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How to Remove a Stump

Updated March 06, 2019

John Ball

Professor, SDSU Extension Forestry Specialist & South Dakota Department of Agriculture Forest Health Specialist

Spring is the time of the year when people get around to remove trees from their yard. Removing trees and disposing of the brush is a hazardous undertaking and is best performed by professionals who have the training and equipment to safely remove them. However, whether a professional tree service or the homeowner remove the tree, there is usually the question what to do about the stump.

Professional Removal

stump that has been ground to mulch by a professional stump removal service

The most effective means of dealing with a stump is to hire a service to come out and grind it. This usually includes grinding the entire stump to a depth of 8 to 12 inches and any surface roots that flare out from it. Most stump-grinding services charge by the inch, measuring the size of the stump in its longest direction. Grinding the stump usually does not include removing the grounded chips or filling the hole with soil. Some services will perform these functions but usually at an additional charge. It is always best to ask.

Natural Decay

a tree stump awaiting removal

The slower approach to stump removal is to let it naturally decay but this can take a decade or more. This decay process can be accelerated by cutting the stump leveled to the ground, drilling 1-inch diameter holes into the wood, and pouring about 4 oz. of a slow-release fertilizer into each hole. After adding the fertilizer the holes can be filled with topsoil. The holes should be about 10 inches deep and spaced one foot apart. There are commercial stump removal products that can be poured in the holes but these are just fertilizers, either potassium or sodium nitrates so any slow release fertilizer will work as well. This accelerated process usually takes one to three years. You’ll still have to use a sharp spade to break up the stump at that point but it usually comes apart fairly easy.