Does the Prospect of Stump Removal Put You Up a Tree?

Anyone who has tried to remove even a small tree alone can take a wild guess at where the term stumped came from. Cutting down the tree is hard enough, but with the help of a small 14-inch chain saw, small trees can be pretty quick work. Getting rid of the stump is another matter.

I have just finished removing a bottlebrush tree with the help of an electric chain saw, and I even managed to fell it right between the flower beds without smashing the pansies. I invited a few neighbors over to see my handiwork and they were suitably impressed. I also showed them the neat pile of firewood.

Full of confidence, the next day I tackled the stump with a mattock. Mattocks are part pick, part ax, part grub hoe, and are the best hand tool for digging, because you can chop at the roots, and then pry them out. I even sharpened the blade of the mattock with a coarse file, and though this helped me get quickly through the upper roots, when I pushed on the trunk (one should always leave about 6 feet of trunk for leverage), nothing budged. It didn’t even quiver.


A few more hours convinced me that somewhere under that thick trunk were some substantial roots and that I was going to have to dig a much bigger hole and then try and cut them from underneath with a bow saw. A few more seconds of thought and I decided that I was licked and it was time to call for help.

Actually, I rationalized, I always wanted to see a stump grinder at work. This is a relatively new machine that has made stump removing easy work and a lot less costly than having someone dig it out by hand. In the Yellow Pages, I found a firm that listed “stump grinding” in the Tree Service listings.

Talking to the owner, Ruben Fernandez of All Cities Tree Service, I discovered that this machine would fit through my gate, had rubber tires so it wouldn’t ruin the lawn and was self-propelled so it could easily make it into the back yard. The minimum charge was going to be $125, and though it might cost more, it sounded like a real bargain to this very tired stump remover. I made an appointment for the next day and I put away my mattock.

If someone had invented this machine 20 years ago, the stump I have been gardening around for the past five years would probably not be there. I think it too belonged to a bottlebrush tree and someone else gave up on trying to remove it a long time ago.

In the old days one could purchase dynamite and blow stumps out of the ground, or one could build a fire on top of the stump and let it burn for a week or so, or spend days digging it out by hand. Now I was about to see the latest wrinkle in stump removing in action. What I imagined was something like the giant tree-eating machine I remember from an old Uncle Scrooge comic book: the Beagle Boys used it to demolish Scrooge’s money bin.

What arrived in my driveway was not quite so impressive. It’s a small machine, considering what it does, and one man wheeled it easily through the gate and into place. A hefty 15-horsepower motor sits on top and drives a disk studded with stubby chippers.

It took all of about five minutes to set it up and about 10 to get rid of the stump, maybe less. It simply ground it away, leaving behind a mixture of soil and small wood chips. These would make a perfect soil amendment if I added some nitrogen fertilizer to help them decompose. Otherwise, raw sawdust or chips rob soil and plants of nitrogen, that essential plant nutrient (packaged soil amendments already have been partially composted and have nitrogen added).

It turned out that the hole I dug was in the way and had to be filled in. The grinder digs its own hole as it goes and otherwise needs solid ground to sit on.

I noticed as it chipped away that, sure enough, directly under the stump were several large roots that I never would have got to, but they disappeared in a blur too. The stump grinder removed all traces of the stump and roots to a depth of about 18 inches, which gave me plenty of room for gardening above.

What an invention and what a bargain.