How To Remove a Tree Stump

Tree stumps are often left in the ground for a reason — they can be very difficult to remove. Removing a tree stump is not as impossible as it seems though. In fact, with the right advice and tools, you can do the job yourself. Here are a few ways to get the job done.

Dig Out the Tree Stump

Step 1. Dig Around the Roots

Dig out the soil around the stump. Expose as much of the roots as possible, by removing the surrounding soil using a shovel or spade. Work in a circle around the stump, removing the dirt. You may need to dig fairly deep on each side of the larger roots to really expose them so that you can cut or chop them up. If you cannot uncover the largest roots of the stump, consider a different method of removing the stump.

Step 2. Cut Up and Remove the Roots

Chop up any exposed roots. Cutting up the roots can be done quite a few ways. Depending on root diameter, you can use bypass loppers, a saw, a shovel, an axe, or a hatchet. The goal is to chop them up or cut them into pieces for easy removal by hand.

Safety Alerts!

Wear safety glasses to protect your eyes from flying debris when using an axe to cut up roots.

Wear work gloves to protect your hands while you remove roots from the ground.

Step 3. Remove the Tree Stump

Pull out the stump. Once a majority of the stump root structure has been removed or damaged enough, you should be able to pull it out of the ground or push it over, tearing it away from any remaining small roots that are still attached.

Helpful Tip

Use your shovel as a lever to pry the stump up if need be.

Gather up the cut-up roots and pieces, along with the stump, and discard them. Consider chopping them up further and adding them to your compost pile, if you have one.

Step 4. Patch the Hole

Fill the hole where the stump once was with topsoil, loam or potting soil, etc. Pack it down by hand or with a tamper so the ground is level with the surrounding area. Add grass seed or lawn repair patching to the area so grass grows in and matches the area with the rest of the yard.

Grind the Tree Stump

Step 1. Rent a Stump Grinder

Use a stump grinder when necessary. Some stumps are too large or stubborn to be removed by digging them out. In many cases, a stump grinder might be needed to shred the stump for easy removal. Stump grinders can be rented at home improvement centers and stores. These machines work by grinding the stump and roots down to about 1’ into the ground, which is usually enough to destroy the whole stump.

Safety Alert!

Wear eye protection, gloves and earplugs while operating a stump grinder.

Step 2. Grind the Tree Stump

Follow all instructions for operating the stump grinder. Place the grinder over the stump and activate it. It will grind the stump down and then work its way into the ground to cut up the roots. Once you’ve ground the stump down into the ground, use the grinder on the area directly around the stump location to also get the root structure.

Step 3. Remove Debris and Fill the Hole

Use a shovel to remove the ground-up stump and roots and other debris. Discard of the debris in a yard refuse bag or add it to your compost pile.

Fill the hole where the stump once was with topsoil, loam or potting soil, etc. Pack it down by hand or with a tamper. Add grass seed or lawn repair patching to the area so grass grows in and matches the rest of the area.

Burn the Tree Stump

Step 1. Build a Fire

Build a fire upon and around the stump to burn. Ignite the fire and let it burn for several hours — refuel it with wood to keep the fire going. This process can take quite a bit of time, so plan accordingly. Start as early in the day as possible. Before you start, check your local ordinances to see if outdoor fires are legal in your community.

Safety Alerts!

Don’t leave the burning stump unattended.

Make sure there is nothing else flammable within 3’ of the fire.

Keep a garden hose nearby to extinguish the flames in an emergency.

Step 2. Remove Ashes and Fill Hole

After the fire has been extinguished and the stump burned down, shovel out the ashes and place them in a metal bucket in case there are remaining hot embers or ash. You can discard of the ashes later when they have completely cooled.

Fill the hole with topsoil and tamp it down until it is level with the surrounding area.

Use a Chemical Stump Remover

Another stump removal option is to use a chemical stump remover. This is the least labor-intensive method, but also takes the longest to remove the stump. It can take weeks to soften the wood enough to chop up.

In order to effectively use a chemical stump remover, you need to create holes in the stump into which the chemical can be applied. Use a drill with a large bit to drill a number of holes in the top of the stump. The holes don’t need to be a particular size, but should be large enough for you to be able to pour in the stump remover.

Drilling holes in tree stump to pour chemical remover

The remover itself usually comes in powdered form and is sprinkled/poured into the holes. Over time, the chemical stump remover softens the wood and speeds up decomposition. Follow all manufacturer instructions before applying the remover.

Safety Alert!

Keep children and pets away from the stump area to avoid the risk of ingestion or other contact.

When the wood has decomposed and softened, chop it up with a hatchet or shovel and remove the debris. Fill in the area with soil and level it off like you did with the other removal methods above.

You can also burn the remaining softened wood if it is hard to chop up and remove. Use the directions provided above to burn the rest of the stump.

Great work! The tree stump has been removed and you’re ready to tackle some other lawn and garden projects.

Project Shopping List

Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.