Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A change and then stumps...

Okay, I was going to post every day- and I did alright, but the fact is that I can't keep up! What with family needs, finishing my MA write-up and defense, working on my latest novel (have a personal deadline I need to keep), working, looking for a job, and actually DOING the gardening, I just don't have the time.

I will post twice weekly.

Here's this week's post. It's about stumps. Granted, if you needed to clear stumps from your gardening area, you probably need to wait until next year now, but this article will help-- whenever you get to it.

So keep in mind that just because you have an unsightly trunk doesn't mean you are an ugly elephant.

Maybe we're talking about the trunk of an old tree on your property!

If you do have a tree stump on your property, there is one single best way to remove it. First, get a heavy chain, ala Jacob Marley. Second, wrap one end of your strong chain snugly around the stump. Third, attach the other end of the chain to your heavy duty truck. Fourth, drive.

Fortunately, this is also the most enjoyable way to remove a tree stump.

However, there are a variety of impediments to this method of removing a stump. Perhaps you lack a heavy chain, a tough truck or it might even be possible you don't have the space to work with for this approach. If the method described above is impractical for your situation, rest easy; there are plenty of other approaches to this job.

The bad news is that most of these other methods are not as fun and they require more work.

Method #1: Stump Killer

This method is listed because it takes the least effort. You can very easily find and purchase some stump killing chemicals from your local garden center or large DIY store. Follow the directions closely, being very careful not to spill the chemicals on the ground or other plants.

The directions usually include these steps:

*Drill several holes into the stump, usually from sides near the top, going in and down at a slanting angle.

*On a clear day, pour some stump killer into the holes.

*Wait a given period of time. Your stump will be killed from the inside out.

*After the time period is up, you should be able to easily yank the stump out. It will probably be rotten and brittle.

You can also put saltpeter into the holes. This stuff is usually a powder and you have to add water to it to help it dissolve into the stump.

Method #2: Stump Grinder

This is another fun approach, but it's sometimes difficult to find one of these machines that is available to rent.

If you can find a stump grinder, often fabricated by Vermeer or Carlton, you need to read the operator's manual carefully so that you don't put yourself or others in danger. You also want to make sure the stump isn't near buried lines or pipes.

Using a stump grinder is quite simple. This machines vary in appearance and mobility, but the good ones have a wheel at the front that is lined with carbide-tipped teeth. This wheel spins at a high velocity and you guide it into your stump and down into the roots. Most machines can go about twelve inches down into the ground.

You have to start with a stump that is not very high-- say six to eight inches at the most.

When the stump grinder is done, you will have loose soil and loads of wood chips. Use your hands or rakes to remove the chips, dump some soil in the space, and you are ready to put in grass or garden.

Method #3: Elbow Grease

Now we're done with the easy and fun approaches. This last method requires diligence and planning. If you go after your stump willy-nilly with a shovel and pick-axe, you are going to waste time and energy.

First, it is best if your stump is tall, say four to six feet. So if you are taking down an entire tree, don't cut it down close to the ground. Leave some height. Of course, if you are dealing with a stump that is only a couple feet tall or shorter, you will have to go with it. You won't have the leverage that height lends you, but you can still get the job done.

Second, you need to understand that trees have more than one type of root. There are the branching roots that extend in all directions from the base of the tree. These branching roots have smaller vein-like roots. Then the tree has a heart root. This is also called a tap root or flat root, depending on the tree. This root tends to go fairly straight down.

You want to get at that heart root in order to remove the stump completely and with as little work as possible.

Here's the procedure:

*If you have grass or foliage near the stump that you want to preserve, cover it with a tarp. Put your dirt and other debris on the tarp as you go.

*Use your spade to clear as much dirt away from the base of the stump as possible. You can go about 1 to 2 feet out from the stump. You might end up with a hole that has a large diameter, but that's going to be okay. You want space to work.

Go down as deep as you can with the spade. Use it to chop smaller roots and find and clear dirt away from larger roots.

*Get your pick-axe and chop the roots you've identified. Chop them in two places: as near to the tree as you can safely reach and about a foot out. You do this so your spade has plenty of space to work in clearing away more dirt.

*Use your spade and pick-axe to remove more dirt and whatever rocks you might find. As you get more than a foot down, start trying to clear dirt away from the base of the tree that has been under the ground. You are looking for that heart root.

*Keep following this procedure, going around the trunk and identifying and chopping roots, then clearing away dirt.

*After a few rounds of this, if your stump is high enough, push on the top. Start wiggling it back and forth. If you don't have a high enough stump, get a pry-bar or long crowbar and find a place to jam it so you can get some lift on the stump.

Don't try to pry or leverage the stump out in one go. First try to get some wiggle, then more and more movement until the stump is moving fairly well. If you have wiggle but cannot just pull the stump out, you are still after the heart root.

*Clear more dirt away, then angle your pick-axe so you are chopping at the root heading straight down from the stump. Chop at that root and then wiggle the stump more. You will soon find that you are getting more movement.

*With steady work, you will reach a point where you can pry or leverage the stump right out.

I followed this procedure with a tree last year and left about five feet above ground. With that height, I was able to leverage the tree out after only one or two rounds of chopping at roots; I didn't even have to find the heart root.

Of course, if you do have a heavy truck, a strong chain and plenty of space, you can skip all of this and be done in time for a cold lemonade and the basketball playoffs.

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