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We just demolished an old shed (we recently bought the house) and we found old rotten tree roots hidden under this shed. (it is the main root and its ramifications)

What should I do with it? My target is to regrade the yard, and this root will stick out so I will need to remove it. The soil composition seems to me closer to clay than to sand, if this detail is of any help. The real question is: Should I just chop it to small pieces and leave it there (mix it with the soil) or should I remove it as much as possible?

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Remove it. If it is soft, you can do it by hand, otherwise use a stump grinder. Replace it with topsoil. The wood, if left in the soil, will rob it from nitrogen, and also sink in once decomposition takes place. I always try to be thorough, because if you don't, you will end up with sunken patches and possibly non uniform lawn coloring from different nitrogen levels in different areas. You can add the root material you remove to the compost pile, as it contains valuable organic matter, you can take advantage of.

Refer to this answer for details on filling in, and this one for details on removing the stump/roots. They don't entirely pertain to this situation, but they should be helpful as guidelines for the removal and cleanup of stumps/roots. If you are regrading, you might as well fill in when you do the rest of the work.

You could also try burning it out, but this isn't the best idea as it kills the soil organisms and doesn't improve soil health. Composting in place (by piling high nitrogen matter on the stump/roots until they decompose) is a healthy method environment-wise, but has the potential to take years.

  • I was wondering what is the reason why the foresters prefer to leave fallen trees to rot in place instead of trying to collect them. I think it has to do with the other small creatures that flourish around a rotten tree. From what you are saying this does not add anything to the soil to enrich it. Then I will remove it. The diameter of the original tree seems to had been around 16 inches. The roots are quit big and I am afraid that they might go all the way to the wall of the house (which might present some cracks) – MiniMe Oct 1 '14 at 1:33
  • @user2059078 It does add organic matter, but not in a way that really benefits a lawn. In a forest, that is the natural way to go, leaving leaves and wood to rot, and feed critters. In a lawn 'biome', this isn't the case. – J. Musser Oct 1 '14 at 1:36
  • I've heard using wood chips can decrease nitrogen or something, which seems consistent with what you're saying about tree roots. I know some people compost wood chips, however. Maybe that compost or such is beneficial if you add fertilizer to compensate for the nitrogen loss (like maybe there are other helpful things in it besides nitrogen). I don't know, though. – Shule Oct 1 '14 at 23:59
  • @user2962794: You need proper carbon/nitrogen ratios for good composting, ideally around 30/1. A lot of wood is in the 85/1 area, some more, some less, so they require additional nitrogen in order to decompose properly. You have to compost them by adding a balancing amount of chicken manure, food scraps, or similar high-nitrogen material to the composting chips to speed the process and build a high quality balanced compost. – J. Musser Oct 2 '14 at 2:27
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Primarily a question of time.

If you want to regrade the yard and have it stay put, you need to remove the whole stump & roots, since they will shrink as they rot and (gradually) leave a hole in the yard. If you don't mind refilling the hole as it develops, you don't need to bother with removing the stump.

Being a low-effort, not too fussy gardener, I prefer to "remove stumps" by covering them with horse manure, give it a couple of years, and breaking up the rotten wood until I can mow over the area or plant flowers there. But I don't mind filling in the hole gradually as it develops gradually, and I don't mind having a mound of compost there for a while until I get to that point.

Now, when I was building a driveway, I ripped the things out with a backhoe. That's a bit different than a stump in a lawn.

  • Yeah I don't think that I have the time to deal with it, I am in a rush to regrade the yard since I have some smell in the basement, the basement is finished and I don't know the source of this smell – MiniMe Oct 1 '14 at 1:34
  • @MiniMe smell of rotting root can be nasty, very unpleasant, and it stays on our hands... – VividD Nov 19 '17 at 23:49

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