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Tree stump removal options

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Removing a dead tree, including the stump, requires a lot of equipment, muscle and know-how.

"What many people don't realize is that it's usually an extra charge in order to have the stump removed, so be sure to ask your professional about that service as well," said Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List.

Arborist John Nowosielski has been removing trees and grinding stumps for nearly 20 years and says it can be a dangerous job.  He cautions homeowners before trying it on their own.

"If there's a stump that's out on the back 40 in someone's back yard, there's no glass around, there are no parked vehicles around, there's no kids around, you feel safe, you feel confident, absolutely," he said.  

But he warns, if you have to think twice, you'll want to hire a professional.

Angie's List says it's usually costs about $150 a day to rent a stump grinder so it may be cheaper to hire a pro.. With a professional, you can expect to pay $150 to $200 for an 18-inch diameter stump. Larger stumps will cost you more.

Any reputable tree service can handle the job, but ask to see their liability insurance to make sure they're covered should something go wrong.

"When you ask me for my liability policy, I call my insurance carrier and they ship that to you with an out-of-state postmark with their letterhead on one of their envelopes. So that's about as valid as you can get," said Nowosielski.

Once the stump is gone, you can plant another tree nearby, but not on that exact spot. If you want to grow grass over the area, Angie says to simply cover the spot with a couple inches of topsoil and lay your seed. In six-to-eight weeks, no one will ever know the tree was there.

Why remove the stump at all?

You may not need to, depending on its location, but stumps are a popular breeding ground for many pests, such as termites, ants and beetles. These insects can spread to landscaping, other trees and possibly your home. Stumps can also become receptacles for fungus, which carries an unpleasant smell and attracts flies and gnats. Fungus can also spread diseases to plants, flowers, crops and trees growing on your property.

Tree stump removal options:

Different tools will be required depending on how deep the root system has settled and how difficult the job will be.

  • Hand-digging - For digging by hand, a good, heavy nursery spade works best. It will do most of the work for you, but a flimsy, lightweight spade can work the other way around. You will also need an axe or a grub hoe with an axe head, loppers and a root saw. Start by digging a trench around the stump; the trick is to avoid digging too close. As you expose the roots, cut them out with the appropriate tool, then dispose of them or place them in your compost pile. You will know the stump is ready to pull out when you see it moving.
  • Stump grinders - Stump grinders can work well with medium to large-sized stumps. You can hire a tree service to do this.  The cost is typically based on the size of the stump.  You can get an idea of the cost by measuring around the widest part of the stump, then multiplying by a candidate's rate per inch.  If you rent the equipment, take safety precautions, including protecting your feet.
  • Chemical decomposition – If you are not in a hurry to remove the stumps, you can drill holes into them and inject chemicals that will speed up the decomposition process and make the stump easier to remove later.
  • Fire - If the stump has been dead for a few years, you may be able to enjoy a nice bonfire and get rid of scrap wood at the same time. Be sure to check with your local authorities first to make sure you can burn at the given time of year.