Can I Dig Out A Tree Stump?

brownthumb65(8B Florida)March 25, 2010


I don't know what type of tree it was, but it just died in like 6 months and the landlord had someone cut it down. Now we are left with a stump!

It is only about 15 inches wide and about 8 inches high.

Is it possible for me to just dig around it and pull it out?

We don't have money to pay anyone, but we do have shovels. This tree has been here for at least 15 years.

Thanks for any advice.


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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

I'd rather pour diesel on it and set it on fire than dig it out. You can rent a stump grinder to grind it out to below ground and cover with dirt.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2010 at 12:29PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

A miniex or backhoe could take it out in a hurry, but it would take a lot of digging to remove it with hand tools and a saw.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 12:19AM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

It is POSSIBLE, but ug its going to be some work. I'd go the stump grinder route.

If you decide to dig have a reciprocating saw ready to help cut roots. A good manly electric one. Make sure there aren't any underground utilities tied up in the tree. Nothing surprises me.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 12:22AM
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Dan Staley

Is it possible for me to just dig around it and pull it out?

Yes. A friend with a strong pickup will help too.


    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 9:34AM
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I have dug tree stumps out. It's hard work, but it can be done.

Get an ax or two and have some files and sharpening stones handy. Stamped steel shovels are just about useless if you are strong enough to dig a stump out. When the going gets tough, I use my forged steel shovel. Its edge can be sharpened and that helps with cutting through roots.

You'll be digging it out by uncovering and cutting the roots around its periphery, then leaning the stump over and cutting the roots beneath it. I know that seems obvious, but the implication is that you'll be moving a bunch of dirt so that you can lean that stump over.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 4:49PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Look around on craiglist for a stump grinder. There are some quality guys out there that grind stumps all day.

I just had (3) 10" caliper stumps ground down for $ WI market is much more expensive than your TN market.

I'd highly recommend NOT trying to dig it out yourself.

The two I attempted to dig was a Honeylocust that was only 2 years in the ground...took 2 hours to dig out! The other was an 8" caliper black cherry...holy wow, it took 4 hours (that includes several breaks). My time, pain and suffering is not worth the $50 to have someone grind it.

Maybe is easier to dig these out from sandy soils...definitely not clay soils.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 5:21PM
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brownthumb65(8B Florida)

Thanks for all the advice.

idaho_gardener, the guy that cut the tree down left only about an 8"-9" stump sticking out if the ground, so I am not sure about getting it to "lean over". I assumed it would be easy to just dig out all the dirt around the stump and chop off the roots and there you go. I guess I was wrong and maybe I should hire someone to grind it. I have to think about it.

Thanks so much for the advice everyone.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 10:15PM
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Dan, I like your sarcastic humor. *chuckle*

The previous owners left us with a stump. It was removed by a professional (??? or so they said), but only down to grade. So, we were left with a mossy and mushroom area where nothing else would grow.

We did the diesel thing - removed all the soil from the top portion, exposed the stump, with a large drill bit, drilled holes I believe it was at 1 inch intervals so that they criss cross into a cavity. You then fill it with diesel, let it soak, I forget how long, maybe a week or so? If I remember correctly, there's a product called Stump Away, or something like that, and after you drilled the holes, you added it to the holes. Wait a week, then you light it on fire, it's a slow burn.

We did this for two summers, and the second summer we were then able to dig the rest of it out pretty easily, and the remaining roots, as it had decayed enough that it was do-able.

I've also read that adding composted material into the drilled holes also helps speed up the decay process.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2010 at 8:28PM
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fhollingshead(17 CA)

I dunno, maybe it's just me but I enjoy something like this. You do need axes/saws and a stout shovel but my favorite tool is a steel digging bar that I use to lever the thing over as I work around it. It's really not that difficult. Just plan to spend a morning over the job and work out some anger issues!

Again, good luck

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 1:16AM
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Fhollingshead, I'm with you. My mom had a huge pecan tree stump in her yard for years (That tree was there when I was a child & huge.) Last summer I declared war on that stump. I'm almost 60 years old and I used a shovel to dig around it. Then, I used an ax on it. Then, my uncle felt sorry for me and came over with some some gas. We poured gas on it and when the fire died down, I chopped on it with the ax. Then, I poured gas on it again & the next day I used the ax on it again. Then I made a decorative brick circle around it, put some new soil in the hole and planted a crepe myrtle in the center. This stump had been decaying for years which made the task easier. However, it was a huge stump.

While that stump was burning, I also took out several oak stumps that were about 8-10" all by myself using a shovel and an ax.

My 80 year old mama had very little in her landscaping budget. I opted to do the job myself.

Hey, it took me a few days and I lost a few pound during the process. On the upside, I looked great in my swimsuit while vacationing in Ponte Vedra. I hate paying someone else to do something that I can do myself. That's just me.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 8:13PM
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brownthumb65(8B Florida)

Ok, you guys are getting me psyched up again!! :-)

I also hate to pay someone for doing something that I can do also. I am a new gardener, but just getting sweaty and looking at what I've accomplished does put a smile on my face. hehehe.

I also like the feel of my muscles aching after I thought they've all but dissolved away. lol!

Are we able to post pics on here? My son and I finally bought a decent digital camera and I could post my adventures with this stump!!!

Halime -starting to foam at the mouth thinking about attacking this stump possibly on Monday.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 10:45PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Did I mention I injured my shoulder?...I had pain for months. Just be prepared for the possibility.

My time and energy is better spent planting, mulching and gardening...not to mention keeping up with the rest of the house.

Go gotta try it once I guess, lol.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 11:28PM
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Brownthumb65, let's see a picture of that bad boy. It's always nice to have a before & after picture.

You'll be sore for sure, and not just your shoulder. I'm rooting for you.

Good luck!


    Bookmark   April 4, 2010 at 12:39PM
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brownthumb65(8B Florida) neighbor is now telling me that I am nuts and I would probably chop off my foot with the ax. Great!

I really don't know what I am going to do :-(

I've never used an ax before so maybe this is not going to be a good way to start learning.
Maybe I'll use the Stump-Out product or call someone to grind it. I don't know, I am pulling my hair out by the roots and I still have seeds to sow!!!!!!
Will post a picture of the bad-boy tomorrow. :-(

    Bookmark   April 4, 2010 at 9:23PM
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Ok, if you don't have much experience with axes, you might want to rent that stump grinder. In high school, I made money cutting, splitting and delivering firewood, so using axes comes naturally to me.

I've used a stump grinder and it allowed me to dig into the ground to get at the bigger roots.

The stump chemicals that cause a stump to rot contain nitrogen and potassium. Urine also contains nitrogen and potassium. But it does take a little time.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2010 at 2:58PM
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brownthumb65(8B Florida)

Here is the picture of that bad boy. As you can see by the brick size the stump is not that big.

I am just wondering how huge it is underneath.

About how long does the stump chemical take to work?

Maybe I will just put a large potted plant of it.
lol :-)

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   April 5, 2010 at 4:50PM
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Good job with your new camera! Well, your bad boy stump doesn't look too intimidating. Lucky for you, it appears to be cut pretty low to the ground. Perhaps your potted plant idea is the way to go. I think your stump would make a great plant stand.

I'm not sure about stump chemicals. I'd imagine that it takes them a while to work. Just put a plant on it and give it a few years to decay naturally.

Good luck with whatever you decide to do.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2010 at 7:07AM
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terrene(5b MA)

I also hesitate to pay someone else for work that I can do myself. However, I'm getting older and would never bother trying to dig out a large stump - not worth the back-breaking labor when there are numerous other more important yard chores that require my back.

There are lots of stumps in this yard leftover from treework over the years and I just garden around them. I'm hiring someone with a tractor/brush hog etc. to come this Spring and help clear out the remaining invasive plants and they will pull out some of the stumps that have been decomposing for years now. The type of tree makes a huge difference, i.e. pine stumps decompose much more quickly than oak or maple.

Several of the oak and maple stumps have been ground down, but even they decompose so slowly and are impossible to garden over. In that case, I usually put some wood chips and a bird bath over them or something like that.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2010 at 9:06AM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

What is the stump in the way of? If not, just cover it with a few wheelbarrows of topsoil and plant a ground cover. You probably really don't need to put a lawn over it. That won't work as the stump will rot and the lawn will sink. That's why I suggested a ground cover. Top dress it once in awhile and your problem is solved.
I made a small compost pile out of a stump once. Added a little fertilizer once in awhile and the stump rotted rather fast.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 12:26PM
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1. Removing Tree Stumps with Chemical Tree Stump Remover
There are several chemical products available at home garden centers that will assist and hasten the rotting of a dead tree stump. Most products make use of potassium nitrate to expedite the decomposition process. Chemical fertilizers high in nitrogen will produce bacterial growth that will facilitate the gradual decay, which makes the stump easier to remove. In each case, holes are drilled into the stump with a large diameter drill bit. The holes are filled with the chemical mixed with water and left to do its work over time (usually weeks or months). After the chemical has taken effect and the stump has become soft and mulchy, use an axe and a pickaxe to break up and remove the stump.

2. Removing Tree Stumps Mechanically with a Tree Stump Grinder
A mechanical tool known as a tree stump grinder can be used to remove larger tree stumps. It consists of a toothed circular cutting blade that grinds or chops away the stump by breaking it into small chips. Before using a tree stump grinder remove any rocks and debris from around the stump. Then use a chain saw to remove the bulk of the stump by cutting it as close to the ground as possible. The grinder is worked from side to side, removing 3 inch sections of the stump with each pass.

3. Removing the Tree Stump Manually
If the tree stump is not too big and you intend to dig it out manually, do not attempt to remove the entire stump and all of its roots intact. This is time consuming and unnecessary. Begin by digging a trench around the perimeter of the stump and expose as many roots as possible. If you can do so without damaging the cutting blade, cut through the major roots with an axe or a circular saw. Use a pickaxe to loosen the soil around the stump. Work your way around the stump and pry it loose from all sides until it comes free.

4. Removing the Tree Stump Naturally
There is another alternative method for tree stump removal  doing nothing at all. Once a tree is cut down the stump will begin to decompose. It can simply be left in the ground to rot. This is a viable option if the stump is not too large in diameter. Covering the stump with fertilizer, soil or mulch will help to generate the fungus and bacteria that causes decay. In time the stump will reach the point where it can easily be extracted from the ground with minimal effort.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 1:22PM
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brownthumb65(8B Florida)

Thank you johnperson for those recommendations. I appreciate it.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 11:32PM
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Does anyone have experience using a reciprocating saw to use in cutting the roots? Specifically, what type of blade do you use? I'm working on a stump next to a brick patio area so I can't dig the trench around the perimeter as JohnPerson suggests. I can only come at it from one side.

If I can't access all of the roots to get the ball out, I'm thinking I can hack at this thing until is below the brick line and brick over it.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 8:58AM
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I'm actually taking a little break from digging out a stump a third of the size that you have and I'm curious what is motivating you to remove the stump if you don't even own the property.

I'm digging mine out because I plan to replace it with a new tree this afternoon or tomorrow. I've been at it for an hour and I'm drenched with sweat. If I was down in the sweltering heat and humidity of florida we wouldn't even be having this discussion. So I can't imagine why anyone would go through the trouble of hand digging a stump 3 times the size of this one for free, for someone else. That's awfully nice of you.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 10:39AM
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brownthumb65(8B Florida)

Well, iforgotitsonevermind, I just like to keep the yard looking nice whether I own it or not.

It is near our front door and looks nasty.

I have decided to not dig it out anymore. I thought it wouldn't be so hard to do, but after reading more about it I don't think I can do it since I am way out of shape. lol.

Going to put some kind of potted plant there.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 2:44PM
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You're very generous.
It took me 2 hours with 2 breaks and 1 cheeseburger to get my 5 inch stump out. That's working in the baking sun. I used a Sawzall to cut the roots and a digging bar that someone previously mentioned and the $10 shovel that someone said not to use. So with a 15" tree, it should take one person 6 hours, 6 breaks and 3 cheeseburgers.
So now at least you know approximately how long it would take.

I think the breaks actually helped because while I was drying off inside, the soil ball I was digging at was also drying out and becoming lighter and easier to chip away at it.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 4:04PM
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