How to remove a tree, and then what to do with the stump?
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Issue: August 9, 1999

How to remove a tree, and then what to do with the stump?

Question:

How can I kill a five-inch-diameter Siberian elm in my yard? It is a nuisance tree, shading my garden, and it always has brown leaves from the elm beetles. How do I get rid of the stump after I kill the tree?

Answer:

There are several ways to dispose of this tree. First, be certain that the method you choose does not create a hazardous situation for you, your neighbors, buildings, or utilities.

You can just cut the tree down, hiring a professional to do the cutting, especially if it is near the house or power lines. The Siberian elm is not as bad about sprouting from the roots as are the cottonwood and poplar trees. You can also assure that the base of the tree will not sprout by applying an appropriate herbicide in frills, or shallow notches, through the bark before cutting the tree. The appropriate herbicide is one whose label tells how to use it to kill trees. By using a product labeled for frill application, you may avoid putting the herbicide in the soil and causing harm to desirable plants in your landscape.

It is important that the frills, or notches, be cut as shallow slices that do not go too deeply into the trunk. The layer of cells just under the bark is called the phloem and is responsible for transporting sugars and other foods from the leaves to the roots. Your object will be to put the herbicide into this layer so that the herbicide is transported into the roots. Cut the frills downward forming tongue-shaped flaps to hold the herbicide as you apply it to the phloem layer.

Once the tree has died from the herbicide application, it should be removed so that it will not fall and do damage as it begins to rot. You can hire a tree professional to grind the stump into sawdust to remove the stump, or you may leave the stump in place as part of the landscape. I have seen "stump sculptures" cut by chainsaw and treated with a wood preservative used as an interesting element in the landscape. Another option is to leave the stump at a reasonable level and use it as a place to sit in the landscape or a platform on which to put a pot full of flowers. In any case it becomes a useful part of the landscape.

It is also possible to leave the stump, hollow it out, drill drainage holes, then fill the hollow stump with potting soil and use it as a pot in which to plant flowers. If the hollow portion of the stump is deep enough, holes may be drilled through the walls of this stump-pot and plants planted in these holes (as in a strawberry pot in which there are plants in the top of the pot and also growing through the sides). Using the stump as a pot will speed the decay process, so it is a way to remove the stump over time. However, if you wish it to remain longer, you may choose to apply a wood preservative or other material to protect the wood from decay.

Finally, if you don't want to grind the stump and don't want it to remain long, you can compost it away. To do this, cut it as close to the ground as possible and build a compost pile over it. As you add material to the compost pile and moisten the compost pile, you will greatly hasten the decay of the stump. The compost pile may be just a pile of composting material or may be a more decorative structure of wire, wood, or masonry to contain the decomposing compost.