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Removing Tree Stumps Without Stump Grinders


Mattock for manual tree stump removal.

You can use a mattock for manual tree stump removal.

David Beaulieu

A tree has been felled and its wood removed, but the rest still sits there, firmly rooted in the ground. What you need now is a strategy for removing tree stumps. What is the best way to perform the task?

Stump grinders can be rented but are expensive. Manual tree stump removal is cheap but has the drawback of being labor-intensive. Instead, I will focus on another cheap alternative that is also easy. But be forewarned: this method requires some patience.

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: 1 Hour

Here's How:

  1. The first step is your decision on which technique to use for tree stump removal. If you opt for manual tree stump removal, use a mattock. Its broad end allows you to dig around the stump; the other end functions as an axe for chopping your way through tree roots. Dig and chop your way under the root ball to the taproot. For large tree stump removal, taproots may be imposing enough to require cutting with a full-size axe.
  2. The rest of this article focuses on another method for tree stump removal, which is essentially a way to hasten the natural processes that would eventually break down the stump anyhow – even if you did not lift a finger. But nature's tree stump removal technique is terribly slow. To hurry nature along, you’ll be supplying 2 ingredients in unnatural quantities to speed up the rotting process: nitrogen and water. Tree stump removal will still be slow this way, but it's an improvement over nature.
  3. But first, using a chain saw, cut the stump down as close to the ground as you can, without allowing the chain saw's teeth to strike the ground (this would dull your chain).
  4. Drill holes a few inches deep into the stump in numerous places, using your widest drill bit. The wider and deeper the holes, the better.
  5. Fill these holes first with water, then with a fertilizer high in nitrogen. For instance, you could use cow manure. If you're using a commercial fertilizer instead, make sure the first of the 3 numbers of the fertilizer's NPK is the highest (for instance, a straight nitrogen fertilizer such as 45-0-0).
  6. Soak the ground all around the stump. Cover the stump with a plastic tarp. The tarp will act as a barrier to help retain moisture in and around the stump. Moisture is a powerful ally to have on your side for tree stump removal.
  7. Apply an organic mulch over the plastic tarp, and water it thoroughly. An organic mulch, such as tree bark or hay, will hold additional moisture, keeping the area even wetter. Wet mulch is also heavy, which will help weigh the tarp down, so that it doesn't blow away. For additional weight, roll some heavy stones onto the tarp.
  8. The final thing you need to do for this tree stump removal project is -- to be patient! You're speeding up the natural process of rotting by employing the steps above, but this tree stump removal technique is still not for those who need the stump to disappear N-O-W.
  9. You'll reduce the wait for completion of your tree stump removal project, however, by periodically removing the mulch and tarp for a moment and once again thoroughly soaking the stump and the ground around it. If you still have that nitrogen source at your disposal, add more of it. Then reapply the plastic tarp and mulch. Soak the mulch again, too, to keep the tarp wet and weighed down.


  1. There is a tree stump removal product called, "Stump Remover" that breaks down the wood fiber of stumps, leaving them porous. The porous wood then absorbs kerosene readily. After the porous wood is soaked with kerosene and ignited, it will burn away. The flame is a low, smoldering flame. If the use of kerosene and flame is acceptable to you, this is another cheap and easy option for tree stump removal.

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