I dug out a tree stump, one down, one more to go.

Grandmother Goose

Valued Member
Jun 30, 2021
Broken Hill NSW
Arid, Desert, or Dry
I have to build a small retaining wall along one of my fences, because someone in the history of my house thought that the fence would suffice as a retaining wall... big mistake. The entire fence is being pushed over by the weight of the dirt on my side, as my land is slightly higher than next door due to us being on the side of a hill. More on the retaining wall later, but before I can get anywhere with building that, I have to dig a trench alongside the fence to put the retaining wall in, and digging the trench has ground to a halt because an old pair of large tree stumps got in the way. So I have to dig them out first.

I decided to tackle the smaller of the two first, if I could get that one out, it would motivate me to believing I can get the bigger one out as well, and after several days of effort, I finally succeeded in getting the first of the two stumps out of the ground.

The tricky part was that the smaller stump was right up against the spot where a shallow buried (600mm/2 foot) deep sewer main runs across my yard. Normally I could just dig around the stump, set it on fire, and let it burn itself into non-existence, but being so close to the sewer pipe, if any large enough root was too close to the pipe and the fire burned down the root far enough, the heat from the burning root could potentially crack the pipe, and that would be a disaster. The other normal option of getting someone in to grind the stump down was also too risky as we only have a rough idea where the sewer pipe is, and a stump grinder is heavy duty equipment, one mistake could damage the pipe... not to mention paying someone to do that can be more expensive than it's worth to me at this point in time.

Knowing roughly where the pipe is, but not exactly where it is, I had to be very careful. I was able to dig about 10cm/4 inches down around the stump without any problems, after which I had to start being careful. I dug most of it out by sitting on the stump and shovelling away soil from the roots gently with a hand spade on the most accessible side of the stump furthest away from the pipe. Once I got a hole about 30cms/1 foot deep and cleared and cut away the roots on that side, I had a hole I could use to push the soil into and could safely use a regular garden spade to dig it out. As I got closer to where the sewer pipe was, I stopped digging and instead used water erosion to remove the soil from the roots, the water washed the soil into my hole, where I dug it out, rinse and repeat until I was past that side of the stump. Fence side I used my garden prong to loosen the soil, then scraped it around to my easily accessible hole, and eventually with a lot of patience I got all the roots that attached to the stump uncovered all the way around it. Then I cut the roots, with help from my prong I pulled out what I could of them - which was easier than I expected, they were more well-rotted the further from the stump they were - leaving just the stump itself which broke off easily enough with a good bit of leverage with a sturdy long crowbar aka post hole digger (my prong wasn't quite long enough for that particular part of the mission).

On top of that I also had to contend with the same problem I have every time I stick a shovel in the ground in my yard, and that is pulling large rocks and boulders out the ground. Fortunately there was only one very large rock to deal with next to the tree, and many smaller ones that weren't so bad. Lastly my next challenge was my dog.

My dog, Jasper, decided to "help" whenever I was taking a break to start with, which was great and he uncovered a few roots for me in doing so, but when I was working on it I had to keep throwing his ball for him. It was only after I started using the water erosion method that he stopped messing around so much with throwing his ball into the hole I was digging, because he quickly learned that throwing the ball into the hole when it was full of water meant splashing muddy water everywhere and then I'd rebel by walking away and taking a break leaving him to fetch the ball out of the cold muddy water in the hole himself, and he decided that wasn't as much fun as making me throw it for him. So after that he checked the hole for water before throwing his ball in there. :ROFL:

The water erosion method gave me the extra benefit of softening all the dirt, so it was easier to scoop out. Eventually I ended up with the stump and most of the roots in a pile, the dirt and clay that came out of the hole in a pile, a hole in the ground, and one more stump left to remove. I decided to bask in the glory of my win for the evening rather than start on the next stump right away. I'll be starting to do the next one tomorrow, with no concern for the sewer pipe and a hole in which I can put all the dirt, it's a larger stump but should be a bit easier to do... I hope!


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Oh my - that looks like it was a big job indeed. Good on you for getting it done anyway!
If you did end up finding the sewer pipe, I recommend marking it (either in the land or on paper). It could save a lot of hassle in the future, if you decide to do something with the land in those areas.
Oh my - that looks like it was a big job indeed. Good on you for getting it done anyway!
If you did end up finding the sewer pipe, I recommend marking it (either in the land or on paper). It could save a lot of hassle in the future, if you decide to do something with the land in those areas.
When I first bought the place I had the local water board send someone out to mark where they estimate the sewer main was, as the council plans I had were too vague about the sewerage lines. They did an investigation and inspection and were able to string a line across the yard where the sewer main in my yard should be and I painted the lines on the fence on each side to mark the location at each end (It's a straight pipe, so markers on each side of the yard work). The only way to be more accurate is with the expense of using ground penetrating radar or a backhoe to find it. The water board was quite perplexed but extremely happy that I called them because my reason for wanting to know was so I could plan my tree planting responsibly and not end up with my tree's roots blocking the sewerage system. They were so happy I asked that they sent their most highly qualified person to check it all out, and no cost to me, yippee!. Turned out the council plans didn't match the water and sewerage plans, and all the plans are a bit out of whack in one way or another or my fence lines are - something to pay a surveyor to investigate and fix up in the future. And they gave me the copies of the water and sewerage related plans for the area including the first ones ever drawn up around 100 years ago that they brought with them. 🥰

Had a lot of rain here overnight for three nights in a row, so the ground was a mud fest until today, sun is shining, sky is blue, and the ground is soft, perfect time to get the next stump dug as much as my lack of fitness will allow. I'm currently taking a little break from digging and enjoying a :tea: as I type this.
Love it when the council actually works with the people!

Rain is awesome when you have to dig something out - though there is a thing such as it being too wet.

I'm lacking in fitness too, ahah. But one may be surprised at what we can still get done on sheer willpower (and some planning).
I'm getting somewhere on the next stump... I'm not sure where, but if middle earth is a thing I might find it by the end of this adventure! :ROFL:

I made some little videos to share with family on facebook, figured I'd drop them on YouTube to share with people here as well.

Haha, perhaps you'll dig all the way into the depths of Mordor :ROFL:

Are you able to just saw that root off and let it rot on it's own? (Edit: nvm, you said you were going to).

Had a giggle when I saw you dug yourself some steps, very smart thinking!

Fence working is definitely important, but it looks pretty good. Love the cheeky near-escape of the pup.

If you lived closer I'd come help you out. But I believe in you - you got this ;)
Update on my tree stump removal mission:
You are one power trooper, getting all that done.
Makes me wonder how much it'd weigh...
I dread to know the answer to that. It's solid redwood of some sort. I've got a bloke coming around in the morning to have a look at it and give me a quote to cut the remaining stump off the giant tap root. Might have to get him to make a few extra cuts to the stump just so I can lift it out of the hole!
It's too close to the fence, otherwise I might have suggested carefully burning it. But it's unsafe and you don't know how far the roots might carry the heat.

In time it'll be gone and you'll be glad you did it :D
The two tree stumps I've dug out in this way is just my practise run for the next tree stump I need to get rid of, and it's roots spread so far they go under the shed and under the fences on all sides, so can't burn that one out either. It's easily 10 times larger and that one will take me months to remove, but at least I'm completely confident now that I can do it, or at least most of it, myself.
How long does it take for a tree to start turning into a stone fossil? My tree stump is still there... couldn't dig it out due to huge deep tap root. Couldn't cut into it past the first couple of inches of bark (no joke, I've had an easier time trying to cut 10mm thick steel with a hacksaw!). After checking with the neighbour on the other side of the fence I decided to light a fire under it, 8 hours of burning a lot of other wood right under it where I cut away all the other roots, and it's still there. It never caught on fire, only the bark has burned in a smouldering red hot coal kind of way. I've covered it with old sheet metal and brought the dog inside for the night so I can let the embers smoulder away and check it first thing in the morning to see what the results are. And to think I was worried it would burn too fast and hot and run down the root beyond my control.
Oh, and after trying to cut it, I tried to split it, and that didn't work either. If it hasn't fallen over by morning, I'll try to keep burning it until I've run out of all other types of wood, but beyond that if anyone has any ideas I'm all ears (or eyes as the case happens to be).
I'll get some photos or make a video or something in the morning.
Do you have axess to any power tools at all? We have wood here that we use a steel bit drill for. Maybe drill a couple holes (if able) before trying to snap or saw it, so that it already has some weaker spots? Do bear in mind, small holes first, bofre building up to bigger holes with bigger bits.
If you have a power tool with a rip blade, perhaps even better.
Reciprocating saw with a 30cm blade designed for ripping through hardwood and nails couldn't get very far past the bark. I tried to drill a hole with a 5mm bit for wood and metal, corded drill, same thing, through the bark was easy enough but once into the wood the drill noped out as well. But, finally, I have won! After 8 hours of 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 under the stump, then allowing it to simmer away in the hot coals for 9 hours, I got up this morning and noticed that thanks to the hot coals I'd pushed against the bottom of the tap root, it was thinner than it was yesterday. I used a long crowbar to break away all the burned bits and it was a bit thinner again. Not much, but enough to egg me into going all over the house, yards, and shed to find every bit of remaining burnable wood I didn't have an immediate use for including the wood in my compost area I was planning on hugelculturing a future garden bed with, and thanks to a lot of it being old hardwood of various types from one of my neighbours after they reno'd their house, I was able to concentrate a low and small but extremely hot (metal was melting melting level hot) tight ring of fire around the base of the tap root and under the stump, with every couple of hours today using the crowbar to chip away all the charred wood in a ring around the base to expose fresh wood to the burn, it eventually thinned the root and weakened it enough that after a total of 24 hours of concentrated super hot burning I was able to hit it a few times with a sledgehammer and the stump broke off right at the ground level I'd dug down to and it fell over... and then the stump decided to burst into flames. I decided to not give it the satisfaction and turned the hole into a swimming pool. How hot the fire was, despite being only about 50cms in diameter, it took 5 full minutes of pouring water onto it from the garden hose to stop billowing all the water into the air and actually start filling the hole with water and took another almost 10 minutes for the hole to fill up and stop hissing at me. When I left it, the stump was floating on the water still hissing and spitting and gurgling a bit. I am now very contented, as that stump had become the bane of my existence.

Thankfully all the other stumpy things in the yard that need removing are different species, no more hardwood... and in thinking about it all day wondering what on earth that tree could have been before it was cut down for it to be that hard over 70 years later (we have no idea how old it was nor when it was cut down, but neighbour says it had to have been cut down at least 70 years ago because he's lived there all his life and had no idea there was ever a tree in that part of my yard). Anyway, it's gone now... well, it's a charred lump of currently very wet wood floating in a huge puddle and hopefully has burned off enough weight for me to lift it out of the hole to get rid of it in a couple of days once I'm 100% convinced it won't reignite itself.

Next mission: Retaining wall along the fence.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get any video or photos of my tree stump burning efforts because my only little camera decided that it didn't want to work today. I don't think it has much life left it in, poor old ancient little thing it is. I'll have to buy myself something soon, camera, gopro, mobile phone... yeah, nah, I'm not mobile phone person.
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Can't say I didn't have a giggle at that.

Congrats on getting it out, yay!

Haha, I love my mobile phone; it serves as my picture diary. It timestamps every picture and sorts them into the day taken, and I love scrolling through them and remembering the things we did. I've gone kayaking with my dog last week (shoot I forgot to upload pictures!) and I love going back even to recent things like that. And I bought a waterproof case just so I could take it on the kayak with me :D
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