When trees are felled or fall, their stumps should be removed to prevent suckering and fungal root rots. Although often large and heavy, stumps can be removed with the right equipment and technique, or removed by weedkiller.
Tree stumps can be left in the ground after felling but this can lead to problems with suckering where new shoots arise from the trunk and roots.
Completely dead stumps won't form suckers, but they can play host to root diseases such as honey fungus, so aren't worth leaving in and taking the risk.
When to remove a stump
Tree stumps can be physically removed any time. Paying tree surgeons to remove stumps when they are felling the tree is the most convenient way to remove stumps.
Chemical stump killers need to be applied to freshly cut wood, so are best applied immediately after felling. Otherwise, they will need to be recut before the product is applied.
How to remove a stump
Physical stump removal
This is the best solution. Ideally the stump should be removed entirely, but if this is not possible alternative methods usually give satisfactory results.
For smaller trees the stumps can be pulled out with a winch. These can be hired by gardeners with the knowledge to use them safely. For leverage it is necessary to leave a good sized stub on the stump (up to 1.2m (4ft) high) rather than cutting it off at ground level.
Grubbing out by hand or mechanical mini-excavator removes the majority of the root system. Removal is easiest if trees are cut down so that a significant length of trunk remains to give leverage to help in removal. Landscape contractors are often skilled at stump removal, but you can hire mini-excavators and operators separately.
Alternatively, machines known as stump grinders will mechanically grind out the main root plate, leaving fine sawdust. Although stump grinders can be hired, they are potentially hazardous and are only for gardeners confident that they can use machinery safely. Some roots will inevitably be left in the ground but the majority should eventually rot down.
It is worth specifying how deep you would like the stump ground to. Shallow grinding, 20-25cm (8-10in), is normally sufficient for laying turf, but you should allow for deeper, 30cm (12in), or more if replanting or landscaping. Also think about what you want to do with the sawdust. It can be left to fill in the hole, used as mulch in other areas of the garden, or taken away by the contractors. Specify which of these you would prefer before the work is started and be sure to have any diseased wood removed completely.
Methods to avoid
We do not recommend burning down stumps in situ. They are usually too wet for this. Applying nitrate fertilisers also does not improve their burning qualities, or speed up rotting, even though these fertilisers are oxidising agents.
How to apply stump killers
Stump and root killers currently on the market are those containing glyphosate (e.g. Scotts Roundup Tree Stump & Rootkiller, Bayer Tree Stump Killer, Doff Tree Stump & Tough Weedkiller and William Sinclair Deep Root Ultra Tree Stump & Weedkiller) or triclopyr (Vitax SBK Brushwood Killer).
- Always follow the manufacturer’s preferred method. This may involve treating the entire cut surface of the stump, drilling holes around the living edge of the stump to pour the granules into, or using a chisel or axe to make wedge-shaped incursions around the edge of the bark (often used for standing trees). These notches can then be filled with granules or brushed with the liquid weedkiller
- The best time to apply stump killers is from autumn to winter. Avoid treatment in spring and early summer when the sap is rising
- Apply a weedkiller directly to the stump, concentrating it in the outer ring of live tissue just beneath the bark
- Weedkiller is best applied to fresh stumps, as live tissue is needed for its uptake. If the stump is only a few weeks old, you may be able to expose live tissue by cutting the top off to expose a fresh-cut surface
- Finally, cover the whole top of the stump with a plastic sheet to keep off the rain and secure in place
Weedkillers for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining weedkillers available to gardeners - see section 1a and 4)
Always follow the dosing, application and health-and-safety instructions given on the label of the product concerned.
Although it is not a legal requirement to wear protective clothing when handling and using amateur/home pesticides, the RHS recommends wearing gloves, Wellington boots and other protective clothing as a sensible precaution.
Chemicals: storing and disposal
Chemicals: using safely and effectively
Pesticide labels explained
Pesticide Safety Directorate
Other than stump removal being hard work or time consuming, there are no particular problems. But you might notice signs of honey fungus or problems with suckers and seedlings.