Celebrating 75 Years Serving The Midlands

Much Ado About Stumps

You’ve had your tree removed, either because nature didn’t give you a choice or you simply wanted that old Bradford Pear gone before it split apart and came down on your car. So what are you to do about that woody eyesore still poking up out of the ground…the dreaded stump!


You have options, obviously.

The easy answer is that you can just leave it.

There are varying schools of thought regarding stumps being left as is, untended, untreated or undisturbed. “If you leave it, it will just invite disease, fungus, bacteria, insects and all sorts of other harmful things to your lawn.” Fair enough, the decaying remains of a stump and root system do tend to bring on a host of invaders looking to take advantage of the situation. But when a tree falls in the woods, do all the other trees suddenly begin to die because of bacteria moving in to decompose the woody materials or insects feasting on the dead wood? Do the fungal growths spread like cordyceps in The Last of Us and turn all the neighboring trees into living dead things? No, they return from whence they came and become part of the soil again. This is the basic life cycle of living things. We are born and grow and age and when we leave this plane of existence we return to the Earth in a perpetual cycle of matter.

Sorry, existential crises are better left off the tree blog.

If the stump doesn’t bother you, leave it. It may sprout new shoots, clip them, or let them grow and watch life find a way so to speak.

You can play around with Google searches and do any sort of DIY efforts to get rid of it.

Bore holes in it and pour in an obscene amount of Epsom salt, herbicide or boiling water. Score it and repeat any of those options above.
Do they work? Sometimes. It’s recommended that you bore at least a dozen holes of approx. 1” width and 12” depth. Do you happen to have a 1” wide 12” long drill bit? And at that point, you’ve almost ground the stump with a power drill and that sounds utterly exhausting. Scoring is fine, but you also have to get fairly deep and cross the entire width of the stump twice. You’ll generally end up running the chain/bar down into the ground and having to pick oily dirt and mud out of the chainsaw, and that’s just tedious.
They work, sometimes, but man are they a lot of work to actually get done.

There are Professional/Semi-Professional Options to get rid of them.

Grinding and excavating are the most surefire way to get the stumps gone.
So what’s the difference?


A stump grinder is a large, often remote-controlled machine that uses a large spinning wheel with metallic “teeth” to churn through the woody material of the stump. It is essentially the inner workings of a wood chipper on wheels. The machine sweeps back and forth across the surface of the stump to work it down into the ground. Depending on the size of the machine, it can hit varying depths to clear space for new planting or just to eliminate trip hazards and eyesores. Stump grinding is, despite the chaotic nature of the machine, a straightforward endeavor but it can be quite messy. The machine indiscriminately destroys anything that is in the way of that wheel and throws the material as it churns. Neighboring plants are often damaged in the process if they are too close to the grinding site, irrigation systems are often severely damaged if their locations are not known, and underground utilities need to be professionally located and marked to make sure they won’t be a hazard below ground. And the finished product leaves behind all the mulched woody material, which is fantastic if the tree were not infested with insects and can be used in a garden, planter or for any other landscape function, but if it needs to be hauled away, make sure you know where your agreement with your contractor ends. Will they be doing any hauling and cleanup or is it just a grind and go plan? You’ll understand how important this detail is the first time you ever have to dig and move a mulch mound mid-Summer.


Excavating is a bit more invasive, utilizing a much larger machine to dig and pull the stump and root system up out of the ground. The pro of excavation is that it gets more of that material out of the ground, which is ideal if you want to replant a new tree in the same spot as it creates more open soil space for the new tree to establish roots without having to wait for the old root system to decompose to be out of the way. The downside of excavation is that it is going to leave a bit of a pit where all that material is being hauled out. You will often need to bring in fill dirt to bring the ground back up to level with the rest of the lawn.

Now for the disclaimer portion of this blog post because it’s the most important thing you’re going to read all day:

while you can rent a stump grinder and excavator from your local big box hardware store, you need to be extremely careful with it and understand all the dangers involved in the use of these machines. Let me repeat the two most important words there: extremely dangerous.

First, you need to know what is below ground. Do you have irrigation lines? Have you had the utility companies come out to mark the location of the lines? Do you have any landscape lighting with electrical wiring that could be underneath the ground in the general area you’ll be working?

For the utilities, you’ll need to contact your local 811 utility locate service. Most of them are easy to find. In each state I have done tree work, it’s just (Name of State)811. Like Georgia-811 or SC-811 in South Carolina. Before you do anything above ground, a quick internet search for your 811 service so you can put in that quick service ticket is going to save you a ton of money, loss of utilities, or much much worse on the back end. It normally takes about 72 hours for each of the providers to respond to the service ticket, but at least then you don’t get electrocuted hitting an underground power line or explode when you spark a gas line hitting it with the grinder wheel.

Remember when I said the machine is basically an open wood chipper on wheels? Have you ever seen Fargo? I should not have to explain the dangers here but it is 2024 and kids are still eating Tide Pods for internet notoriety so let’s go ahead and highlight those anyway.

Aside from the obvious dangers of tripping, falling or just through an act of sheer stupidity ending up on the wrong side of the machine wheel where it will indiscriminately just churn through you, the machine throws material as it grinds, so proper protective eyewear, headwear, and screens are not only recommended but should just be considered a requirement for use of a stump grinder, and hearing protection is an absolute must because it is extremely loud. Imagine someone putting sharp wooden bits through a pitching machine and hurling them at you. Sounds unpleasant and dangerous, right? That is what this thing is going to do the entire time it is grinding. And if the teeth on the wheel are dull or out of alignment the pieces it starts throwing get larger and larger, and it throws jagged baseball sized pieces at you.

Excavation does not come with the risks from projectiles, but it is a large piece of mechanical equipment and should not be taken lightly either. You still need the same understanding of the utilities underground. You still need to take precautions with personal protective equipment. You need to spend some time with the machine controls before you begin any work so you have at least a rudimentary idea of what you are doing before you begin digging and pulling on the stump. The key to excavating is to understand the machine, what it is capable of and what the job will require of it before you put the deposit down at that local rental outfit, not after you have already turned it on and gone gung-ho into the lawn. Adrenaline breeds stupidity, and if you have never used a machine like this it makes you feel kind of powerful and gets that adrenaline firing when you crank it up and start rolling.

I’m not trying to sound like your Mom, but if you are going to rent the machine and do it yourself (which is often more expensive than just hiring someone to do it), just please be careful. It is dangerous, and according to OSHA, 20% of accidents involving a stump grinder are fatal with the other 80% being those that were serious enough to result in a hospital visit. I have been hit with an array of projectiles coming off a stump grinder, including a softball sized chunk the kicked off a decaying Oak stump and got me right below the belt. I can tell you from experience that even accidents that don’t need medical attention are absolutely no fun.

So what’s the best option:

That one is entirely up to you, Bud. Feel comfortable renting the equipment and giving it a whirl, I support you and I believe in you, just be careful.

Want a pro to do it? Give your local companies a call. Most tree companies do or have someone who does this work for them. Want to score it or just leave it? Your decision, and I won’t tell you that you are wrong no matter how you go about it. I know, a blog post is supposed to have something more concrete for you but really I just wanted to talk about stumps for a while.

But if you do decide to have them ground by professionals, the end result is often pretty amazing.


Reach Us


3615 Phillips Street,
Columbia, South Carolina 29203

Contact Us