Removing Tree Stumps - U of I Extension

News Release

Removing Tree Stumps

This article was originally published on June 24, 2013 and expired on July 1, 2013. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

Last summer's drought coupled with various other environmental and pest problems has killed many trees in our area. Usually when a tree is removed a stump is left behind. Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, provides the following tips offered by Bob Frazee, retired University of Illinois Natural Resources Educator. "Frazee offers several suggestions to homeowners that wish to remove tree stumps from their property easily, quickly, and economically."

According to Frazee the cheapest and easiest method of removal, although not the quickest, is to cut the stump at or below the ground level, cover it with soil, and keep the soil moist. Decay organisms will then rot the wood. Grass may be planted in the soil if the thin layer over the stump is kept moist during dry seasons. The decaying method may be hastened by boring several vertical holes in the stump before it is covered with soil. This method may be used any time during the year.

Stumps may also be burned out. However, before burning stumps, be sure to check your local ordinances to see whether open burning is permitted. Frazee suggests that stumps may be burned out rather quickly with charcoal or coal by making a "stove" from an empty 5-gallon metal container. A stove is made by removing the bottom and top from the can and punching 4 to 5 one-inch holes in the side near the bottom. Place the stove on top of the stump and build a fire in it. A hot fire is required to burn out stumps, since the wood absorbs moisture from the soil and burns like green wood. Stumps will burn best during dry seasons.

Grubbing or digging out stumps is another option, according to Frazee, but it is hard work. Stumps larger than 15 inches in diameter are usually rather difficult for the average person to remove.

A final option is for homeowners to explore the availability of a commercial stump grinder. Mechanical stump grinders that chip the wood are available from some landscaping firms, tree removal services, and some community street departments. A stump-cutting or grinding machine is often the quickest and most satisfactory means of removal. It can chip out a stump to 8 or 12 inches below ground level in minutes. A stump-cutter can remove stumps in confined spaces, like those between curb and sidewalk. You may lift the stump out with a hydraulic lift, such as a Stumpmaster.

Stump removal is not easy. Many people resolve to leave the stump and let it decay naturally. Sometimes the area is made into a flowerbed or decorative area. Try adding containers on top of the stump for a different look. I once put a wooden wheelbarrow filled with annual flowers on a stump and added more annual flowers around the stump. Use your imagination and you may find leaving the stump is a good option.

For more information on this or other horticultural issues, contact your local Extension office by visiting You can also post questions on Rhonda's facebook page at If you need a reasonable accommodation to participate in any event listed in this news release, contact your local Extension office.

Source: Rhonda J. Ferree, Extension Educator, Horticulture,

Pull date: July 1, 2013