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Anatomy of a Stump


Stump Removal by Getting to Know Your Stump


I am a dedicated Stump Remover located in Davis County Utah and despite what some people might think, stumps can be rather complicated. I believe it stems from the Iceberg effect, we only see a small portion of their true size from above the ground. A stump's strength lies in its web of roots that are designed to hold trees through strong storms. 

Stump Structure


Stumps can be thought of as the start of the root system, a unique part of the tree where thick, branch like roots converge into the trunk of the tree. Thus stumps can pose a difficult problem. They are spread-out into the earth giving the tree strength and thus cannot be pulled out, yet they also converge at the trunk creating the thickest part of the tree, making it difficult to cut them out.


Roots are very similar to branches, and they grow in similar style where the soil allows. Hard, dense soil will promote shallow root growth; where softer soils will allow trees to sink deep roots. This will also depend on the species of tree. Usually, we see a mixture of roots that stay within two feet of the surface and several roots that go deep.


Most trees will have 3 to 4 principle roots that stabilize the tree, spreading out in opposite directions. These, in turn, will branch into numerous smaller branches that lend support and help pull nutrients and water from a large area surrounding the tree. Maples, Cottonwoods and Ash trees are examples of this root system.


Some species of tree will grow a tap root. What’s a tap root you say? Think of a carrot. A carrot is essentially on big root that goes directly down, with smaller branch roots sprouting off. Walnut Trees are an example of a species that use taps roots. Tap Roots are important to trees because it enables them to gain great structural strength because of their depth. Think of a tree swaying in the wind yet it doesn’t tip over? A great root system is the answer. Next, tap roots help trees get to ground water, thus preserving the tree in dry conditions in the summer months. Walnuts, oaks, Conifers and hickories are common species that develop tap roots.


One may be tempted to think, “oh no, my tree has a tap root! I’ll never be able to remove it!”. Not so, tap roots are more pronounced in young trees and saplings, and become less pronounced as the tree and its roots mature.

Killing a Stump


Once a tree is dead, decay will usually affect the root system first because of prolonged exposure to moisture due to being buried in soil. Root Decay will progress most during spring, which is typically wetter but will continue to progress as long as moisture is available. Because of this, with years of decay, sometimes stumps can be kicked from the ground once the roots have sufficiently rotten. The stump above ground can be more or less solid while the roots are rotten away.


Another question many people have about their stumps is whether it will grow back. It has been my general experience that fresh stumps will quickly die. If a stump will grow back generally seems to be related more to the species of tree. Tree species that grow by sprouting from roots are the types that will grow back. Take the quaking aspen, common in Utah and the Mountain West, Aspen trees reproduce by sending roots far and then sprouting new saplings up into the air. Thus these trees are more of one large web of trees than an individual tree. In fact, the largest single living organism is a grove of aspen trees in southern Utah called “Pando” and occupies about 106 acres.


Other species of trees propagate (reproduce) by seeds. These type of trees generally die when cut. One way to tell if a tree will grow back is to check if the tree has suckers. Suckers are shoots, or branches, growing out of the base of the tree. Trees with suckers, once cut, will send out more suckers from the base of the tree (the stump).


When in doubt, one can poison the stump once it has been cut to ensure that no matter what type of tree, it will die. To poison a tree stump it is necessary to know a little about the anatomy of a tree. Trees are alive in what is called the cambium layer. The cambium layer is located just below the bark and before the true “wood” of the tree starts. It’s the part of the tree that’s green when you pull back the bark. That is where the life of the tree resides. The wood on the inside is dead. Think of it like hair, it’s a part of us, but your hair doesn’t have nerves or blood, it’s just dead cells, well the same goes for the wood inside a tree. The dead cells form the structure or ‘bones’ of the tree but they aren’t living.


Now that we know where the living part of the tree is we can now put the poison in the right place. Peel back the bark, exposing the cambium and pour the poison where the bark and cambium join. The stump will absorb the poison and it will kill the stump.

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