February 27, 2008

Stump Removal for Homeowners

Drought conditions are continuing to impact Alabama landscapes. One of the most noticeable impacts is the death or die back of many of our trees. This trend is liable to continue for the coming year with additional trees dying shortly after leaf out in the spring. Even more trees are liable to be affected by bark beetles (Southern Pine, Black Turpentine and Ips Engraver) and diseases related to drought stress. While most of our trees will survive, the removal of those that have succumbed can be a problem and even with the tree gone the stump remains.
Homeowners have several options for dealing with tree stumps. There is no single solution that is best for every situation but here are some guidelines.
Prevent Sprouting
Many trees produce sprouts from their roots or from their stump when cut. These sprouts will slow stump rotting and are undesirable. A non selective herbicide containing glyphosate should be applied where the bark joins the wood. It is best to do this on freshly cut stumps.
Help It Rot
The cheapest, easiest and safest method of stump removal is to let it rot. The decay of wood is caused by fungal organisms. Giving these fungal organisms some help can greatly accelerate the decay process. Decay from fungi is most rapid when the temperature range is 50 to 90 degrees F, wood moisture content is 20% and there is a supply of nitrogen available. Homeowners can help the decay process by (1) cutting the stump as close to ground level as possible, (2) boring several holes into the wood (1" in diameter), (3) keeping the stump moist (not wet) and (4) adding a high nitrogen fertilizer to the wood and holes of the stump. Once the rotting process is well developed, usually the second year the addition of some granulated sugar will provide additional food for the decay organisms. Some woods are naturally more resistant to decay and will take longer to rot. These include cedar, mulberry, Osage orange and locust woods. As the stump and roots decay, holes and depressions will develop. Fill these with topsoil to avoid creating a hazard.
Stump Grinders
Many tree care specialists and/or tree removal companies have a machine (stump grinder) that mechanically removes the stump to below the soil line. This is certainly the quickest but most expensive option for stump removal.
Digging out the old stump is also a quick method but is also the most labor intensive. This can work well on smaller stumps but is very difficult for larger ones.
This is the least recommended method of stump removal. Do not burn stumps near buildings, flammable materials, or where safety is an issue. A stump may burn for an extended length of time, up to two weeks. Frequently the roots and underground portion of the stump will not burn completely and may produce charcoal that will persist for an extended period of time.
Chemical Removers
There is no miracle product that dissolves a stump overnight. There are some chemicals that help with stump removal. Those most commonly used contain potassium nitrate, sulphuric acid and nitric acid. Any chemical product should be used according to its label directions.
It is best to plant a new tree a short distance from where the old tree was growing. This is for two reasons. The old roots will make planting difficult and the decay organisms that are decomposing the old roots will compete with the new tree roots for nutrients.

Stan Roark, Regional Extension Agent

Posted by hgpost at February 27, 2008 10:17 AM