How to Rot a Stump for Easy Removal

Consider this simple solution for removing tree stumps: Rot the stump by inoculating it with mycelium.

Tree Stump

Removing tree stumps doesn’t have to be a long, difficult process.

Photo by Fotolia/Vasily Merkhushev

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I suggest that folks with a troublesome tree stump call upon their mycelial friends.

First, make sure the stump is dead by waiting at least a month after cutting the tree. Create a few holes in the top of the stump using a drill or a wood splitter. Surround the stump with a waterproof “fence” that’s about 2 feet higher than the top of the stump. Plastic 5-gallon buckets with the bottoms removed are great for small to medium stumps, and the top half of a plastic barrel works well for large stumps.

Next, collect moist, rotting mulch that’s laced with white fungal mycelia. You can obtain this mulch from any decomposing wood material that has white strands visible on its dark, moist side. I collect this locally because I can see for myself that it’s already been quietly working to turn wood into compost. Fill in the area between the stump and the fence with the mulch, and pack it lightly with your foot or a piece of lumber until it’s completely covered. Give it one nice initial soaking, and then periodically add water. You don’t want the inoculated pile to dry out, but you don’t want to turn it into a swamp, either.

You can give the rotting process a boost by adding a nitrogen source after the mycelium has had a chance to penetrate the new wood, which usually takes about three months. Mix a 1/2-cup of blood meal or fish emulsion, or a few scoops of chicken litter, into the wood mulch two or three times over the course of a year. Re-soak the mixture with water after each addition.

Within six months to a year, most stumps, regardless of species, will be easily workable. Remove the waterproof corral and mulch. Even if the nuisance stump hasn’t totally disintegrated, it will at least be soft and spongy. Break any surface snags by whacking them a few times with the back of an axe or a sledgehammer. Pound the surface of the stump until it’s level with the ground, and spread the mycelium mat around the area. Over time a hole will emerge as the stump continues to decay. Large roots will also decay and possibly cause depressions. Be sure to fill in these depressions with dirt to prevent accidents.

J. Dwaine Phifer
Cleveland, North Carolina