Stump removal: the do’s, the don’t’s and the dangers

9th December 2019

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Stump removal – whether it’s a stump from a previously felled tree that you inherited with your home, or you’re thinking of getting rid of a tree in your garden (and want the stump gone as well) because its roots are causing damage, to make room for an extension or just to open up your garden to a little more light – is a task best left to a professional.

I appreciate that it might seem like something that anyone can do, after all, we’ve all seen someone in the movies picking up an axe and felling a tree with a few masterful strokes – then again, thanks to Hollywood, we’ve also seen a gun-toting racoon flying a space ship and a blue genie who grants you wishes, and each of these is about as far removed from reality as the next.
Felling a tree and stump removal will actually require:

  1. A qualified arborist to determine whether, when and how to do this.
  2. A team of qualified tree surgeons to remove a tree piece by piece to minimise disruption and damage to the surrounding area and property.
  3. All the right equipment maintained to the correct standards.
  4. A stump grinder of the appropriate scale for your tree and the means to get it to the tree and back again.
  5. Years of experience to ensure that nobody gets injured along the way.

YouTube is full of images of the aftermath of those who didn’t know what they were doing, but thought it looked easy – homeowners, have-a-go horticulturists and just really bad tree surgeons. So, please, call in the experts.
Before we go into how to remove a tree stump, I thought we should go through some don’t’s.
Tree stump removal DON’T’S

  1. Don’t just leave a stump after felling a tree. The reason why I’m talking about tree felling in an article about stump removal is because it’s almost always best to remove a stump at the same time as felling a tree. To leave the stump could result in the rotting wood attracting insects and fungus that could then infest or infect your other healthy trees. Something you really don’t want. Alternatively, the stump could sustain new life with suckers growing up from it, stealing nutrients and moisture from the soil that could have been feeding other plants in your garden.
  2. Don’t burn the stump. If you have an old tree stump that you’ve inherited and it’s not rotting or growing suckers then burning is an option, but it’s a messy option. You may need an accelerant chemical to get it started and even for a small stump it is likely to take at least a whole day to burn away all that you need to. But, be warned, if your tree stump has too much moisture in it then burning is a no-no – you won’t get far even with a chemical accelerant.
  3. Don’t apply stump killer in the spring or early summer when the sap is rising. Stump killer can prevent a stump from sprouting new growth and promote its rotting process. Obviously, if you are going for this long-term option you need to be prepared for the insects and it will take many years for the stump to actually rot away, so it’ll still probably outlast your ownership of the property.

Tree stump removal DO’S
Tree stump removal should generally be done in one of three ways – pulled out by digging and winch, application of stump killers or stump grinding.

  1. Winch. This can only be used on small stumps and where there is no chance of damage to other trees or property as a result. You’ll also need room to get your winch to the stump. But if you decide to go this route then DO make sure you know how to use the equipment and ensure that you stick to strict health and safety guidelines to avoid any chance of harm to yourself and others. And DO sever any large roots before winching to reduce strain on the equipment and damage to the ground.
  2. Stump killers. As already implied, this should only be applied to stumps in the autumn and wintertime. DO follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter because it’s dangerous stuff. DO apply directly to stump, and it needs to be a living stump (i.e. from a tree that’s recently been felled), as it will do nothing to a dead stump. And DO cover the stump to minimise chemical leaching into other areas of the garden and avoid birds, animals and little people getting contaminated with the chemical.
  3. Stump grinding. This is our primary method of stump removal, no matter whether the tree has just been felled or it’s an old dead stump. It’s quick, it’s thorough and you can get on with remodelling your garden straight away. DO think about safety, when it comes to moving the often heavy grinding equipment into place (through a home, down the side of a property or via your next door neighbour’s garden if there is no other way in) and when using it (gloves, eye protection, sturdy boots and long strong trousers as an absolute minimum). DO cut to at least 10 centimetres below ground level to make sure that the roots will die and suckers will not grow through, then cover with soil or new grass.

Tree stump removal DANGER

  1. When using a stump grinder steer clear of the blades when the machine is on as those things are designed to cut through trees so imagine what they’d do to your legs! Remove all stones and rocks from around the grinding area or they are likely to be thrown up at great speed by the action of the blades and could cause damage.
  2. Stump killer is essentially poison so if you’re considering using this at all you must consider children and wildlife and securely cover the stump after applying the chemical.
  3. Fungus: the gift that just keeps on giving! A left stump will often attract fungus. As a stump dies and rots it creates the perfect breeding ground for the stuff and once it takes hold it could well spread to other trees, compromising their health.
  4. Not removing a stump when you fell a tree could well be more costly. Tree surgeons could charge you more to come back at another time or to remove a stump when they’ve not removed the tree, i.e. for a whole job rather than simply the finishing stages of a job.

If you have a tree or a stump that needs to be removed, you’ll want to know what needs to be done, whether it needs to be done, and how long it will take to do. A professional firm of arborists or tree surgeons should be able to talk you through the process so you can prepare family, neighbours and organise plenty of parking for the vehicles needed to cart away all the waste this work will produce.
To summarise:

Small trees can be dug out or winched
  Mature root systems on larger trees would make this impossible.
Larger tree stumps should be ground down
  It’s quick, it minimises the chance of fungus growth and means you can build or plant over the area immediately.
Grind down to 10cm below ground level
  To make sure the roots die and to avoid suckering and regrowth.
Stump killer will not remove your stump   It prevents regrowth, but the stump will take years to rot away.

To book a free survey and consultation with one of our ARB Approved arborists for advice on your trees or to book in our tree surgeons to prune/maintain or fell your tree(s) and remove the stumps, call us on 0208 292 8992.

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