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How to Remove Small Tree Stumps by Yourself

Author:

Tom Lohr is an avid home DIY enthusiast. He prefers to spend the money he saves on new tools and gardening supplies.

Tree stump targeted for removal.

Tree stump targeted for removal.

Own Your Yard, Don't Let it Own You

Every yard has a small tree that needs to be removed at some point. Perhaps it was a sapling that you let get out of control, or a tree you planted that seemed like a good idea at first, and then not so much as it matured. Or perhaps your yard is like mine, chocked full of oak saplings and small trees from it being vacant for numerous years before I rescued it.

The result of my yard being overrun with trees fostered two results: I lost several pounds from the exertion of removing them, and I honed my small tree stump removal skills and discovered the most efficient way to remove them. Sound like a lot of work? It is. Sweaty, back breaking work. So why should you remove those small stumps in your yard if it is such a hassle? Get a couple of estimates from landscaping or tree trimming companies to do it for you and you will suddenly become motivated.

Still, it is not light work. If you have any medical condition that prohibits moderate physical exertion, or do not possess at least an average amount of strength, then it is probably best to get out the checkbook and call someone to do it for you. If not, there is nothing more satisfying then doing battle with a tree stump for about an hour and then finally popping it out of the ground and tossing it aside as you bask in your victory.

If you are ready to tackle the job and remove them yourself, the tools needed are few, and you probably already have at least one of them. Pro tip on using a mattock: even if it is new, grind both edges at a 45 degree angle to make the blade nice and sharp. If you don't have a grinder, use a metal file. It takes some time, but it will make the job 100 times easier.

Your arsenal for victory.

Your arsenal for victory.

First dig around the stump.

First dig around the stump.

1. Dig Around the Stump

While there are roots that shoot out in several different directions, and you will need to cut them, the main item holding the tree stump in is the taproot. The taproot is larger than the others and grows straight down, anchoring the stump in place. All of the digging and cutting of other roots on the stump are for getting access to the taproot.

Second round of digging to better expose the secondary roots.

Second round of digging to better expose the secondary roots.

2. Cut the Secondary Roots

The roots that sprout off in varied directions and run horizontally also help hold the stump in, but mainly they are in your way of getting to the taproot. As you uncover them while you dig around the stump, cut them with the large pruning tool. Cut as close as possible to the stump and also as far out as possible. You do not want them getting into the way when you tackle the taproot.

Cutting the secondary roots.

Cutting the secondary roots.

3. Expose the Taproot

Now that you have dug around the stump and trimmed away the horizontal roots, it's time to dig again. The goal is to expose the taproot so you can whack at it with the mattock. To do this dig some more, under the level where the horizontal roots ran and as close to the stump as possible. Also dig out away from the stump at least six inches. Usually, about six inches out and six inches below the level of the horizontal roots is sufficient.

Taproot exposed.

Taproot exposed.

4. Get Your Paul Bunyan On

Ever wanted to be a lumberjack? Here's your chance. Just remember that a mattock is a type of axe. You can cut some toes off or severely injure your foot. Always keep your feet clear of the striking area. You will have to swing the mattock so that the blade strikes the taproot on the opposite side that you are standing. That means you cannot swing downward like a normal axe, you have to swing it over your head so that the blade strikes the taproot as the blade reaches the horizontal plane as it is headed back in your direction. Normally, there will be only one taproot to cut. Occasionally, there will be two. As you make progress cutting the taproot, after every 10 or so whacks, give the stump a good kick with your foot, that helps expose the taproot as you make progress cutting it.

Taproot after about 20 whacks with a mattock.

Taproot after about 20 whacks with a mattock.

5. Pull the Stump Out

There is a good chance that the stump will pop out on its own after you sever the taproot. Sometimes, there a few, very small secondary roots still holding it in. You will know when that happens as the stump will mover around freely when you kick it, but still not quite come out. If this happens, wedge the blade of the mattock under the stump and pull the handle back. That kind of leverage should be enough force the stump out of the ground.

Stump removed. You can see this stump had two taproots, doubling my pleasure.

Stump removed. You can see this stump had two taproots, doubling my pleasure.

6. Refill the Hole

Using the dirt that came out as you dug, shovel it back in and make the ground as level as you can. A small hole in your yard can be an ankle snapper.

Hole refilled.

Hole refilled.

Enjoy Your Victory

If you didn't break a sweat removing your stump, you didn't do it right. It is manual labor at its finest, but you will feel awesome once you kick that stump's butt. Your feeling of superiority from conquering nature will languish for a while, or as in my case, be fleeting as you suddenly remember there are 15 more stumps to remove. The plus side is that it is great exercise. If you have many to remove, you can also enjoy your newfound fitness. No excuses, get your tools and get out there.

Did I mention I kicked this stump's butt?

Did I mention I kicked this stump's butt?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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