My mother is an avid gardener and created gardens in both her front and back gardens. She is currently unwell and unable to maintain her gardens. The front flower bed is approximately 5-6 ft long and 3 feet deep. It contains the stump of a small tree (less than a foot wide – maybe a maple). How do we get rid of the stump?
It’s a good idea to remove the stump, as dead stumps can host root diseases. And live stumps keep sending off sprouts and suckers, making for an unattractive and unwelcome look in the garden!
Regardless of whether the stump is dead or alive, you can simply pull it up, but this will require muscle, as you’ll have to loosen the trunk from the roots. Start around 18 inches away from the stump and dig a circle around it with a shovel or pickaxe. Break or cut through the roots you find – a lopper is useful for this task. You will create a trench around the stump, which makes it easier to get at the roots (which anchor it into the ground) from underneath. Dig around and under the roots, exposing them – cut the roots off with loppers or (if the roots are larger in diameter), a pruning saw.
When the stump becomes loose, insert a digging bar to help give you leverage and pry it up, going around the entire stump. Continue to sever any roots you see. Rock the stump back and forth to determine if it is still anchored by some roots. If it has worked free, pull it out of the ground.
Once you have removed the stump, grab the ends of the roots that remain in the ground and pull these out of the ground – remember that these roots can spread across your yard. Although it is not necessary to remove all roots, you should get rid of the larger ones (they could continue to sucker).
Another option you could consider if the trunk is still alive is to keep cutting the sprouts and suckers off – eventually the stump will die because its food reserves will be depleted. This may take some months or years. But once it’s dead, you should pull it up.
If the stump is too large for removal by hand, a winch may be needed, or an excavator. You may want to consult a company that removes tree stumps. Landscape Ontario provides lists of gardening and landscaping companies who might be able to help. If you do hire a tree service to remove the stump, they will have these heavy-duty machines and/or may use a stump grinder.
Some references recommend the use of chemicals to kill the stump. Note that chemicals would not work on stumps that are already dead. We do not recommend this practice, as the chemicals may enter the surrounding soil. As well, before using any chemical, you would have to ensure that it remains legal to use in Ontario. Many chemicals have been banned for use in home gardens.
If stump removal includes grinding up all or part of the stump, do not plant a new tree on top of the area from which the stump was removed. Keep any new planting hole at least 3 feet from the stump site, so that the new tree has lots of space to grow and put down roots. The sawdust/mulch created when a stump is ground has a high carbon to nitrogen ratio, and this can limit the availability of (needed) nitrogen for the new tree.