One Man, One Day, One Stump.

Dear Big Game Hunters:

You are puny, spineless amateurs. You think taking a big trip and shooting a big animal with a big gun is big fun. Any brainless baboon with a bazooka can take down an elephant. But it takes genuine brawn, cunning, and backbone to bag this challenging trophy: A tree stump.

You don’t have to travel far to find this elusive game. Its natural habitat is underground. But, since Hurricane Irma, the stump is abundant in South Florida. It is open season and there is no bag limit…but very few burly adrenalin-junkies dare take the challenge of removing this denizen of the dirt.

Don’t let its silence and immobility fool you into thinking this will be easy. Its woody roots number in the thousands. You are outnumbered.  They travel wide and deep. The thick tap-root will often elude your sharpest spade. It will certainly put up a fight and resist your violent efforts to eradicate it from its home.

Often this prey will choose the shelter of foundation plantings making it impossible for heavy machinery to approach. Here is where muscle and prowess must prevail. Here is my step-by-step system to claim your next trophy, if you dare.

  1. Dial 811. Always call this number before breaking ground. These local people are better than a guide and they will come to your property and locate all underground utilities. You don’t want to discover your cable/phone/electric lines with a steel handled tool. PVC irrigation lines are replaceable. You are not.
  2. Protect yourself at all times. Wear safety glasses to protect from flying soil and wood. Wear leather gloves to prevent cuts and splinters. Wear boots. Sorry Floridians, Crocs with socks are not welcome in this crucible.
  3. Rake away all mulch and topsoil to reveal the surface roots. 80% of them will be in the top 12”.
  4. Cut the roots. Use loppers on finger-diameter or less. Use a saw on thumb size and larger. Use either a hand saw (not a cross-cut, lumber saw, but one for trees) or a reciprocating saw with a long blade marked “demolition, nail imbedded lumber”. Cut all around the tree creating a ball.
  5. A dirt shovel is fine but a thick-bladed, sturdy-handled spade is best. Every blow should chop more roots. Soil moves easily but you are carving live wood.
  6. Once you have removed the soil around the ball, then under-cut to sever any vertical tap roots.
  7. The root ball should now be free in the crater you have created. You can gradually bring it out by either back filling the hole a little at a time and rocking the mass upward or pull it out with a “come along” hand winch.

The most rewarding moment of this capture is wrapping a tow chain around this behemoth and dragging it into the sunlight. (Maybe now you can put that Range Rover into four-wheel drive for the first time and tug.) Here is a trophy that you won’t hang on a wall. But after the day-long struggle, you can claim it with a clean conscience.

Bob Cook

FNGLA Certified Horticulture Professional.