The Most Fun and Easy Way to Remove Tree Stumps
Why I Like to Dig Stumps (According to Her)
Call me crazy, because yes, I like to dig out tree stumps! My good friend Suzanne has a few theories about why. She shared her best theory with me one summer evening while I was working on a stump in the backyard. She was sitting on the deck, glass of wine dangling from her hand, and flipping through the pages of a magazine. Without looking up she said, “I’ve figured out why you like to dig tree stumps.” (Her contribution to the task was purely supervisory.)
I leaned on my shovel and replied, “Oh, ya? Is it the Zen thing? Y’know, chop wood, carry water? Chop roots, carry mud? It’s relaxing; it empties my mind.”
“Sweetie, you don’t need any help emptying your mind.”
“You’ve already told me your theory about how men, no matter their age, just like to play in dirt and mud.” I partially agreed because it is rather satisfying to get your hands not in mere dirt but in earth. She calls it playing in dirt and I call it spiritually connectiing to the planet and the cosmos: pa-tay-toe, pah-tot-o.
“No. It’s more personal than that. It is specifically you.” A sip of wine, a half-interested flip of the magazine page.
“Okay, I’ll bite. Why do I like to dig tree stumps?”
Another sip of wine, another half-interested flip of the magazine page, and then a deadpan, “Because you’ve finally found something you can outwit.”
Why I Like to Dig Stumps (According to Me)
In a roundabout way, it is relaxing. The physical exercise pumps out endorphins, and the task of figuring out which way the roots go and how to cut them is just enough of a challenge to occupy your mind without taxing or stressing it. And it is being some kind of productive; you’re getting something done. Zen masters say, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
The Fun Way to Do It
In most suburban neighborhoods, you can’t dynamite it, and you can’t burn it. Pure digging is hard because of the roots: more often than not you can’t fit a decent shovel blade in between the roots. The solution? As Suzanne said, outwit the stump.
- To get to the roots, expose them to the air and your saw blade by first washing away the dirt. First, a foot or two away from the roots, dig a temporary drainage hole with a small channel to the root-infested stump. You can use just your garden hose to wash the dirt away from the roots, but a power washer works better and is much more fun. Those dinky little electric ones are better than the nozzle on a garden hose, but, a la Tim Allen (“More power! Aar! Aar!”) a is the way to go. gas-powered power washer
- When your stump hole fills with water, dip a bucket into your drainage hole to scoop out a load of mud, then rinse, gather, repeat. (It’s not a bad idea to dump the buckets of mud onto a tarp instead of the lawn. Once the stump is out, refill the hole with the mud.) Before you know it, you’ll have clear access to the roots.
- For jobs like this, I prefer hand saws. A J-shaped bow saw makes quick cuts, and it’s safer to use since your feet will be tangled up in roots and slippery mud. You might need a smaller-handled blade to fit between roots, but usually if you just go from the top down you can clear way for the saw. You also might want to use a chainsaw to piece out the main stump, but don’t use one to cut the roots because the dirt will dull the chain blade very quickly. Besides, it’s kind of fun to see if you can get the whole thing out in one piece.
Three words of caution:
- Wear protective eyewear, especially if your soil is sandy.
- Keep a bucket of clean water handy, to rinse your eyewear so you can continue to see: the neighbor won’t like it when you power wash his shrubbery because your aim is way off (no, don’t ask me how I know about this).
- Wrap a bandana around your nose and mouth. You will get completely dirty, and that damned sand will find its way into every crevice it can. Plan to hose yourself off in the yard and to disrobe in the garage (with the door closed, thank you very much).
The Easy Way to Do It
There is an alternate, easier method. Actually, it’s just a refinement of the process. Ya, “refinement,” that’s what we’ll call it. If you discover that your stump has an incredibly thick and deep root system that would take a lot of serious work to remove, you can refill most of the hole with dirt, fill the top with white marble chip gravel, and call it an objet d’ yard art. Pour some regular old table salt on the stump, let sit (for a few years), and remove later. Easy!