Building with Trees and Tree Stumps

You can utilize what you have from the natural world, like trees, to protect and secure your homestead.

| November 2017

stump shed

Building a horseshoe-shaped stump shed is a great way to utilize old stumps and slash left behind after clearing a pasture. Orient the shed to block prevailing winds.

Illustration by Steve Sanford

The Woodland Homestead (Storey Publishing, 2015) by Brett McLeod is for the woodland homeowner, whether that’s for a large or small property. McLead provides insight to help you get the most out of your land through sustainable practices. Here, learn how you can use both living and non-living trees and stumps to build structures on your homestead, from fences to animal shelters.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Woodland Homestead.

Building a Stump Fence

Laying up stumps is similar to laying stones: overlapping courses form the wall. Begin by laying a row of stumps along your entire fenceline, rootballs down, as if they were still growing. If the final fence is to be taller than 4 feet, you’ll need to build a double base in which two parallel rows of stumps are placed with a 1-foot-wide gap in the center to accommodate the next course of stumps. Place the stumps so that the rootballs point in toward the pasture and up toward the top of the fence. As the rootball dries out, the roots will become firm, pointy deterrents for livestock that might otherwise consider crawling on the new fence.

Aim for making the walls of the fence as vertical as possible while still retaining strength. Use the bucket of the tractor to pack down each course of stumps. Don’t worry if some soil still remains on the stumps; this will serve as “mortar,” binding the fence together. If you notice holes in your stump fence, don’t be afraid to fill them with smaller stumps or rocks. Most people are amazed by the number of stumps required to build a wall; however, if you find that you have too many stumps, consider either adding an additional course or building a stump shed.


In addition to using stumps as windbreaks, it’s also possible to create shelterbelts from living trees. Shelterbelts are rows of trees planted strategically around farms and pastures to serve as natural obstructions to slow wind and protect soil from erosion. They can also be constructed around homes and buildings to reduce heating and cooling costs, and can provide important wildlife habitat as well as a variety of nontimber forest products.

Shelterbelts possess ecological and structural qualities that, in many ways, make them superior to built windbreaks such as snow fences and barrier walls. The strength of a tree, of course, lies in its ability to flex and bend. Crowns allow air to pass through without creating the turbulence generally associated with solid barriers.

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