Don’t Neglect the Stump

by Andrea Laine, EMGV

There’s nothing more annoying than cutting down a tree and then having to deal with suckers growing from the stump. Arborists say the suckers will subside after a year or two, but that hasn’t always been my experience. So, this winter when we had a few trees in our yard taken down to let in more sunlight, I resolved to address the stumps right away.

I considered three options: Grind the stump, treat it with a chemical herbicide, or encourage it to rot.

Grinding the stump is generally not a DIY project. A stump grinder is heavy machinery that chips away the wood stump to a depth of 12 inches or more leaving wood chips and sawdust in its place. I detest heavy machinery compacting the soils of my landscape as much as some people dislike using chemicals on weeds, so grinding was not for me.

Selected and used properly, a chemical herbicide containing glyphosate or triclopyr will kill the stump as well as the root system. Music to my ears, until I learned that in order to be effective on a stump it must be applied within a few minutes of the cut being made. To accomplish that I would have been underfoot while the arborist I hired was felling trees. Too dangerous, I concluded.

If you choose this route, know that the herbicide can be applied with a sprayer or a paintbrush and depending upon the concentration of the product, you may need to use it full strength. Always follow the directions on the manufacturer’s label for specific herbicides. The most critical area of the stump top to cover is just inside the bark around the entire circumference. This is where the herbicide is most effectively transferred to the roots.

Stumps will eventually rot. You can accelerate the process by covering a stump with a few inches of soil and keeping it moist. It is like composting in place; Microorganisms in the soil will breakdown the wood slowly over time.

The most natural option – encouraging rot – is the one I ultimately chose, even though it does not seem that much different from the neglect I had previously practiced. Still, I have high hopes that I will not be dealing with suckers from the stumps this time around. My research taught me that trees should be cut as close to the ground as possible for the best chance of deterring suckers. The arborist made cuts close to the ground, unlike the DIY cuts my husband and I made a few years ago, as the pictures below illustrate.


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Photo credits: Andrea Laine