Tuesday, 18 March 2014

You do not have to dig up tree stumps!


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?



28 comments:

  1. Must admit I like stumps and have one or two in the garden - One is under one of our bird tables.

    I also have a small one in our pebble garden that I was thinking of drilling out some holes in and filling with soil in which to grow some small plants of some sort

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like your idea about the holes, encrusted saxifrages and sempervivums would look nice. A sort of mini hugelkultur!

      Delete
  2. The trees I originally had out front were ground out after taken down, but it's so visible I felt it was needed.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes I know my defence of stumps is a bit one sided and in garden management there are circumstances where you will need to remove them. It's just that for many gardeners taking out stumps is a knee jerk reaction and the popular garden press is almost unanimous that you should!.

      Delete
  3. I agree with you.
    An interesting tree behavior you see here are large trees that seem to stand of short legs. They are trees that have originally sprouted on top of large stumps. The roots draped over the stump to reach the ground. Over decades, the large stump completely breaks down and you are left with a tree that seems to stand on 3-4 short legs!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fascinating Alain. It sounds like a similar effect as the strangler fig that I described in my recent post titled Strangler

      Delete
  4. Roger in my last garden I had no problem leaving tree stumps, in fact I also quite liked them. Now, here in my new garden I have a mature Leylandii hedge, its coming out stumps an all.. Too old to worry about macho stuff, getting some bruisers to do it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sensible man. Perhaps they will have a winch and will use some of the hedge's height as a lever to pull them out

      Delete
  5. Roger, I don't suppose you watched the "Great British Garden Revival" did you? There was an episode on Stumperies, which were apparently quite popular in Victorian times. The big piles of stumps created lots of little shady nooks and crannies which were ideal for growing plants like cyclamen, ferns and ivy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for this Mark, I completely overlooked mentioning them. I understand a member of our Royal family is keen on them! They can be fascinating garden features

      Delete
  6. I used a Clematis montana on a 9' Robinia stump in my front garden where it went on to swamp every shrub within 20' of it, still you learn and the stump is now adorned with ivy, which had already appeared, and a less invasive viticella hybrid who's name escapes me at the present. Unfortunately keeping stumps does not sit well with many of today's gardeners, and as for having fungi in the garden...........Heaven forbid!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A typical ironic and far seeing response Rick. I like the way you admit to mistakes as I hope I do.

      Delete
  7. My husband is removing some over grown and not maintained yew and juniper shrubs from the front of the house we just bought. We were trying to remove the roots with a mattock saw. It's just not budging. Do you think it's OK to leave them and cover with soil and plant a garden above?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. yes certainly Samantha. My previous post to this one was about burying wood! put 'bury wood' in the search box at the bottom of this blog and read all about it. My hugelkultur feature I made in my own garden after writing the article is looking really nice now.

      Delete
  8. is it ok to leave a laburnum stump

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I seem to remember one in a friend's garden years ago that never caused a problem. I guess if it has died of silver leaf ( as opposed to just being sawn down) then I would have reservations.

      Delete
  9. Hi Roger, Late to the party but I've just found your fascinating blog while googling 'leaving tree stumps'. I have already created a very mini stumpery in my small garden (we moved in 2 yrs ago) with some sections of oak trunk that my parents had after a tree came down in a storm. They have holes through the centre so I have ferns and hellebores growing in them. Now I am finally getting two large, and badly managed leylandii trees removed that are knocking over both the back fence and a lovely maple. I was wondering if I could leave the trunks (up to about 6 or 7ft) in order to grow climbers up them for wildlife and as a feature? Do you think that's a terrible idea? I would leave the stumps anyway but ideally I'd like something taller left. Everyone I've mentioned this to thinks I am mad...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not mad at all Cheney, just perhaps a little less tidy minded than many gardeners!
      I have often left large stumps for plants to clamber over or left a 'structure' of a dead tree for a plant to climb over - or indeed as in yesterday's post you will see the variegated ivy on my declining lilac!
      Did you see my post on hugel kultur. I am very pleased that my part buried logs and prunings which I half heartedly tried on the village plot and also the bottom of my own garden last year. They are extremely scruffy but promise to be a wonderful growing environment. I intend to post about them next summer!
      I also posted about possible honey fungus danger last year.
      The search box at the bottom of the blog scroll finds old posts extremely well- just keep the search word brief e.g. hugelkultur -spelling needs to be precise!

      Delete
  10. Thanks Roger. Yes I've been reading your blog (including the posts on honey fungus and hugelkultur) with interest. I had read about hugelkultur on a large scale a while ago but dismissed it as not applicable in my small space - plus I don't grow much in the way of veg. I think I might rethink that opinion though! To replace the leylandii, I am planning a raised bed of bamboo (for fast screening), either between the two trunks (which would host climbers) along the back fence or right along over the top of the stumps if they go completely. I'm still trying to choose between the two options. Oh well, maybe the tree guy coming to quote will have a view...

    ReplyDelete
  11. I can guess the tree guy's view, hell and damnation if you leave any stumps. Although I am only playing with my two piles of wood covered with a very thin layer of soil I am actually quite excited at their potential as a special environment for plants that might not like for example, the drainage at ground level.
    I don't ever see myself growing veg by hugelkultur although one adherent (Anthony Cuthbert at 'allotment garden' blogs about it

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi Roger - wonder if you can help with this one? We have cut down a very large eucalyptus tree and are happy to leave the stump which is our side of a fence line. The fence, which is our neighbours, has blown over and our neighbours say they can't replace it until we have removed the stump. The stump is not on the fence line but close to it. Can they force us to remove it? We quite like it! Be grateful for any advice.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi anon
      I presume your neighbours would have replaced their fence if the tree was still there?
      I can only presume they have been reading the popular press who will have put the fear of god into them over armillaria infecting from your stump. Although possible, perhaps you have read my post on honey fungus and I think the fear overrated.
      They have no right to make you do anything with your stump but I don't have enough legal knowledge to know that if your stump did do them any damage they could not go to law!
      It seems dubious to me that anyone could give you a fence building ultimatum over your stump. I think there is a word for that!

      Delete
  13. Hi...We are currently cutting down a very large silver maple. I want to do something decorative with the stump. But have read on other sites that termites could infect the stump, and ultimately our house. The house is about 14 feet away, as is a beautiful large fir tree. Should I be concerned? If I keep the stump, how can I preserve it?

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hi anon
    I am afraid I am not much help here. I imagine you are not living in the UK where termites are not normally a problem (I understand there have been rare outbreaks and this might not always be true)
    I bow to any local knowledge about your situation.
    As to preserving the stump I am not much better although there are various timber preservatives sold at our local hardware stores.Decay will always set in from the ground. I guess it depends on what you are actually doing with the stump.
    I would not be particularly concerned about your fir tree. Read my post about armillaria fungus

    ReplyDelete
  15. There are several reasons why you may want to move a tree to another location in your yard. Perhaps it has grown too large for its current location.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Although your link is a blatant advert I will leave it on as your point has some relevance!
      Yes sometimes small trees can be moved. In some cases more so than gardeners realise. However it is usually best if a tree has been in several years to plant a new one.

      Delete
  16. Thanks for this post which has given me some ideas. We have just had 6 tall aspens cut down - over 30 years, the roots and suckers around the garden were just overwhelming us, making gardening a thankless task. They were cut to almost ground level and poisoned with eco-plugs which my research tells me is most likely to prevent the regrowth of suckers. Now we have very uneven territory around the stumps but the bulbs, bluebells etc. that were already there can be supplemented with some of your excellent ideas to keep the area woodland-like.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Released from perhaps heavy shade the bulbs will do better than ever, Carol. Depending when the tree cover was removed this might be the year after next!

      Delete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...