How to remove stumps with an excavator

Updated February 21, 2017

Stumps are a real pain in the neck to remove, especially if you're dealing with the remnants of a large tree. If all you have are a shovel and a pick, the task becomes even more difficult. Using hand tools, you'll likely be drenched in sweat and have blisters forming on your hands before the job is done. In comparison, an excavator or backhoe will make your stump removal a breeze. As always, when using heavy equipment, observe the safety precautions outlined in your manual.

Position your excavator near the stump you wish to remove. You do not, however, want to be too close, as you must dig a trench around the perimeter of the stump.

Dig the trench a few feet away from the edge of the stump and around its perimeter. If it's a larger stump with a more extensive root system, dig the trench further away. The more roots you're able to expose by digging away from the stump, the easier it will be to pull the stump out of the ground. Move your excavator, if necessary, in order to dig the trench all the way around the perimeter of the stump.

Attempt to move the stump. You can do this by bracing the bucket against the stump and pushing or by hooking the edge of the bucket beneath exposed stump. With the edge of the bucket beneath the stump, you can attempt to lift or pry the stump loose. A large or especially stubborn stump may not budge at first.

Continue digging a little bit at a time until the stump is noticeably loose. Use the bucket of the excavator to cut through any roots that get in the way. If necessary, get off the excavator and use a large landscape bar to cut through the roots and pry beneath the stump.

Hook the edge of your excavator's bucket under the stump once again. With the edge of the bucket beneath the stump, you should be able to lift the bucket and scoop the stump out of the hole. If you wish, you can also lash a chain around the stump and attach it to the bucket of the excavator in order to lift the stump out of the ground.

Haul the stump away or use your excavator to dig a large hole in which to bury the stump. Use the excavator to refill the stump hole with soil.


Do not attempt to remove a stump if the ground is wet. Using an excavator, you'll likely ruin the lawn by creating ruts in the ground or tearing up the grass. Wait until it's dry to begin digging. Do not attempt to bury the removed stump in a wetland area.

Things You'll Need

  • Large landscape bar (optional)
  • Heavy-duty chain (optional)
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About the Author

Arthur Barnhouse has written numerous short stories, contributed content to various websites and was an invited speaker at a university symposium on creative writing. He began writing in 2002 and holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Pittsburgh. Barnhouse has driven across the United States numerous times and draws upon his travel experiences in his writing.