Stump Grinding: Getting to the Roots of the Problem

Stump grinding

When we talk about tree care and tree removals (as we often do at CVTS-L), we generally talk about the higher branches that require aerial lift trucks or manually climbing through the canopy, or we talk about the precision and safety that is required when pruning or removing trees.

Today we want to talk about the part of the tree that gets left behind after a tree removal takes place:

The Stump!

Once is a tree is removed, most folks realize that if they don’t do something with the stump right away, they will be stuck mowing around and dealing with it for a very long time.

But what can be done?

Most people have no idea how to go about removing it, and the “do-it-yourselfers” might attempt to dig it out, pull it out or even rip it out of the ground.

Professional tree care firms, on the other hand, will perform a method of stump removal referred to as stump grinding, which is an effective – as we’ll see when we consider the alternatives – method of removing unwanted stumps from your property.

Stump grinding may not sound very glamorous, and, in fact, many homeowners might not even be aware of it, but, hey, that’s what professionals are for. As a professional tree care firm, not only do we perform the service, but it is also our job to explain and clarify the entire process so that you can make the best decision for your property – and your budget.

Stump grinding is a process that requires planning at all stages, and, generally speaking, whenever problems do arise, it is often due to fundamental misunderstandings regarding the mechanics of the stump grinding process.

Many tree services own the proper equipment necessary for removing stumps. This means that they can safely operate a stump grinder, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they can provide you with a detailed description of the service they are going to provide, and more importantly, how the process will play out on your property. It should be noted that there are even businesses whose sole business is exclusively stump grinding.

Potential problems can be avoided by ensuring that everyone has a clear understanding of how the process works and a clear vision of what the property will look like once the stump has been evicted.

Here are four things for homeowners to keep in mind when they are hiring for stump grinding work.

Stump Grinding Problem #1: Misconceptions and Misunderstandings

Many of the complaints that people have with stump grinding stem from the fact that they had inaccurate or unrealistic expectations of how the process would work. To correct this, it might be easier to take a moment to talk about what a stump grinder isn’t.

  • Stump grinders are not woodchippers. They don’t convert stumps into fine, usable mulch chips or decorative mulch.
  • Stump grinders are not saws. They don’t convert stumps into tidy stacks of firewood or sawdust.
  • Stump grinders are not vacuums. They don’t collect the shavings into a bag or container for easy disposal.

So…what is a stump grinder?

Although arborists often have many technical names for their methods and machinery, a stump grinder does exactly what its name implies: it mechanically and hydraulically grinds stumps out of the ground.

It’s as simple as that.

The stump grinder is a machine with a large, circular blade or cutter wheel. It is maneuvered into position by one of our arborists, and then it is pressed directly against the stump. The grinding teeth have a carbide sharp tip on the end that pulverizes or grinds the wood fibers in the stump into a stringy debris.

It is small enough that a single person can movie into place and operate it, but it’s big enough that clearance and right of access may be an issue. We have stump grinders of various sizes that allow us to work in most locations.


The solution requires clear communication between the homeowner and the tree care service regarding the capabilities, requirements and limitations of the equipment. Stump grinders do one thing, and they do it very well. If everyone has a clear understanding of what that means, the process will always be successful.

Stump Grinding Problem #2: Clean Up

At CVTS-L, we pride ourselves on leaving our worksites neat, clean and safe, but we also respect homeowners’ “do-it-yourself” spirit and budgetary constraints.

Accordingly, our clients have several cleanup options to choose from, which can be determined by their answers to the following questions:

How deep do you need the stump(s) ground below grade?

  1. Deep enough to plant grass/lawn depth? (Approx. 6-8 inches deep).
  2. Deep enough to plant another tree? (Approx. 12-36 inches below grade depending on the age, size and species of tree stump).
  3. Deep enough for a driveway, excavation or construction foundation/footer? (determined by contractor based on site requirements).

What would you like done with the stump grinding debris?

  1. Leave all debris as-is on site. We call this the “No Cleanup” option. It is the least expensive option, but it requires more effort on the part of the homeowner.

    No cleanup.
  2. Backfill it into the hole. We take the stump debris and backfill it into the stump hole, making the stump grindings level with the grade around it. We then haul away the excess stump grinding debris. This is the mid-range price.

    Backfilled into hole.
  3. Leave the hole empty. We remove all of the stump debris and leave the hole empty. The hole is then ready for topsoil or replanting grass or even another tree. This is the most expensive of the three options because it involves the most time and labor.

    Debris removed – empty hole.
  4. Custom landscaping options. CVTS-L will also offer landscaping solutions once the hole is empty, such as: adding topsoil to the hole, sowing grass seed, adding straw matting or Penn Mulch, etc. These options come with additional material and labor costs.

    Custom landscaping – replacement tree.

For those who opt to clean up the stump grinding mess themselves, it is important that they understand exactly what it is that they are agreeing to.

As we mentioned before, stump grinders are not woodchippers, saws or vacuums. The remnants of stump grinding are stringy bits of acidic, heavy and dense wood fibers, and the stump grindings are not suitable for mulch or really any other practical landscaping purposes. On a rare occasion, the grindings might be usable for keeping mud down on a walking trail, but that’s about it.

Additionally, the stump grindings are likely to include whatever materials the roots were growing in: stones, roots, native subsoil, as well as topsoil. This mixture of debris will be a loosely scattered pile surrounding the area and the hole where the stump once was.


We recommend allowing us to clean up the dirty mess because we have the tools and the vehicles (i.e., trucks) required for the job, but if you choose to do it yourself, please be aware of what you are signing up for. Remember that the grindings will most likely not be usable for landscaping purposes and that the mess will be immense. Many people underestimate the volume of debris that will be left behind for them to clean up. Even small trees can require multiple truckloads.

Stump Grinding Problem #3: Visible Surface Roots

As you may have noticed around your yard or neighborhood, certain types of trees have shallow-growing root systems. Some of these root systems are visible at grade or above, and anyone who has hit one of these roots while mowing certainly can speak of the damage that they can cause to your own mowing equipment.

All types of maples, hybrid poplars, honey locusts and willows are just a few examples of trees that have a shallow root system extending only 4-8 inches into the ground.

Not only are they shallow, but these root systems may extend as far as 20 feet from the base of the tree. We have actually seen them extend as far as 50 feet out!

At CVTS-L, we are trained to look for these surface roots and include their removal with our stump grinding services. Sometimes the removal of these roots may require cutting or chopping them out with a very sharp ax. It might also require additional grinding with the stump grinding machine if they are very large. But rest assured, we will make them disappear.


The stump removal process can be more extensive for certain species of trees. It is the job of the professional tree care company to thoroughly investigate – and explain – exactly what they the finished product will look like. There are many tree care firms out there that are content to leave visible surface roots in the ground after the stump has been ground out. They might tell you that they’re no big deal and that it’s not included within the scope of their work. However, history has proven to us that our customers will expect these unsightly, interfering landscape hazards to be removed for both aesthetic and practical reasons. You can get that top-shelf end result – without the hassle – by hiring CVTS-L.

Stump Grinding Problem #4: Root Suckers

With certain types of trees, after the stump is ground out and the stump grindings have been removed, another type of problem could just be beginning.

Previously, we discussed how to handle “visible” roots, but what about the ones you can’t see?

Depending on the size and species of the tree, stump grinders can up leaving much of the “nonvisible” root system intact under the surface of the lawn. For some trees, this is fine as it is, and it spares the homeowner the trouble of tearing up an area that is roughly the size of the tree’s canopy.

But for other trees (notably fruit-bearing trees, honey locusts, ailanthus, sweet gums, mulberries, hybrid poplars, bamboo and other invasive species), the roots will not only survive but continue to grow.

Instead of creating food, the roots have already stockpiled enough food to continue growing for another two-to-three years. The roots themselves being to grow sucker sprouts. To the homeowner it will seem as if they had removed one tree only to have dozes of saplings take its place. Unfortunately, at that point, there isn’t much that can be done. The homeowner will have to keep the sprouts cut off or mowed over, and, eventually, they will die off.


Avoiding roots sprouts requires immediate herbicide treatment (by a State Certified Applicator or Registered Technician) after the stump has been ground out. The treatment needs to be applied within an hour – we recommend within a half hour – of the initial tree removal. The herbicide treatment then has to translocate/move through the root system for a day or two to kill the remaining unseen, underground root system.


As with many aspects of tree care – but especially with stump grinding – it is substantially easier to address potential problems before the process has begun. When everyone involved has a clear idea of what to expect from the process, the cleanup and the aftercare, the process will be successful.

Most problems arise because people misunderstood the nature of the equipment, the process by which the stump would be removed, the messiness of the process, the volume of resultant stump debris created, or the potential post-grinding problems (such as root suckers) that can take years to remedy.

Hiring companies that are experienced with the equipment, knowledgeable about trees, and trained to guide customers through the process from beginning to end will aid homeowners in making optimum decisions prior to the removal – eliminating the problems before they even have a chance to occur.

Contact us today to further discuss your stump grinding project.