You can remove tree stumps at any time of year but now is a good a time, before the damp, autumn weather promotes the growth of fungal infections which could spread to healthy plants.
There are two principle ways to remove a stump: the quickest is physically removing it (either by digging or grinding it out) or you can apply chemical treatments to kill the stump, so it will eventually rot down.
We’ll look briefly at both methods and we’d recommend the RHS website for further advice.
If you have a smaller tree to remove and can leave a reasonable height stump (over 1 metre), you can hire a winch to lift the stump out of the ground. Do think about the appropriate safety measures if you choose this option.
Again, smaller trees can be dug out by hand or with a mini-digger, which is likely to take a little longer but has the advantage of removing the majority of the roots too.
If you have a larger tree stump to deal with, a stump grinding machine could be a practical option. These grind down the main root plate, leaving only sawdust to be disposed of. It is worth thinking about how deep you need to grind, depending on what you intend to use the area for afterwards; if you’re turfing, you’re not likely to need to go as deep as if you’re relandscaping, for example. Either way, some smaller roots will be left in the ground but these will just rot away in time. As with any machinery, stump grinders should be used with care.
There are a number of root and stump killers on the market and we’d recommend reading the packaging carefully so you can select one that is appropriate to your circumstances.
Autumn or winter are the best times to apply treatment, rather than the spring when sap will be rising in a still-living stump.
Treatments need to be applied to freshly cut stump, where the living tissue around the edge will take it up most effectively. Once treated, it’s worth covering the stump with a plastic sheet to prevent rain washing the treatment away.
As with all chemicals, read the instructions carefully and take the appropriate precautions – such as gloves, goggles or boots – when using it. Be careful to protect other plants and animals from the chemicals.
EcoPlugs are handy capsules that deliver a dose of tree-killing chemical in contained way. They are growing in popularity amongst tree professionals and landscapers because of their relative ease of use.
How do they work?
When a tree has just been felled, a ring of small holes is drilled around the outer, living cambian layer of the tree stump. When an EcoPlug capsule is then tapped into each hole, it bursts, delivering a dose of chemical and sealing the hole at the same time.
Different quantities of capsules will be needed depending on the species and size of the tree, but guidelines are provided. The targeted approach generally means less chemicals are required than traditional methods. They take up to 2 months to kill the tree’s root system, depending on the time of year they are applied, but the manufacturers suggest that stump decomposition time is about half what it would be.
Because the chemical is contained within the hole, when used correctly, EcoPlugs can be a much safer option for both wildlife and humans. Most EcoPlugs contain glyphosate as their active ingredient, a pesticide that has been in use for over 30 years. Glyphosate is broken down by the natural carbon dioxide, nitrate, phosphate and oxygen found in soils, helping to reduce its impact on the environment once it has done its job on the tree stump.
Of course, all power tools and chemicals should be used with the appropriate safety precautions and, if in any doubt, call a professional tree surgeon.