How to Remove a Stump: 5 Safe Methods for Any Homeowner

Jenna Jonaitis
Written by Jenna Jonaitis
Updated January 17, 2023
Woman digging up roots from tree stump in yard
Photo: serggn / Getty Images

You don’t have to settle for being stumped

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Whether your tree stump is in the middle of your lawn or near your fence, you can learn how to remove a stump. Not only can removing it improve your yard's aesthetic, but it can also prevent pests and fungi from taking up residence. This guide walks you through five methods to safely get rid of a stump and when to call in a pro. 

Why Is It a Good Idea to Remove a Tree Stump?

Removing a tree stump can improve your home's curb appeal. If you don’t remove a tree stump, it can lead to pest infestations, mold and fungi growth, and decay and rot that can spread to other trees and plants. 

Taking out a stump also limits safety hazards, such as tripping and falling. Tree stumps can get in the way when kids are playing or if you’re mowing the lawn. By removing the stump, you’ll avoid these risks while creating a better space for grass or additions like a garden, gazebo, or patio. 

How Much Does It Cost to Remove a Stump?

On average, if you hire a pro, the cost to grind a stump ranges from $150 to $320 for the first stump and approximately $50 per additional stump. You can remove a stump yourself with a few tools, but it takes time and, in some cases, intense physical exertion. 

How to Prep for Removing a Stump

Before you remove a tree stump, call 811 or your local dig line. Have them mark your underground utilities so you don’t nick them during stump removal, as these accidents can be dangerous and expensive.

No matter how you plan to remove a stump, clear away the dirt around the stump first. Dig out the dirt from around the stump using a shovel or the broad end of a mattock. Expose as many roots as possible, and clear out the dirt between them. Remove other vegetation that might get in the way when removing the stump, such as small plants or bushes.

Trim the stump with a chainsaw as low to the ground as possible. This reduces the size and weight during the removal process. Always wear protective gear, including safety goggles, earplugs, long sleeves and pants, steel-toed boots, and work gloves when removing stumps. When working with a chainsaw, always wear chainsaw chaps. 

How to Remove a Tree Stump

Learning how to get rid of tree stumps can sound intimidating, but with the right tools and techniques, you can remove many stumps from your property. Here are the five best ways to remove a tree stump—all while staying safe.

Dig Out the Stump Manually

Manually digging out a stump is best for small tree stump removal. The process is labor-intensive; only attempt it if you feel physically able. It is also best for small stumps.

  1. Water the soil around the stump for one to two days leading up to stump removal. Wet the area enough to loosen the soil and roots while not making a muddy area to work in. 

  2. Cut aerial and in-ground anchor roots to weaken the stump's hold. Use an axe, root saw, or loppers to cut through exposed roots.

  3. Dig under the stump with a digging bar. Lever the bar up and down and left to right to raise the stump and reveal new roots. 

  4. Cut the newly exposed roots with an ax, root saw, loppers, or the chisel end of the digging bar. With a shovel, dig around the stump and uproot it. 

  5. Fill the hole with soil.

Grind the Stump With a Stump Grinder

Man using a stump grinder to remove a tree stump from a yard
Photo: K Neville / Getty Images

Using a stump grinder to remove a tree stump is another quick method of disposal, but it will cost more money than the manual method. If you don’t already own a stump grinder, contact your local home improvement store to rent one.  

  1. Clear away the dirt and debris from the stump using a shovel or mattock.

  2. Using a chainsaw, cut off as much of the exposed top of the stump as possible so you’ll have less stump to grind. Ideally, the surface of the tree stump should be at ground level.

  3. Using the hydraulic lever, raise the grinder a few inches above the stump, make sure that it’s level, and turn it on.

  4. Once on, lower the grinder a few inches into the stump and allow it to gradually move side to side with the lever.

  5. Grind down about 4 inches into the stump, move the grinder forward, and repeat this process around the entire perimeter until the whole stump is approximately 4 inches below the ground.

  6. Remove the remnants of the stump with a shovel or rake, then fill in the hole with soil.

Grinding a stump can take care of larger stumps that are too difficult to dig up. Depending on the size, it can take anywhere from one to six hours to grind a stump. The grinder will create wood chips and a hole in the ground.

You can rent a stump grinder from most home improvement or hardware stores. Read and follow all safety guidelines, such as wearing protective goggles, earplugs, and work gloves. 

  1. Dig a trench around the stump, about 2 feet wide by 2 feet deep, removing as much dirt and rocks as possible. Cut any exposed roots with a lopper, ax, or root saw.

  2. Raise the grinder until it's a few inches above the stump. Make sure the machine is level, then turn it on. Lower the grinder approximately 4 inches into the stump. Gradually allow the machine to move side to side with the lever.

  3. Grind about 4 inches deep into the stump. Move the grinder forward and repeat this process around the entire perimeter. The whole stump should be approximately 4 inches below the ground. Take breaks if you need to.

  4. Remove the remaining parts of the stump with a shovel. Take out the wood chips if you plan to use them elsewhere on your property, or mix them in with soil. Fill the hole with soil.

Burn the Stump

Burning a tree stump to remove it from a yard
Photo: madhourse / Adobe Stock

You can burn a stump to get rid of it, but check with your city and county laws first to see if you’re able to do so in your area. You also want to ensure the fire won’t be near your home, utility lines, or other flammable items. 

Tree stumps that are dried out and dead for at least three years burn faster than fresh stumps that still have plenty of moisture.

  1. Drill 5/8-inch holes about 3 inches deep across the stump’s surface with a power screwdriver. Place holes approximately every 3 to 5 inches. 

  2. Pour vegetable oil into the holes. Let the oil sit for 24 to 48 hours, then pour more vegetable oil into the holes. 

  3. Place charcoal bricks across the stump’s surface. Light the charcoal with a match or lighter. Supervise the fire at all times while you let the stump burn out. Keep a fire extinguisher on hand in case of an emergency.

  4. Remove the remaining stump pieces and fill the hole with dirt. 

Regrade the Area

If your stump is small, consider covering it with soil and regrading the area. Whether your stump is in your lawn or garden, you can hide it and allow it to naturally rot away over time. 

  1. Cut the stump as low to the ground as possible using a chainsaw if you haven’t already.

  2. Cover the stump with soil or mulch. Spread more soil or mulch around the covered stump to create a gradual tapering off. Aim to grade the area with a subtle incline instead of a steep mound. 

  3. Use the backside of a rake to smooth the dirt or mulch. Place a piece of plywood on the new soil, then walk across it several times to compact the dirt. 

  4. Add new soil or mulch if needed and compact it down. Plant grass in the new soil if desired. 

Allow the Stump to Rot Naturally 

You can let a stump rot naturally, but it can take three years or longer, depending on the type and size of the tree stump. Taking a few steps now can help speed up the rotting process.

  1. With a power screwdriver, drill 5/8-inch holes in the surface and sides of the stump. Holes should be approximately 3 to 5 inches apart. 

  2. Bury the remainder of the stump in mulch, compost, or other organic matter.

  3. Wait for the stump to deteriorate. 

  4. Use an axe or spade to break up the stump and dig out the pieces with a shovel. 

  5. Cover the area with soil or mulch. 

Tips for Dealing With Tree Stumps

Tree stumps are difficult to remove, but avoiding dangerous techniques can increase your chances of safe, successful stump removal. 

  • Avoid pulling a stump with a truck, as it can cause serious injury and damage to your vehicle. 

  • Don’t grind a stump with a chainsaw, as it can dull your chainsaw and damage it. 

  • Don’t use a winch to remove a tree stump unless you’ve had technical training. The force when removing a stump could pose a serious risk of personal injury. 

  • Check local laws and burn bans before burning a stump.

DIY vs. Hiring a Pro

Removing a tree stump takes time, tools, and—depending on the method—intense physical labor. You can handle stump removal yourself with the right technique and some patience. However, it may be best to hire a local tree removal professional if it’s a large stump or you have several stumps you’d like to get rid of. 

A pro can handle stump and root removal and disposal. The cost is close to what you’d pay to rent a stump grinder for a day. It costs $320 for professional stump removal while renting a stump grinder typically costs $190 to $270 per day.

Paul Pogue contributed to this piece.

Frequently Asked Questions

You can remove a stump yourself by burning it, using a stump grinder, or digging it out. You can also regrade the area to conceal the stump or let it rot naturally. Removing a tree stump with a truck, winch, or chainsaw can be dangerous and cause damage to your vehicle and tools. 

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