Depending on their size and location, tree stumps can be a simple eyesore or a significant hazard. Commercial tree stump removal and grinding companies exist, but their services may not be cost effective for a single stump. Fortunately, some effective homemade solutions exist for stump removal that vary in complexity, difficulty and speed.
Dig It Out
For modest-sized stumps of less than 4 inches, this may be the best solution. Using a spade, dig a 4-foot-diameter trench around the perimeter of the stump. Insert the spade at a 45-degree angle to the ground, rocking to break up the roots. As the trench opens, use the spade to pry the root ball up and out. If the taproot prevents removal, use the spade to cut it by driving the blade sharply into the root.
If the stump is in a safe place--not in the way of foot traffic or lawn mower paths--consider using it as a pedestal. When cutting the tree, leave a length suitable for your design plans. A birdhouse, sundial or small statue can be used to turn an annoying stump into garden accent.
Cut the stump as close to the ground as possible and cover it with a heavy plastic tarp. Secure the plastic with earth staples or rocks and cover with topsoil or mulch. This will prevent sprouting and hasten stump decay.
Drill, Bury and Feed
Cut the stump closely and drill several 1-inch holes into the flat surface. Cover the stump with topsoil or sod and keep the area moist. During the first year, use a high-nitrogen fertilizer to hasten decay. After the first year, pull the sod and soil away and fill the holes with ordinary table sugar. Sugar adds carbon, a necessary decay-inducing element.
Burning stumps is a time-honored method of removal, but the experts at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center do not recommend this technique because "burning under low oxygen conditions, such as those surrounding the underground parts of the stump, creates charcoal that is almost impossible to decompose."
Burning the exposed stump may be suitable if your location is safe and local fire ordinances permit it. Build a "stove" around the stump with a 5 gallon metal can. Remove the top and bottom of the can, punch holes in the sides and fill the can with kindling. LSU recommends building a coal or charcoal fire to ensure that the fire burns as long as needed to incinerate the stump--often several days.