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I'm looking for the best way to get rid of tree stumps. I have so many on my property that digging them out by hand is almost unreasonable, and I can't get a truck into the back to pull them out.

I've looked at this question, and grinding would probably work well but I'm looking for a less expensive option (it costs about $300 a day to rent a grinder around here). Does anyone have experience with burning out tree stumps?

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How many is "so many", and how large are they? Are you talking about a dozen, 50, or hundreds? Is $300/day too expensive because you'd have to rent it for multiple days? The "best" way to get rid of tree stumps, if your property allows it, is a bulldozer or an excavator. Even on a small machine, an experienced operator can do the work of several stump grinders. I don't have direct experience, but given that fire generally burns up, and doesn't do so well underground, I expect burning them won't work. Unless you're talking about chemically "burning" them out, and not with fire? –  bstpierre Apr 9 '12 at 14:52
    
Yes fire sounds like a bad idea - you're not going to burn much. There are chemical treatments which promote rotting, but they can make the ground infertile for months/years (search this site - it has come up). Machinery or chipping/grinding is the only real option I've heard of. –  winwaed Apr 9 '12 at 16:55
    
Depending on what kind of stumps you have, you could consider inoculating with an edible mushroom, let the fungus do the work, and harvest delicious mushrooms for years to come. (fungi.com/shop/grow-mushrooms-on-logs-and-stumps.html) May not fit your timeline - heck, looking at the date on this, you probably don't have any stumps left. –  That Idiot Nov 19 at 13:23

7 Answers 7

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Fire is a great idea. I highly recommend it. I had a stump in my yard a few years ago and a friend lit a small fire on top (enough to burn for an hour or so) and just left it. The fire burned out the stump and all the roots which subsequently collapsed. There was a bit of a hole to be filled, but it was gone within 48 hours and about 20 minutes of light labour. No digging. No special equipment.

Obviously there are dangers to lighting fires in your yard so take resonable precautions. Also don't do this if the stump is above gas mains...

Fire is super underrated for stump removal! Other people will give answers like, "spend 15 hours digging it out" or "spend hundreds of dollars" - bad ideas. Burn it!

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Your garden is surely drier than anything I've ever experienced in the UK –  Tea Drinker Apr 11 '12 at 10:42
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-1 That does not work with some tree stump varieties, and also on many stump conditions, and also in many common stump environments. –  J. Musser Apr 12 '12 at 1:45
    
@TeaDrinker Yep, that was in on of the wetter areas of Australia. But the questioner is in Utah so I assume it's going to be dry enough. jmusser In this instance both my answer and Kevinsky's are correct depending on the specific circumstances. I don't say it's going to work in every circumstance but when it will work, it is both easier and cheaper than any alternative. –  Coomie Apr 13 '12 at 6:24

I initially tried gasoline (bad idea.) Was shocked at the initial flame when I lit it. Other than that, it just burned for 15 min and didn't do anything.

What did work was charcoal from my grill. After making dinner on the grill, I'd put the still hot charcoals on the stump. Did that three times and it ate away most all of the stump. Cheap and effective!

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I liked this idea so I decided to give it a try. It worked like magic! I let the coals go for about 10 minutes, and then I added a steady stream of 20 psi compressed air to speed it up a bit. Stump was below ground level in less than an hour. –  jdickson Oct 2 '12 at 0:49
    
Gasoline doesn't cut it. The evaporation creates a cooling effect that prevents the wood from fully igniting. As you found out, get yourself a bag of charcoal brickettes and pretend you're starting a barbecue. Charcoal burns hot enough to make carbon glow, exactly the temperature you're trying to accomplish. –  Fiasco Labs Nov 19 at 2:06

I concur with the comments that grinding is the best route to go.

  • Chemicals are overpriced for what they are and toxic to the immediate soil.
  • hauling them out with a tractor or bobcat works but leaves a huge hole in the ground that must be back filled
  • grinding allows you to set how deep you go and provides that instant "problem solved" look

Of course there is always the procrastinating gardener approach...

  • tree stumps provide valuable nutrients and a home for insects and animals
  • they are not really that unsightly if you put a pot of flowers on them
  • just wait twenty years and your problem is solved with no effort on your part!
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The only potential problem with leaving them in the ground is carpenter ants. Generally it's not a big deal, but if (a) the stumps are close to the house, (b) they stay somewhat damp (ants prefer damp wood), and (c) you don't want stray carpenter ants wandering through your house, then you may want to get rid of them. I lived in a house that had a stump right next to the deck; every summer we'd get stray ants wandering through the house. Didn't cause problems for the house, but after I pulled up the stump we had much fewer ants. –  bstpierre Apr 10 '12 at 16:31
    
+1 for pointing out the problems with pulling; you also have to get rid of them... –  bstpierre Apr 10 '12 at 16:31
    
If you've got time on your side, bore several large holes down into the stump and pour in Potassium Nitrate. It composts in place. –  Fiasco Labs May 3 '13 at 21:00

I've chipped the main roots and stump with an axe to speed the natural decay. Micro-organisms can infiltrate the cuts ans colonize the wood. Indeed rotting happened in 3 years.

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You can pull them out with a car jack. You need to secure a chain to the jack and the stump and have a thick board for the jack to sit on. I've heard of this to take out fence posts. I have never tried either, but it makes sense theoretically.

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You can go to Home Depot and rent an easy to use tree stump grinder for $70 for 4 hours...trust me this is the way to go. It'll be gone in no time with no burning or digging. Afterwards you have free mulch that you can recycle. Good luck!

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If you leave the stump to dry out it will be easier to burn. The amount and type of sap will also determine your success. Stumps can take days of burning before the fire burns out, so make sure you put some rope or something around it to avoid injury.

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