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How to Remove Tree Stumps With a Power Washer

Call me crazy, because yes, I like to dig out tree stumps! I do it the fun and easy way, and I'm really good at it.

Stump hole digging and drainage in progress.

Stump hole digging and drainage in progress.

The Easiest and Most Fun Way to Remove a Tree Stump

In most suburban neighborhoods, you can’t dynamite a stump, 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 my friend Suzanne said, outwit the stump.

  1. 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 gas-powered power washer is the way to go.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 the 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 notes of caution:

  1. Wear protective eyewear, especially if your soil is sandy.
  2. 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).
  3. 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).
Oh, what fun!

Oh, what fun!

The Easiest Way to Remove a Stump

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!

When life gives you tree stumps, make lemonade!

When life gives you tree stumps, make lemonade!

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 connecting 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.”

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Anne from United Kingdom on March 19, 2017:

I had a pine stump that was hard as iron and just stuck up enough above ground for folk to trip over. My friend used the chainsaw method , cutting the thing into very small pieces to get it out and it blunted his chainsaw. Had I seen this hub before, I could have made many helpful suggestions! Glad I saw it now as I have 3 more pines that need to be felled very soon, and your entertaining advice will be worth its weight in gold. Thank you :-)

Cygnet Brown from Springfield, Missouri on March 29, 2013:

I didn't know that stump removal could be so entertaining! I loved this article!

Eugene Brennan from Ireland on January 12, 2013:

I've often thought of sticking a bunch of fireworks under a stump to blow it up but it would probably take out all the windows in the neighborhood!

Using a power washer sounds like a great idea and getting covered with mud would add to the fun!

David Stillwell from Sacramento, California on January 02, 2012:

nope, nope... I claim no part of that... adventure.....

Windclimber (author) from my boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay on January 02, 2012:

davenmidtown, maybe you and your brother should write a hub about how to create a swimming pool in one easy step . . .

David Stillwell from Sacramento, California on January 02, 2012:

After almost a year of my mother complaining to my father that he needed to get the stump out of the yard... My 20 year old brother took it upon himself to use dynamite to make her happy... just 1/4 stick... Back then I believe you could buy it at the hardware store... letting us all know what he was doing my father gave his blessing and off they two of them went... well BOOM... the stump flew through my mothers plate glass window and took out my dads favorite chair among other things... now they too.. dig stumps!

Tammy from North Carolina on December 07, 2011:

I had to read this just because you said it would be fun.. Cute hub. I still don't want to dig a stump out though! Look forward to more of your writing!