It has been three months since Hurricane Matthew and storm cleanup is almost complete. Stumps rotated out of the ground and those still securely anchored litter the coastal landscape.
I visited Fort McAllister State Park for the first time since the storm and was sad to see the extent of tree loss in the picnic area beside the Ogeechee River, until I drove through the camping area on Savage Island. The word "devastation" comes to mind, but the site was cleared of debris and people were in there camping in travel trailers and a few "certifiables" were tent camping with a low in the 20s forecast for the coming night.
Right there, browsing over the grass and forbs 10 to 100 feet from our truck was a herd of 10 whitetails that kept their distance, but did not bolt. It was too cold for even them to run. Or they thought I looked like Santa Claus. Or maybe they knew they had nothing to fear from an old, unarmed fat man. Or maybe it was because my pickup is dark green and dark green trucks are their friends.
If, like me, you have some stumps in your yard, there are three ways to get them removed. Removing stumps is a time and money equation. The less money you have to work with, the more time it takes to remove a stump.
If you have the financial resources, stump grinding is the fastest way to make stumps disappear. Stump removal is a great winter job for the tree care companies. Contracting out the work is the fastest and easiest route, but it is also the most expensive.
Next step down (or up depending on your point of view) is to rent a stump grinder and grind out the stumps yourself. Rental stump grinders are smaller and less powerful than the professional models so it will take more time and more physical effort on your part to operate the machine. If you are not in good physical shape you might want to contract out the job.
Whether contracting or going the DIY route please follow a few tips to make the work less eventful. First, ensure that somebody calls 811 a couple weeks before doing the work to make sure underground utilities are not cut or crushed in the process. It is not just the utilities that may be immediately around the stump but those that might be crushed by equipment getting to the stump or repositioning while grinding the stump. This includes the water line, sewer lines and buried cable serving your house.
Second, move anything that is in the vicinity away from the stump – like vehicles and lawn furniture. Grindings from stumps can be thrown with force many yards from the work site.
Third, keep spectators away while stumps are being ground, especially children. There is nothing subtle about carbide-clad teeth churning several thousand rpm.
If you are looking for a way to stay warm and get a good physical workout and have a couple days to kill, you can always try digging out the stump with a shovel. You will gain an appreciation for tree anatomy.
I have dug out around and under a couple pine stumps in my yard, washed the soil off with a hose and let them dry for a month before packing firewood under them and burning them out. It is a good venue for hotdogs and ’smores.
For the sloths amongst us, or those with better things to do with their time and money, the slow, but inexpensive and sure way to get rid of stumps is to compost them in place. Wood is mostly polymerized sugar – chains of sugar – that are a good carbon source (French fries) for bacteria, fungi, insects and other assorted micro-biota.
What stops them from eating it is the lack of adequate nitrogen (protein – a hamburger). If we add in nitrogen to the sugar (stump) the critters will have a menu from which to eat.
The best tactic to compost out a stump is to drill holes deep into the trunk all along its surface and pour nitrogen fertilizer into the holes. Once the composting process starts, the wood will become increasingly acidic, which will slow down the rate of decomposition. Spread a thin layer of agricultural lime over the stump and the process will take off again.
How long will it take to compost out the stump? That depends on the size and if the nitrogen and lime supplies are adequate. A small stump of a foot in diameter may take a year. Larger stumps may take two years to compost. If you have the time you can save the money – and your back.
Yes, I can hear some of you! Yes, there are other ways to remove stumps, but it has been many years since we have been able to buy dynamite over the counter at the hardware store.