I’m stumped.

Planting season is still a long way off in central New England. However, I am already preparing for the 2020 Food It Yourself Garden. I have all my seeds ready to go. I have pruned the cherry trees. I have plans for expanding my front yard beds to give my super-energetic strawberries more room. I am also awaiting the arrival of my new fruit trees.

That’s right- we are investing in even more beautifully blooming fruit bearing trees. As I noted in an earlier post, I ordered a fruit salad tree and a multi-variety Asian pear tree.

Apropos of nothing- how adorable is D0ttMatrix? ❤ ❤ ❤

I know where I want to plant these trees. However, that space is currently occupied by what I can only describe as “weed trees”. Obviously, these invasive trees must be cut down. But, what of the stumps left behind? There are multiple methods that can be used to remove a tree stump. If these were large stumps it would be worthwhile to rent a stump grinder and just reduce them to sawdust. These are small, though, and I am not sure I need so much power. There are also chemical options.

Glyphosate (a.k.a. RoundUp™) This non-specific herbicide might make you unpopular with neighbors, and may be a wee small bit carcinogenic, per the World Health Organization. However, it breaks down quickly, so the plants I want to plant will not die. Also, any carcinogenic risk is minimized by using personal protective equipment while handling glyphosate products (chemical-proof gloves, goggles, etc.)

There is also copper sulfate, commonly sold as a treatment to kill tree roots that are invading your septic system or sewer pipes. It can also take out a stump. However, copper is a heavy metal and tends to stick around for a while. In fact, using it for stump removal or root abatement is illegal in some areas. Also, the copper sulfate only speeds decomposition of the stump, it does not actively kill it.

Many commercial stump removal products use potassium nitrate. This removes the heavy metal issue, as potassium is highly soluble in water and dissipates quickly. Actually, most commercial plant fertilizers contain potassium nitrate; some is really good for plants, too much literally burns them. However, this is still a caustic substance, and like CuSO4, it only speeds decomposition.

This will involve power tools. Get your safety equipment. This is not optional. Safety glasses, ear protection, and gloves are cheaper than an emergency room visit.

After a long search of my options on the internet, Home Improvement Icon Bob Vila had excellent advice. Magnesium sulfate, also known as Epsom salt, can be used to dehydrate the still-living cells of a stump and render it dead and easy to pry from the ground. Even better, this stuff is inexpensive, can be handled with bare hands, dissipates quickly, and has a zillion other uses (okay, some other uses). Here is what I did on Mr. Vila’s advice

First, make sure you have everything. You will need: a saw, a drill with a half-inch bit, pruning shears, Epsom salt, water, and a bucket.
The first step is to trim all the little branches. Yes, it takes time, but these branches can catch on things when you take out the main trunk and cause unforeseen problems as gravity brings down the tree. As you can see I am working near to our cars. We do not need any broken-window issues.
Cut off the side branches with a saw if they are too big for the pruning shears. Cut the stump near the ground and parallel to the Earth by the Euclidean definition; or as close to that as you can get.
Drill holes in the stump. It is usually not that difficult, but I hit a few knots that were quite resistant to drilling. Never force it. Let the tool do the work.
Fill the holes with Epsom salt, add water to dissolve, and top off the holes as needed. Let osmotic action do the rest.

I covered each stump section (we had about six) with an upturned bucket weighted down by rocks. I will let you know if the stumps die.

My goals for my property involve some serious reconfiguration of the landscape. I am not a control freak, but I need to completely kill off these unwanted stumps so I can achieve my goals for this gardening season. What is the most extreme thing you have done for your DIYet? Share in the comments!