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Tree Stump Troubles
Turna problem into an opportunity: Make that old stumpy thing a foodfactory or ornamental showplace!
Q. Dear Mike: I have a treestump in my yard that is about four feet high and approximately tenfeet around. It couldn't be cut any lower because the tree grew aroundold fence posts and the chain saw blades were getting ruined.  Isthere any way to speed up the rotting process?  Thank you,
                          ---Denise (who apparently doesn't live anywhere)

Mike: Do you know of a way to get rid of tree stumps?  I have twolarge ones from pine trees that were snapped off in a windstorm lastfall. They are about 4-5 feet across, so digging them out is not reallypossible (and I can't fit a stump grinder in my car!).
I would like to plant something in their space, and so would like toget rid of the stumps sooner rather than later. P.S.  I love yourshow!! Thank you,
                          ---Barbara in Wynnewood, PA

A. First, forget about usingany 'stump killer', 'stump remover', 'stump decayer', 'stump dissolver'type products. University of California researchers tested them back in1994 and found that they simply did not work.   

If you can get a backhoe in there, it's often worth it to pay someoneto pull the thing (or things) out of the ground for you. It'll costsome money and a mess, but you get to go home REAL early. Trees thatdidn't eat fences can then be ground up by big machines (that no, don'tfit in cars). The Fence Post Monster (a new character for SesameStreet? "Umm! Fence posts! Good!!!") should be rolled into a gully orsimilar area to rot.

The fastest way to accelerate the demise of a stump in the ground is todrill holes or make chainsaw crosscuts in the top, keep it really wetand rot the wood. But you can also leave that stump in the ground andmake it useful. If it's the right height, sand and stain the top tomake a great outdoor table. Or just put potted plants on top of thestump—or drill a big hole in the center, fill it with highquality potting soil and use the stump like it was a big pot; thislooks way cool and greatly accelerates the eventual decomposition ofthe stump.
Or cut the thing off as close to the ground as possible, and build araised bed overtop of it. Make a frame out of naturally rot-resistantwood, fieldstone or a composite lumber like Trex (, andfill it with good soil. Plant shallow-rooted flowers and veggies tostart, and then after a few years, put whatever you want in there:Tomatoes & basil, flowers and eggplant; canna lilies and UncleLouie…This really accelerates the decomposition of the stump below,quickly turning it into food for your plants above.    

But your most interesting option is to turn that stump into a mushroomfactory. One source for the 'seed' (wooden dowels inoculated withgourmet or medicinal mushroom spores that you insert into holes drilledinto the stump) is,where my good and personal friend Paul Stamets sells all kinda coolmushroom-growing supplies thru his company "Fungi Perfecti". (Mentionmy name and get a 20% surcharge!)

This will achieve two things: 1): You'll get really tasty ormedicinally useful mushrooms to eat. And 2): The growing mushrooms willalso greatly accelerate the decay of the stump! The mycelium, theliving body of fungus, seeks out wood—the food that fuels it's growth.Spores germinate and form branching mycelia networks which willeventually form full-sized mushrooms once enough of the wood has beendigested. The mycelium's job is to cause wood to decay, decompose andjust plain go away real fast.

When we discussed this wonderful tactic on the show a while back, Paulsaid the birch tree stump identified by a listener would grow lots ofgreat mushrooms, including Oyster, reishi, enoki, shiitake,and the birch polypores (AKA the "Ice man Fungus"; Fomes fomentariusand Piptoporus betulinus). And he added that King Oyster (Pleurotuseryngii) and Garden Giant (Stropharia rugoso-annulata) would grow onbirch chips.

I called him for an update, but he's attending the World MushroomBiology Conference in China—so I instead spoke with Jim Gouin, aresearch assistant at Fungi Perfecti who specializes in tree stumpcolonization. Jim explains that the best trees for "plug spawninoculation" are hardwoods like oak, ash, birch, alder and maple. Somesoftwoods, like Douglas firs and Eastern and Western hemlocks, workokay for certain mushroom species, he adds—and delicious shitakes growvery well on eucalyptus tree stumps!

The ideal time frame is two weeks to six months after cutting. Youshould give it about two weeks to kind of 'cool down'; but don't waitforever, because local fungi will start to move in after about sixmonths. And you have to be patient; mushrooms don't grow nearly as fastoutdoors as they do in controlled conditions, like with kits—mosttree stump mushrooms will take a good year or two to get established.If you're in a hurry, Jim says to go with an oyster mushroom; they'rethe fastest growers. (He adds that they carry a very aggressive strainof classic white oyster mushroom.)

Obviously, stumps in shade are preferred. But it can be done in thesun, he adds—just coat the stump with a food grade wax ('bees' or'cheese'; not petroleum-based) to prevent dehydration. This will alsoprevent contamination by 'foreign' (actually local) spores—which is whyJim recommends the wax coating for shady stumps too.

This won't work well with trees that regrow from cut stumps, likecottonwood and locust. And true pines are problematic because of theirhigh 'pitch' content. Mushrooms do occur on pines in the wild—fungibreak down all fallen wood—but nobody wants to sell you the 'seed' because the useful mushrooms that do this are similar inappearance to species that are unsafe to eat. Check out FungiPerfecti's site or catalog for more details.

You Bet Your Garden   Question of the Week  ©2005Mike McGrath

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