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How to Preserve a Tree Stump (In and Out of the Ground)

How to Preserve a Tree Stump (In and Out of the Ground)

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Tree removal is one of several major changes you can make to your landscaping, and it doesn’t always leave no trace behind.

Aside from a mess of broken branches and leaves, tree removal usually leaves behind tree stumps, which can have roots running deep into the ground, making it tricky to excavate. In some cases, you’ll need to get rid of the tree stump, but in others, you’ll have the option to leave it where it is.

If you’ve found yourself in a situation similar to the latter of those, you may want to consider preserving your tree stump, and in this guide, we’re going to explain to you how.

Why Preserve a Tree Stump?

You can preserve a tree stump for any number of reasons, but you don’t really need a reason at all. In the world of landscaping and design, creativity can be the reason.

You can use the preserved tree stump by incorporating it into the landscape. Sometimes, a simple tree stump works better than any piece of garden sculpture you can find. Nature just looks better sometimes.

You could also take advantage of your tree stump by hollowing it out and using it as a planter for other flowers or vegetation. This would make for a really nice and nature-centered landscape design.

You could easily use a preserved tree stump as a decorative pedestal, elevating any decorative piece you want, or if you have a large enough tree stump, you could level and cut it in a way to be used as an outdoor, nature-provided coffee table.

Trees grow and live for decades, so there’s likely years of memories associated with any single tree if you’ve lived there for long enough. So if you love your tree stump but don’t want to leave it in the ground, you can also preserve it after digging it up.

Digging it up actually makes the preservation process easier, but we’ll get into that a little more in depth later on.

Once you have your tree stump removed and preserved, you can use it as any number of decorative items, from a side table to a unique seat for your coffee table or book stand for your reading room.

Why Is Preservation Necessary?

While preserving the tree stump before turning it into a decorative piece isn’t entirely necessary, it is strongly recommended.

Without preserving the wood, a tree stump is vulnerable to moisture, rot, pests, and more. A tree stump left in the ground near your home can attract termites, which can make their way to your house, causing irreparable damage in some cases.

Untreated tree stumps carry moisture, and are susceptible to rot and can carry disease as well, so preservation is a necessary step in ensuring that your tree stump remains intact, sealed, guarded from the elements, and pest-free.

How Long Will a Tree Stump Last?

If left in the ground untreated, a tree stump will last anywhere from two to ten years before completely decomposing into what looks like a pile of sawdust.

Preserving a tree stump can greatly increase that timeframe.

How to Preserve When Left in the Ground

Leaving a tree stump in the ground means that eventually, it will rot and fall apart no matter how well you preserve it. The best way to preserve a tree stump is to dig it up and go from there, but you may not have the option; in which case, follow this guide.

To preserve a tree stump left in the ground, you’re going to need something to clean the surface, sandpaper or a sanding machine, and some type of wood sealant.

Clean the surface of the stump with a damp cloth, and be sure to remove any excess dirt, loose sawdust, or bark so that you’re left with a completely smooth surface to seal later on.

At this stage, you should consider whether or not you want to leave or remove the bark from the tree stump. If the bark appears dry, rotten, or loose, it’s probably a good idea to remove it. Even if you seal over it, rot underneath the sealant will continue to decay the stump long after it’s been sealed off.

If you decide to remove the bark from the tree stump, you’re going to need a flat-head screwdriver or wedge of some kind, and a hammer. Starting from the top, drive a wedge between the bark and the surface of the wood in a downward direction until the bark separates from the stump. Continue this process until all the bark has been removed.

After you’ve removed the bark, repeat the same cleaning process as before, except on the newly exposed wood.

Make sure that you sand the remaining tree stump, starting with rough-grain sandpaper, and working your way down to a smooth finishing paper. Using a power sander will make this step much faster, but it’s not necessary if you’ve got the time and patience to sand by hand.

Once you’ve sanded the entire tree stump and are left with a nice, smooth finished product, it’s time to fill in the cracks.

For this step, you should use a simple wood-filler such as clear epoxy. If there are cracks in the surface of your tree stump, pouring epoxy will fill it in as far down as gravity will allow. This means that if there’s a cavity left behind somewhere in the stump, you won’t have to worry about it continuing to rot as the epoxy will help to seal it off from the elements.

How to Preserve When Removed From the Ground

Removing your tree stump from the ground is the preferred method of preservation, as it allows you to see everything inside. Being able to see what’s inside allows you to make informed decisions about cleaning and treating the wood so that it lasts.

Pulling the tree stump from the ground is actually a challenge in itself, so don’t be ashamed if you have trouble. Depending on the size of the tree, you may need a larger shovel, a chainsaw, or even a full-blown excavator just to get the stump out. But once it’s out, it’s off to the races, so cut off the section you want to use, and proceed to the first step.

The first step in preserving your tree stump is to dry it out. If your tree stump is still retaining any moisture, it won’t preserve well. Moisture allows for bacteria, fungus, and rot to thrive, which is the opposite of what you’re going for, so dry it out.

Make sure that you leave it to dry for about six months. During that period, if you expect inclement weather or rain of any kind, it’s a good idea to leave it to dry out in your garage, so long as it’s not infested with insects. It’s imperative that you keep your tree stump dry during this period.

Once your tree stump has dried, you can now prepare it for preservation.

Begin by removing the bark. You can opt to leave the bark intact, as it has a much more pleasing appearance than bare wood, but if there’s any sign of rot between the bark and wood, you should remove it. Diseased woods aren’t exactly good for keeping guests.

You can use a hammer and chisel to remove the bark, or a rotary hammer to save time and energy.

Once the bark has been removed, you’re ready to clean up and sand the surface of the wood. Before you do anything with sandpaper, make sure that you wipe off dust, dirt, and any other excess materials with a damp, lint-free cloth.

When you’ve finished cleaning the surface of the wood, you can begin to sand and smooth it out. Begin with a rough, 80-grain sandpaper, working your way around the surface of the entire tree stump. From there, increase the grain count until you’ve reached a desirable smoothness on the surface of the wood. Again, a power sander would make this process go much faster, but will be difficult to get into the nooks and crannies.

Once you’ve sanded and cleaned off all the excess sawdust, you’re ready to apply a wood sealant. Wood sealant (such as clear epoxy) is used to fill in the cracks left behind during the drying out process.

A wood sealant is necessary to prevent rot from spreading throughout the inside, and it also helps to improve the structural integrity of the wood stump, which is great if you plan on using yours as a table or chair.

Once you’ve filled in the cracks with sealant, the final step in preserving a tree stump is by applying a wood stabilizer. To do this, simply apply a coat to the entire surface of the stump, allow it to dry (following the directions on the packaging), and then apply a second coat. Once the second coat is dry, the preservation process is complete!

If you’re keeping the bark on, you can preserve it by adding a coat or two of spray-on epoxy.

Otherwise, your newly preserved tree stump is ready to go!

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