frost.

Using salt or garlic to remove a tree stump


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You might have heard of a few old-fashioned methods for tackling the problem. One of the most common solutions involves garlic. Start by drilling holes measuring about 20 cm in width and 10 cm in depth. Insert a clove of garlic into each of these holes before filling with soil. As the theory goes, the garlic releases substances as it sprouts that will help the wood to break down more quickly. Some prefer to replace garlic with salt but this may not be the best idea as salt is toxic for the soil.

Whether or not these traditional methods are effective, you will still only be able to remove the tree stump after a certain period of time.

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Guide written by:

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge, 61 guides

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

When I was young, I was already working in the family garden. Perhaps that is where my interest in plants and gardening came from. So, it was logical for me to study both plant biology and agronomy.   At the request of various publishers I have, over twenty-five years, written many books on the subject of plants and mushrooms (a subject that is close to my heart).They were mostly identification guides at first, but shortly after they were about gardening, thus renewing the first passion of my childhood.   I have also regularly collaborated with several magazines specializing in the field of gardening or more generally in nature. There is no gardener without a garden, I have cultivated mine in a small corner of Cambridge for the last thirty years and this is where I put into practice the methods of cultivation that will I advise you in as well.

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