How to Remove a Palm Tree Stump: 7 Options

I’ve gone on record with my opinions with palm trees. They’re useless.

Sure, they positively exemplify tropical gorgeousness in photos. Their silhouettes against fiery sunsets are striking. One should be sipping a delightful beverage out of a hollowed out pineapple as the sun goes down, while sitting next to your wife who’s wearing coconut-shell bikini-top.

Ok. Those look beautiful.

Ok. Those look beautiful.

Admittedly, palm trees do complete a South Pacific circa 1943 scene when a B-17 rumbles over the house.

B-17-flyover.jpg

They still suck.

AZ DIY Guy's Opinion on Palm Trees, a Refresher:


  • They only offer a little puddle of shade, strategically placed in a neighbor's yard. The higher the tree, the further you have to range to find the shade.

  • The type we have here in Arizona don't even have the common decency to grow coconuts; how is a handy DIY dude, such as myself ever going to craft my beautiful wife a rustic, tropical island bikini top?

  • They sprout creepy, inhuman tentacles that split open to spew a scattershot mess of black seeds and puffy flower things. Bonus: That's when they attract bees!

  • The palms love to prank with a never ending supply of junk destined to become flotsam in a freshly cleaned swimming pool.

  • Worst of all, I'm forced to trim the never ending supply of fronds that burst skyward from their tops. They turn into a gross, brown rag-mop of dried, branch-things that must be trimmed. That's the worst part.

  • Don't even get me started on the fact that our palm trees are man-eaters. The fronds have shark-tooth serrated edges that have tasted blood. My Blood. I don't like going to urgent care.
Blissfully ignorant, moments before  a trip to urgent care .

Blissfully ignorant, moments before a trip to urgent care.

This Tree Has got to Go

The issue we were having with a palm in our front yard was due to its roots. They were lifting our sidewalk, creating a trip hazard. As an added bonus, it helped by treating our vehicle to a constant stream of bird droppings to be baked into the paint by the raging southwestern sun.

It’s time for Shaggy to go.

It’s time for Shaggy to go.

Taking down a 20 foot palm tree was not the DIY for me. I had no chain saw, no climbing gear, and no experience. I hired a couple dudes that had left their card at our front door. I came outside when I heard the chainsaw fire up. They’d already lopped the top off.

Off with its head!

Off with its head!

The dude worked his way down from the top, slicing the trunk like a cucumber. A heavy log thumped to the ground every couple minutes.

Dude in the truck is going to have a stiff neck. He’s got a tough job.

Dude in the truck is going to have a stiff neck. He’s got a tough job.

I DIY plenty of stuff that some might consider dangerous, but I generally know what I’m doing. Pole climbing with a hungry chainsaw, screaming inches away from my tender belly is not one of those things I’m even going to consider.

Not. Me.

Not. Me.

They cleaned up all the mess and left me with a short stump and a few chainsaw cuts across the face. No big deal. I would get it out of there eventually.

Criss-Cross

Criss-Cross

Idea #1: Rot the Stump out

I drilled some holes around the perimeter in anticipation of getting some more Stump Out to pour in, like I had on the mesquite in the side yard.

It would take a few months. But with the Stump Out product, it would break down to where I could break it up easily later. No hurry.

Hurry.

Our homeowner’s association had other ideas. Man they pounced on us fast.

The ol’ “friendly reminder” gambit, eh?

The ol’ “friendly reminder” gambit, eh?

I had to get that thing gone in a hurry. I started looking into quicker alternatives.

More ideas…

I thought of several ways that would be less expensive than hiring an expert.

Idea #2: Hack it with a Hatchet!

Easy. I figured I’d chop it out quickly since palm trees are super soft. I don’t have many needs for a full-size ax with our desert landscape but I could use a hatchet from time to time. It would be good for camping, too. I picked one up with a handy gift card and took it right into battle.

You can remove a palm stump with a hatchet,… and unlimited time and energy.

You can remove a palm stump with a hatchet,… and unlimited time and energy.

Before you ask, the video below is not on a loop. That’s all middle-aged me. Exhausting.

Nope. The “wood” was so spongy and fresh that it almost seemed to seal back up after each whack of my hatchet. I was only able to slightly nip down a small section by the time I could no longer move my arm. Killing myself chopping in the summer heat was clearly not going to do it.

Lots of calories burned for very little effect.

Lots of calories burned for very little effect.

Idea #3: Digging Up the Stump

No. Just No. The ground is hard, the sun is hot, and my body isn’t getting any younger. I don’t have the nice and moist, grass-covered earth that I can easily sink a shovel into. I have sun-baked rocky desert.

How about power tools? Yaaaaaasssss….

Idea #4: Using an Angle Grinder / Wood-Carving Blade on a Stump

I’d read an intriguing blog post on The Ugly Duckling House about power carving. It gave me the bright idea to use my 4” Makita angle grinder with one of those wicked, chainsaw-looking blades, like the King Arthur Tools Lancelot Woodcarving Disc. Now THAT would do the trick.

Looking into it, I found this video by The FiX Files:

This is my experience trying to remove a decent size tree stump using only an angle grinder and a wood cutting wheel. I knew it was not going to be the 'easy way' but I wanted to try to find a way to avoid an equipment rental if I could. - The FiX Files

If you didn’t watch it, ***spoiler*** it was not going to work much better than my hatchet idea. I’m glad this dude was man enough to post a fail video for us all to learn from. His hours of labor saved me money I would have spent on the blade and a bunch of wasted time. He inspired me to move on to the next big idea.

Idea #5: Vehicular Homicide

Ohhh yeah. I’ve already yanked a dead cholla cactus out of the ground and dragged it down the street, thanks to the absolute joy of owning a 4-wheel-drive truck and a length of chain. Read about that adventure (with video) here: AVOIDING NEEDLES, SPINES, AND SPIKES: THE CACTUS CLEANUP

Revving and ripping.

Revving and ripping.

I thought about threading a half dozen, large eye-bolts into the stump at various angles and chaining them together to the tow hitch receiver of my truck.

Then I came to my senses.

Even if my truck survived the violence and retained any semblance of future resale value, the sidewalk and possibly the driveway with elaborate root systems below them likely would not.

So I moved on.

Idea #6: Burn it out

The very idea of burning the thing was intriguing. Soaking it with kerosene (gasoline?!!!), piling charcoal on it, or just plain firing it up dry under a blowtorch would clearly be the laziest method. However, it takes a long time to smolder away. I’d have to watch it all day for safety, so close to our wood-sided house. Standing there with a frosty beverage watching a stump burn is just a little to King of the Hill for me. Phoenix also has quite a few “no-burn” days for air quality. I could get a citation. Scratch that idea.

Weeds, yes. This stump, no.

Weeds, yes. This stump, no.

Idea #7: We have a Winner

With the clock ticking on my last weekend before the HOA imposed deadline, I didn’t have time to call a tree service. I was on my own. Once again, blessed by pickup truck ownership, I headed out to rent a gasoline powered stump-grinder.

Haulin’

Haulin’

It’s another example of why owning a pickup truck is so helpful from a DIY home improvement aspect. It doesn’t have to be full-size; mid-size, short-beds are perfect.

I have wanted a Jeep for so long now, but I think I need to stick with a truck when I replace the aging Honda Ridgeline next year. I really don’t like the current model Honda. Hmmmmmm…. what to do?

I think it’s following me.

I think it’s following me.

Another key to success with big rental equipment is help with the unloading. Luckily, I’d planned ahead. Over 19 years ago, I’d foreseen this very project and decided to create my own help.

You know we'll have a good time then

You know we'll have a good time then

The dude at the rental counter had gone over the instructions on how to startup and run the big beast.

starting-a-stump-grinder.jpg

He didn’t tell me what to do after I yanked the grip off the pull-cord. Dang my steely musculature.

broken-pull-cord.jpg

The machine was pretty easy to handle. I could lock one wheel and do a bit of a semicircular pivot, taking healthy bites out of the stump with the spinning blade.

lining-up-a-stump-grinder.jpg

It flung some bits here and there, but nothing dangerous. Skirts along the side seemed to catch most of it.

After a short while, I had cleared the the sucker out. For only the price of a 4 hour minimum rental (about $120), 30 minutes of driving and 15 minutes of grinding I’d vanquished the almighty Sarlacc.

The Great Pit of Carkoon

The Great Pit of Carkoon

I took a bit of a stumble there and tripped across the grinder. Luckily, I was wearing my personal protective equipment, so I could get up and right back to work.

I raked up some sawdust and the shredded-wheat like root remnants. The stump was simply gone. I’d ground it about 6” below he surface where it would be easy to rake some dirt and gravel over.

Shredded Wheat

Shredded Wheat

It rained a couple times over the course of the next week. Other than the buckled concrete walk, you’d never know the three had been there.

Like it was never there

Like it was never there

I’ve got another HOA induced shenanigan coming. It’s a doozy. Stay tuned, friends.