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Tree Stump Removal Instructions

Last updated : 20 November 2014

Tree stump removal instructions that make a very difficult, if not an impossible job, manageable.  I spent about 20 years re-landscaping homes.  We used to re-landscape three homes a week, and we did all of this work on evenings and Saturdays because I worked a full time job.  I have no idea how many homes I re-landscaped over the years, but the number is well over 500.  Every one of those re-landscaping jobs had overgrown landscaping that needed to be removed before we could even start the actual landscaping job.

That meant that dozens and dozens of tree stumps and large stumps from overgrown shrubbery had to be removed.

Of course county wisdom says that you just back up Bubba’s pickup truck, wrap a chain around the stump and drive away as fast as you can.   I’ll admit, I’ve done that.  Does it work?  Sort of.  But it’s also a great way to really tear up a pick up truck, completely destroy the lawn, and possibly damage the house.

Therefore it’s not such a good idea.  Especially when you are doing work on somebody else’s house like I was doing.

So over the years we refined a technique for actually removing these stumps by hand.  Tree stump removal by hand with the wrong tools is an impossible task.  Tree stump removal with the right tools is doable.  I won’t say it’s easy work because it’s not.  But if you use the right tools and the right techniques you don’t have to strain your back and ruin your tools.  It’s more of a methodical process of digging around the tree stump with a good nursery digging spade, and using a landscape bar, also known as a spud bar to cut the roots as you encounter them while digging.

The secret is to start out away from the stump.  If you start working too closely to the stump you will encounter large heavy roots that will be too difficult to deal with.  So if you start out a little farther and just start digging a small trench around the stump with the spade, then going around in the trench you just dug with the spud bar to cut the roots that the spade won’t cut, then more spade work, then more landscape bar work, that tree stump will come out of the ground.  Don’t pry and bend up your tools.  Use the tools to cut the roots.  Prying won’t get you anywhere and your tools will be ruined.

I’ve been teaching this technique on the Internet for a number of years now and people write to me all the time and tell me how well it worked for them.

Happy digging!  -Mike


  1. Gloria says

    Thanks for the video Mike! I would categorize it under landscape design. Have to take out before you can re-plan and re-plant.

  2. Nona says

    Thanks for the info Mike! Wish I had it a few months ago! I did one myself using a shovel, ax and crow bar and know now I started too close to the tree. Breathing heavy is an understatement–I worked a while, rested a while, worked a while, rested a while, and it certainly took more than 15 minutes, but finally mission accomplished! I will follow your instructions next time (or call a landscaper!!!)

      • Carle says

        Have considerable back problems, I figured out a pretty good way to remove some shrub stumps. It’s called: K-u-b-o-t-a.

        When I was young and in my prime,
        I used to dig stumps all the time.
        But I’m older, with body askew;
        I remember my granpa sayin';
        If they make a machine for it;
        The work IT should do.

        Be well,

      • adam says

        i have a two tree stumps i need grinded or removed away. they are rather hard trees and they are cut to ground level now. they are about 17-20″ in diameter

        when i go to digg the trench around them i hit more big roots and I get nowhere fast.

        I thought of chainsaw but think the chain will dull immediately i thought about jack hammer with moderately sharp but not too sharp a spade bit……

        any ideas?
        how about those chemicals you can pour in? do they work well. I have all the time in the world but would rather get them out quickly


        Adam Faura

        • Mike says


          You can dig out farther where the roots are smaller. The Jack hammer is just likely to get stuck in the roots and you’ll pull your back trying to pull it back. You’re right, you’ll ruin the change saw. You can rent a stump grinder for usually around $125.00. They make really nice Vemeer walk behind models that fit through gates etc.

  3. GRANNY says

    Very good video, I did not know that is how it done. Where i used to work , We just dug any old way till it came out. haha. You have a very nice web page Mike.

    • Mike says

      Granny, I learned to do it the hard way, just digging any old way and never know for sure which tool to use. Eventually I figured it out.

  4. Julia says

    Thanks for the video :) i wish we had seen it a week ago, we removed a seemingly “small” stump that was hidden under an old birdbath in our front yard (i guess the last homeowner didn’t want to deal with it), it looked small, but it had big roots- it took us (my husband that is, i was just the assistant) a lot of effort and a broken spade, but we finally lifted it out. That stump was shooting roots all over the place, and there was a tree already sprouting from it, right beside our foundation. Now we know a better way (with no broken tools, lol)

  5. Renate says

    Thanks Mike;
    You made my life a lot easier, got some ugly Poplars I want to remove from my property, saved me hours of work by showing me the right way, not my hubbies way, he just had knee surgery, so now I get to do it.

    Thanks again for all the help I’ve gotten from your Emails.

    Renate in Michigan.

  6. Donna says

    Some excellent information to have as needed…………..You make it look easy……..

    Always pays to have the right tools…………………..too!!

  7. janet says

    Thanks mike for the great advise!my husband already did the truck thing tried to wrap chain around the tree but broke off the tree 1foot to the ground said he was going cut it off with a chain saw the rest of it but never did so im taking your advise im going to try that tommorow my girlfriend has a spudbar i just burrow hers and get to work thanks for the info janet

  8. Tore says

    Thanks for th video. I have several 15 in to 20 in stumps to remove. Should I give them a try? I am 64 yrs old in reasonable health and have plenty of time to do this.

    • Mike says

      Tore, If the stumps you have are 15 to 20 inches in diameter I wouldn’t tackle them by hand. You can rent a stump grinder for a little over $100 a day. Or just hire somebody to grind them. I’m not saying they can’t be dug, but it would be quite a job.

  9. Bob Davis says

    I’ve been faced with the stump diggin’ thing numerous times. I do all the same procedure, but intstead of using your spud bar, which can be stressful to your arm, shoulder, and back joints, I use a reciprocating saw to cut the roots. There’s many lengths and types of blades at Harbor Freight, Lowes, & Home Depot that will cut the roots like cutting soft butter!

  10. millie says

    thanks mile for the video wish i had it when we moved in here. There were stumps everywhere we worked and worked with them wefinally went to hardware store and bought some kind of stump removal the was suppose to eat away at the root so it came up, but did not work, we ended up pourin kerosene on them and burn all we could and them dug some more till we got them up. i swore i would never do that againsix months or more we worked on those darn stumps, but you made it look easy. if i ever try to get up another one i will remember your video. thanks a lot. millie.

  11. Lucky says

    Hi Mike
    Thanks for the advise. Just want to say it is just such an amassing site you have,
    So many good tips, so easy to understand. Keep it up

  12. Gary says

    Thanks for the info Mike! I did try it on my old peach tree which has a 4 times thicker trunk than your video. However, I made the stupid mistake of cutting off the trunk at the base so now I don’t have the leverage to rock it back and forth. I used the same tools and tried digging out a trench about 3 feet in diameter away from the trunk for almost 3 hours and was drenched in sweat and the trunk is still solidly intrenched. I cut many roots but it seems to have deep roots directly under the trunk that I can’t get too. The tree was about 30 years old and was killed by fireblight. So I’m stuck with an ugly trunk now. What about those powdery tree stump removers? Do they work? Can I pour this on it to kill and decompose the trunk?

    • Mike says

      Gary, now that you have a trench dug around that stump and more of it exposed I’d consider building a fire over what’s left and burn it down. That’s providing you can do so safely and legally. Around here we can only burn if it’s a recreational fire, which means you need a package of hot dogs and a stick.

  13. Karen says

    What about stumps from big hardwood trees that have been cut for some time, and are only about 24″ from the ground?
    I enjoyed your video!

    • Mike says


      It sounds like your stumps need a date with a stump grinder. But being that high they also need to be cut off closer to the ground before they can be ground. There are lots of independent guys around with stump grinders that do this reasonably. Ask around.

  14. PATTY says

    Thank you for another great video Mike but I can just use my little rat terrier. He cuts big tree roots in half with his teeth if they get in his way while digging huge holes all over the yard. I will rent him out if anyone’s interested.

  15. April says

    Mike, I learned how to remove tree stumps from you 3 years ago, from your website and your method worked perfectly! I went out right away and bought the right tools and I removed a giant Cotton Wood tree stump that was 1 1/2 feet in diameter as well as 4 – 40 year old Juniper bushes that were well over 8 feet tall and all had thick roots that went on forever! I then taught my neighbors how to dig up their Junipers too. Thanks for such great advice.

  16. Anonymous says


    • Mike says

      I understand that fixed income thing alright. But I can assure you we have a lot of members in the same boat and they are doing well growing and selling plants.

  17. Wasnaa says

    Hi Mike, Thank you soooo much for all the landscape ideas emails!!! I enjoy them sooooo much!!!! Your email is the only one that I make sure and have time to read or watch the video!!! Thank you again and God Bless You!!!


  18. Debbie says

    Hey, Mike, I was just out front wonderin’ how in the world I could get a couple 1950’s half-dead azalea bushes out of the ground by my house. Now I know it is do-able!! Thanks for the great video!!

  19. Mike says

    That’s efficiant as it gets.

    Without the expenseve cost of the spade can a person rip/pull big stumps out with say a 6″ diameter tree/pole (cut down tree), a chain, and a big round fulcrum rock or something? I saw a leverage tool something like that in Mother Earth News long time ago.. I’ll be watching for a landscaping spade ..used.

    • Mike says

      Mike, Your theory is to rip the stump out of the ground against it’s own force. If you cut some of those roots the stump comes out much easier. You could probably make some progress with a block and tackle. I’ve heard of them used that way, but have never done it. Good luck on that hunt for a good spade. It’s not the thing that you find in a garage sale. Those that have them won’t part with them on a bet.

  20. janet says

    hi mike i took your advise it worked great i love watching your videos there great!i could take out the stump myself it only took about 1/2hour my husband was amazed thankyou for the great tips janet

  21. Harry says

    I had some pine trees cut down some years back.I got the guy to cut them off as close to the ground as possible. The I got a pretty long auger bit and drilled holes in the stumps and filled them full of salt. That didn’t quite do the trick so I bought some “Stump Rot” and put that in. It took it awhile to work (a couple of months), but the stumps started to fall apart. After cooking out on the grill I put the still burning charcoal on one stump. It burnt all the way into the ground overnight. I dug one small pine stump up one time. I thought I was going to get to China before I dug the thing up.

  22. Paul in Chicago says

    Thanks for the tip about not cutting the trunk near the ground. I nearly made the mistake on a whole row of four ugly shrubs that need to be removed so that nicer plants can be put there. (In fact,arborvitaes will be planted.) You may have saved me hours of work if not also another episode of sharp back pains.

  23. Anonymous says

    Mike, I’m having a hard time finding a Landscape or Spud bar. Any suggestions? Thanks. Love your website and emails. Thinking of going into the sprouting business!

    • Kathy says

      I found a selection of landscape bars at the local Ace Hardware recently, and I’ve seen them at other hardware stores, but not all of them. It seems to be up to the discretion of the store manager whether or not they carry landscape bars. All I can suggest is that if you don’t find it in one hardware store, try another. You can also ask the store manager if they can order one in for you.

      Kathy Anderson
      Mike’s Assistant

  24. Anonymous says

    I have many vines on my blackberries and I did find out the best thing to do is wait until January to cut them back to the end of the canes. It is now August and I live in So. Indiana and would like to get some of the vines out of my way for mowing. Would it hurt the vines if I cut them back part of the way now? After cutting the vines back last January I have tons of new vines. With the summer being so hot I didn’t have locusts on the vines and very few ants. I used CD’s attached to strings and stagger them along the fence post to keep the birds away and this really works great. No more bird doodle on the vines. I am not able to put up a trellis by myself, so I just have to work with the vines the best I can. This year the berries were bigger and juicier! Just wish I could have yielded more. Thanks for your hlep and I like your website.

  25. Sharon says

    Thanks for all of the info! For the first time in my 66 years we have been hit by tomato blight and lost ALL of them. HELP

  26. Pam says

    Do they make nursery spades with longer handles? I can’t dig bent over like that due to an old back injury, but I can dig if I can stand up straighter. Maybe I can get the handle modified somehow.

  27. charles says

    Looks like you have sandy soil.
    Wonder what it would have been like in heavy clay soil?
    You may would still be at it! Ha!!!

  28. debbi says

    Hi Mike! Sure looked easy. Not at all like the cherry trees that were “smaller” that I had to take out. Some of those roots are like the trunk! and yes, we started out and worked in, but it wasn’t at all so easy. I like your vids! Thank you for taking the time to teach.

  29. Harry says

    I had to dig up a pine stump about 30 years ago so I could plant a dogwood. I thought I would get to China before I got to the bottom of that thing. I’ve found with big trees cut them off close to the ground.
    Then get an auger drill and drill a lot of holes in the stump and pour in salt or some stuff called “Stump Rot”. You have to wait a few months for the stuff to work. Cover the stump with charcoal and light it off.
    It’ll burn that sucker all the way into the ground. This takes more time, but it’s a lot less work.

  30. CJHames says

    Yeah, come and try that in Texas clay soil. LOL. No way. I do like your nice, dry, light soil though. I wish I had it down here!

  31. Maryanne says

    Hi Mike,
    Loved the video. I have a big problem. Just paid a guy $1,000 to take down 4 40-yr. old pine trees. The stump diameter is about 3 ft. around cut close to the ground. I don’t think a stump grinder will do the trick as these stumps had 5-inch roots shooting out and wrapping around the stumps! I called an excavator and he wants another $1500 to take out the things. It’s an incredible waste of money.

    • Edward says

      See my comment below – you might want to use a brace and bit and drill many deep holes – depending where you live a $5 bag of salt could do the trick.

      • Ray Cooke says

        How do you use salt? Do you drill holes into the stump and pour salt in them? Is that all? About how long does it take to work?

  32. Lillian says

    Enjoy all the information you provide. When you go to purchase the tools in your videos can you purchase these at your local hardware (Lowe’s or Home Depot) stores. Thanks again for your time and great videos.

    • Kathy says

      The action hoe is available at many hardware stores. If your local hardware store doesn’t sell them, ask the manager if they can order one in for you. You might
      also find them at garden centers or in gardening catalogs.

      Kathy Anderson
      Mike’s Assistant

  33. Michelle's Green Thumb says

    Hi Mike – thanks for the video!
    I just took out 5 or 6 shrubs yesterday & while it wasn’t difficult (mostly rotten) I sure could have used the advice of this video!

  34. Holly :) says

    Hey Mike,-I love the video’s keep em coming. Great job Dustin, I too have to do the grunt work for my Dad now.I wish I had a Kabota Tractor. Heck forget the Kabota just send me Dustin for a week or so. My Dad is 83 and still gets out and does things outside and Im 48 and have a hard time keeping up with him. I guess Im his Dustin lol LOVE TO GARDEN WITH My DAD. Have any good ideas for oak leaves in the fall, I have 2 1/2 acres of leaves.

  35. Holly :) says

    Mike– what should I do with oak leaves I have heard that they are very acidic and shouldn’t be used on garden or mulch pile. Do you put all your kitchen and yard waist in your mulch pile. Or maybe I should ask what not to put in a mulch pile.How about a video on this subject.

  36. Annie says

    Mike, Dustin, great job guys. I have lots of small trees to cut and dig the roots out. I know how my husband and I will be doing it now. Thank you.

  37. Trev says

    a reciprocating saw will cut all the roots and save loads of time too. once you have dug the trench to the roots, use the reciprocating saw to cut the roots and push on the trunk until you have cut all the roots off. cheers

  38. Gracie says

    Thanks Mike. I’ve been looking around on how to remove a bush, stump and came up on your video. Man, great, simple and easy on how to remove a tree stump (great Tips!) . First now i have to get my spade and landscaping bar. I’ll let you know how it turned out. Thanks a bunch.(:

  39. Kim says

    Thank you for one nice video. Wish I had known what two tools would have made removal of various plants, that have good roots on them, a breeze a year or two ago. It surely was a struggle but now that I know what to use I will have a quicker and easier time.

  40. Gary says

    Had to respond!
    I love to use better and easier ways of doing a job. But, I can tell you digging a stump out of the ground by hand is NO easy task, using proper tools or not! I’ve got approx. 20 tree stumps of maple, hickory, holly, and pine that need removed and I challege anyone that after the second stump of any size you will throw your tools down and go inside cussing the whole way. My g-grandfather would have at least had a helping hand with a good team of horses and a good sharpened axe he would have sharpen himself in the shed.

  41. says

    I have private hedge around my house but they have grown up with lots of leaves on top and bare lower down they are about 8 ft tall. how do I prune them.I dont want to cut them down as they protect the house from the north winds ..Also I have row of them down the driveway .how do I shape them thanks I have learned a lot from you … missy

  42. Vita says

    I had a “benjamin ficus” tree. We cut it all the way to the ground. The thing is that it was planted in a hole surrounded by concrete. Now I wish I could plant something else, but, need to remove the stump. How to? Also when I first moved to this land, I didn’t know much about anything to do with landscaping. I planted to Ash trees neer my home. We later did a concrete driveway along the area of the trees. Now after over 40 yrs of living here the roots went under my driveway and lifted up part of the slab. I do not want to remove the trees,but would like to do something about the roots. Any suggestions?

    • Edward says

      I have removed many tree stumps by hand over the years – basically using Mike’s techniques
      but using a Grubbing Axe ( pick axe with one side of the head large and flat). I find it easier. BUT after the stump is removed, to prevent the remaining small roots from sending up suckers,I take a hand drill – drill a hole in the roots and fill them with sodium chlorate ( if not available a cheap alternative is winter Ice Salt) this causes the roots to rot away.
      Roots under the drive could be approached in the same way – cut root at edge of drive – drill a large hole in the root that goes under the drive and fill the hole with Sodium Chlorate or Ice Salt ( the rougher the better) – this should cause the root to rot away.

  43. Dwayne says

    Hay Mike I have see this one on YouTube will i think i have sine them all for rial i keep with someone that i real want and this I want

  44. Gerald Frimann says

    Well Mike thats a nice video and certainly work in your area but in mine you better get something to dig black clay soil that if wet can’t get off the shovel if dry can’t get spade into ground your basic techniques will work but oh! wish I had soil that easy to dig in.

  45. Kathy says

    I have some boxwood hedges that are growing around the circumference of my home, have to dig them out or get a chain. (was always afraid if I pulled them with a chain that it would destroy my home’s foundation – I live in a mobile home with cement block/stucco around the bottom.)

    I will try to do it this way first! Thanks

    • Mike says

      This is a much better option. When you pull things with a chain lots of things get damaged. The lawn, the vehicle and possibly the foundation.

  46. says

    I think this is one of the most significant information for me.
    And i am glad reading your article. But wanna remark on
    some general things, The site style is wonderful,
    the articles is really great : D. Good job,

  47. Dave says

    Thank you for showing, it’s nice to see that there is actually a process to getting stumps out of the ground. Our primitive family pulls the boys that “aren’t doing anything” to come out and muscle our way through it, I’ll do ten wacks and you do ten wacks! Keep up the good work Mike.

  48. marnie says

    Hi Mike
    I don’t have the obvious strength you and Dustin have to use a spud bar (I’m 64) but my friend the reciprocating saw does! I have used the combination of your nursery spade technique and my recip. saw with great success for stumps and shrubs. Thanks for all your wonderful information. You are making me a much better gardener! Thank you

  49. TFig says

    This is great…I had – key word had – a stump that wouldn’t come out. Saw this video and bought a spud bar and nursery spade which helped me get the stump out in a matter of minutes. The spud bar is an awesome tool.

  50. Robert says

    I would love to have your soil. Mine is red clay and there is no way you could remove that stump in 15 minutes from my property. Also the bar you use, we call a tamper bar because of the round end. It is used to tamp down the earth around a fence poll. Thanks for the info, it will be very useful, but maybe just a little more time.

  51. Kristina says

    I recently rented an apartment and the previous tenant only cut the grass. The land owner thought they could just cut the young trees growing in the beds down to the ground and that would be that. It worked for the winter but now its almost summer and tree shoots are growing everywhere! Some of the stumps growing don’t have just one stump, they’re multiple stumps growing together like a mulberry tree/bush and they’re close to the ground and they’re right in the middle of a flower bed. Do you think this method will work for these or should I try a different method?

  52. Bruce says

    Another helpful tool we have found is a 2.5 ton to 3.5 ton hydraulic auto jack.
    We took out 10 huge 10′ to 12′ tall bushes growing along a foundation by digging a trench straight in under the bush, sliding in a short length of 2×12, then sliding the jack down on the 2×12 and jacking the bush out of the ground. Have used this technique on red buds, sassafrass, and smaller oaks where access is limited.
    We used the landscape spade handed down from my grandpa, an 8′ real heavy iron bar used to shift rail in the old days, a reciprocating saw w/pruning blade(s), the hydraulic jack, some sweatin’ and cussin’ too.
    Preferred tool is the John Deere, but you can’t just drive it anywhere; well you can, but not everyone appreciates the nice tread patterns.

  53. Andre says

    Thank you much for the very important advice to dig further away from the stump! where the roots are smaller. I used a “super sawzall (electric) to cut the roots.

  54. CarolAnn Wasilco says

    Is there any way to protect my balckberry bushes from another nasty winter like we had last year. I only harvested a couple of hands full of berries this year. I assume the flower buds frozen in extreme weather of last winter and spring.


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