What to do with tree stumps?

Updated April 17, 2017

Old tree stumps can ruin the look of a garden lawn or flower bed and also make maintenance such as mowing the lawn more difficult. Tree stumps are an unavoidable consequence of removing diseased or dead trees, unless you ask the tree surgeon or landscaper to mechanically grind out the stump remains after removing the tree. However, you can take steps to either remove old tree stumps or blend them with the rest of the garden. Let nature take its course so the tree stump rots slowly or speed up the process with mechanical removal or incineration.

Garden feature

One option for old tree stumps is to integrate them with the rest of the garden. Use an old tree stump as a plinth for an impressive outdoor container plant or train a ground cover plant, such as an ornamental variety of ivy, to grow over it. Depending on the location and size of the tree stump, consider using it as the base for a garden bench or table.


Left exposed to the elements and the action of fungi, the tree stump will gradually disintegrate and soften as the wood rots. The speed of decay depends on the type of tree, the hardness of the wood and the local climate. Speed up the process by cutting the stump as close to the ground as possible and drilling a series of 2.5 cm (1 inch) bore holes into the top with a power drill. Spread soil over the stump to speed up the rotting process. Water the soil regularly to ensure the moisture and soil leaks deep into the stump. An alternative to rotting is to fill the bore holes with a chemical stump remover, but this option is not suitable for organic gardens.


Grubbing involves digging the tree stump out of the ground, an option for smaller stumps. Use a spade or shovel to dig a 60 cm (2 foot) wide trench around the stump. Slice through the protruding lateral roots just below ground level with a sharp axe. Lever the tree stump onto its side with a grub hoe and then sever the tap root with the axe. You can then pull the stump from the hole and dispose of it.


Fire is an effective tool for removing old tree stumps, providing the stump is not too near fences or buildings. To burn out a stump you'll need to make an incinerator stove from an old 22.5 litre (5 gallon) metal paint can or drum. Remove the bottom and top of the can with heavy-duty cutters, and drill a series of air holes around the bottom third of the metal drum. Place the homemade incinerator over the stump and cover it with kindling and charcoal or coal. Light the fire and wait for it to burn out the stump. Always remove the ash and coal or charcoal remains because this will not decompose.

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About the Author

Adrian Grahams began writing professionally in 1989 after training as a newspaper reporter. His work has been published online and in various newspapers, including "The Cornish Times" and "The Sunday Independent." Grahams specializes in technology and communications. He holds a Bachelor of Science, postgraduate diplomas in journalism and website design and is studying for an MBA.