Reasons not to dig stumps out
|Not a pretty sight?|
Some gardeners will be unable to follow my advice today! It is not in their make up. They may be tidy and cannot abide letting nature take her course. They want immediate results. They want a challenge and prove their virility by extracting every stump. It might mean a few broken spades, worse a strained back or a few sprains. They will get those roots out! No matter what harm their effort may do to the natural ecology of the site. Worse, weasel words will have suggested that this is something they must do. “You will get armillaria and other unspecified pest and disease, the dead stump will be ugly as it decays, it will be there for years, it will sprout and grow again, you will not be able to dig”
|Visitors might trip over|
|This is coral spot which also attacks sick woody plants. Fear not, your shrubs are no more likely to be infected than from normal ubiquitous air born spores|
|Many fungal infections of both living and dead trees are rather ornamental|
I have deliberately followed my last post in which I promoted the idea of hugelkultur and today suggest that a dead stump in the ground will give the same horticultural benefits as this method of growing when the wood decays. All that heat of decay warming the soil, all those slowly released nutrients, all that microbial life and interesting beetles. Even better as dead roots deep in the ground decay the ensuing open channels will facilitate water penetration and drainage.
|My Cercis ‘Forest Pansy’ has enjoyed the company of this stump|
I recently looked at a gardening internet forum where an inexperienced gardener had found a dead stump in his garden. Dammit, it had been there for years and he had only just found it. One member rather guiltily suggested he disguise it by planting a shrub next to it. Excellent advice, the shrub would benefit hugely by this source of nutrients! The general opinion was no, the stump had to go and all manner of weird advice was given about what he should do it. Give gardeners a chance to be natural and they fail at the first hurdle when there's a threat to the look of their loosened tarted up soil.
|This stump is well camouflaged most of the year|
In a moment of weakness a few years ago I watched a TV gardening programme. After keen deliberation the ‘team’ advised a gardener to remove a a fairly large shrub. I would have had it down in less than five minutes, albeit rather longer to take the top away and process the wood. The programme ended with an army of family members carrying their buckets and spades, machetes, axes, saws and crowbars marching down the garden to toil for the rest of the day removing every last piece of the poor plant. TV producers have a lot to answer for when their spectacular ‘shot’ creates it’s own false narrative. They have a lot to answer for, when dubious content is inserted to ‘make an entertaining programme’.
But stumps are ugly!
They don’t have to be. They can be cut flush to the ground and either just left or covered with soil or a mulch. There is a slight problem with chain saws as soil can easily blunt them and unless asked chain saw operators tend to cut higher.
I once had a very large stump in my old garden in Bolton Percy (The one that fostered the tame armillaria in my recent post) and it became an ornamental feature covered with climbers and ornamental variegated ivy. In that same post I confessed to the fact that my lilac at Boundary Cottage might have been checked by armillaria. If it does die the ivy covering the stump is already there!
|I recently freshened up my gravel mulches and decided to cover this stump. In the end I just gravelled up to it and left the top exposed|
Some gardeners leave the trunk and a few branches of a dead tree as a support for a vigorous climber such as Clematis montana. After many years it will eventually blow over but so will a pergola or fence!
A local ‘Open Garden’ had a beautiful garden feature where the roots of a dead tree on a bank were cleared of soil and washed clean to reveal rivulets of gnarled roots which were planted with dwarf plants.
|Roots on this birch growing out of an old concrete foundation on the village plot are not unattractive|
|The ants sowed my hardy cyclamen in this stump|
|This stump acts as a stand|
|My former neighbour Mick Needham carved this cat on Cathi’s stump|
|If, heaven forbid, this shrub in an Oxford garden died you would want to keep it|
What if the stump sprouts?
Many trees and shrubs such as conifers don’t sprout. Some plants make a weak effort to survive and others if unattended will grow back strongly. This might be a good thing. Sometimes supposed dead shrubs and trees regrow to make rejuvenated plants. For some woody plants cutting back to the ground is a method of pruning. My multi stemmed birch in my cemetery gardens used to be chosen by photographers as photogenic features. When original self sown saplings had outgrown their position I would cut them back and let them regrow with multiple trunks.
If a stump does make unwelcome new growth, cut it away. Initially you might have to be quite persistent but the effort and time will be a fraction of that to dig out the stump. Many gardeners who refuse to use herbicides pull out couch and convolvulus for ever more. What’s a few extra sprouting shoots?
|The sprouting shoots need attention. My neighbours to the cemetery garden have been quite original!|
Sprouting stumps can of course be treated with brushwood killer. Some gardeners seem to have a curious ‘disconnect’ with this and are prepared to use this type of herbicide. Somehow it is not so evil as spraying! And of course regenerating growth can be conventionally sprayed as I sometimes do. Glyphosate in general is not very good and I use, albeit rarely, MCPA. This is a ‘lawn weedkiller’ which is also used to kill brushwood.
Should any plant be dug or pulled out when it dies?
I am thinking here about things like old haulm of Brussel sprouts, tomatoes and annual plants. As a minimum cultivator I cut them close to the ground and sometimes shred the tops. I use my loppers to cut still green brassicas before cycling them to Cathi’s sheep and rheas next door.(But not poisonous tomato tops). What a treat and I get much joy when they come running expectantly towards me. Most gardeners who are tidier than me will of course take such things away for composting or diggers will dig them in. Anything is better than throwing away valuable organic matter in the wretched green wheelie bin.
But why yank them out when they can be cut away to leave all that good root and attached soil in the ground?