Works Best On:
Cost (acres/year):
High (>$5000/gross)
Moderate–high risk
Moderate–high risk
Cultural Resources:
Moderate risk
Environmental Hazards:
Moderate (erosion, wildlife, habitat)


Stump grinding removes trees and large shrubs by chipping them to below ground level using a power tool with a high-speed, steel-toothed cutting wheel. Grinding is a way to control individual trees and thick-stemmed shrubs that otherwise resprout when cut. Grinding is not a control method on its own, as it requires removal of above ground biomass first.

Cutting wheels are either vertical or, less commonly, horizontal. Grinders are gas-powered machines that come in many shapes and sizes. They can be walk-behind units that a worker rolls into position, dedicated drivable machines, or attachments to large equipment (e.g., backhoes). The most commonly used stump grinders are walk-behind and are usually available at big box hardware stores to rent. Stump grinding is generally less expensive and labor intensive than stump extraction, but still very costly and potentially disruptive to surrounding habitat and structures.

Control typically requires only a single visit to grind down targeted mature plants. Trunks must be cut down to ground level prior to grinding and the stumps must be ground to below ground level in order for this technique to be effective. Grinding only targets the mature life stage of a woody plant and typically cannot be used economically or effectively on small trees or shrubs with trunks less than several inches in diameter.

Grinding will leave behind an excavated hole of wood chips and dirt as well as well as aboveground biomass from cutting. Site considerations may require remediation and biomass removal. The grindings that remain may suppress passive revegetation.

This technique can be used to eradicate a species at a small scale if plants are mature and at very low density. Limitations include site access and grade requirements, habitat disruption, cost, and operator safety.

How to Use

Stump grinding requires a skilled operator and many safety precautions. Before employing this technique, an operator must read and understand the entire manual for the grinder being used, get sufficient training to operate the equipment safely, and have appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Grinders available for rent are typically 25 hp and have a 16” cutting wheel. Transporting a grinder requires a vehicle rated to haul the machine’s weight and a trailer hitch. Alternatively, tree service providers can be contracted to do the work. A single tree will cost $100 – several hundred dollars to grind.

Prepare the stump by removing all rocks from around its base. Trim the stump to be as flush to the ground as possible. When using a traditional grinder with a vertical wheel, raise the wheel over the front edge of the stump, start the wheel spinning and lower it into the stump to grind away no more than three inches (unless stated otherwise in the grinder’s manual) of material at a time to avoid bogging down the engine. Swing the blade back and forth across the stump, grinding down wood as you go. Repeat this process until the hole is at least 4” below ground level to prevent resprouting. Fill the hole with soil and wood chips. Process aboveground cut biomass according to site needs.

Moderate slopes can be accessed from an adjacent stable, flat surface using a backhoe or similar equipment with a grinding attachment on an arm extension. Grinding to below ground level may be difficult on slopes because the grinder will be more difficult to position optimally.

Large, specialized vertical stump grinders are also occasionally employed for high intensity vegetation management, but their utility for wildland weed control is limited because of their size, cost, and destructiveness to surrounding vegetation.

The following links provide step by step instructions and illustrations:

Special Tips

Be sure to remove any rocks at the base of the stump. Rocks will dull cutter heads quickly. Chips can fly far and potential break windows or hurt people adjacent to your work area. You may need to put up barriers made of plywood or other material to stop flying chips.

Optimal Conditions for Use

Grinding requires a highly accessible site (or specialized equipment that can reach the site from an adjacent location that is accessible).

If the goal is to fully control a given species, grinding is most effective on target species that are not actively recruiting or when combined with methods to address by also removing younger individuals of the species using other methods.


  • This technique only targets mature forms of large woody plants and therefore should be either focused where recruitment is not occurring or combined with another method that can address young plants/seedlings.
  • Heavy equipment should not be used on wet or muddy soil because it will compact soil.
  • This technique is expensive and limited to accessible sites that are not steep.

Some trees, such as Acacia, Mayten and Tree of Heaven resprout vigorously from extensive lateral roots. Stump grinding may not be effective for these difficult species.

Potential Hazards to Humans, Environment, and Cultural Resources

Human safety. Moderate to High risk.This equipment employs high-power spinning cutting blades and therefore should be handled with extreme care. Users should receive training prior to operating equipment and utilize all recommended Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that include ear, eye, face protection as well as gloves. Follow all safety instructions in the manual or your agency guidelines. Prolonged use can also cause repetitive stress injury from vibrating handles. Prolonged exposure to exhaust fumes can increase a user’s risk of cancer. Hearing loss without proper ear protection may be a consideration.

Cultural resources. Moderate risk. Heavy equipment could impact subsurface resources. Grinding, if not aimed specifically on tree stumps could impact surface-scatter or buried resources immediately adjacent to target plants.

Sensitive Species.Low to Moderate risk.Wildlife may be nesting in the trees being removed. Nesting bird surveys should be conducted before cutting during breeding season (generally Feb. 1- Aug. 31) to minimize damage to nests. Wherever possible, use this technique outside of the breeding season. Negative impacts to non-target plant species pose a low-moderate risk. Identify sensitive plants in an area in advance and avoid impacting them.

Habitat.Moderate risk. Habitat alteration with this technique is high, but generally restricted to a small area.

Erosion. Moderate-High risk. Risk of erosion can be moderately high depending on equipment and site (steep slopes, low remaining vegetative cover) but is generally restricted to a small area.

Fire. Moderate to High risk. Equipment can create sparks which can cause fire. Minimize risk of fire by only using equipment during periods of low fire risk, removing rocks and other hard objects that could spark when hit by the blade, and having personnel with fire suppression equipment on site in case of ignition.

Consider Combining with the Following Non-Chemical Methods

Stumps must be cut by either chainsaw or hand saw prior to grinding. Also consider pairing grinding with manual whole plant removal in order to remove other life stages of the target plant.

Don’t Use This Technique When/For

Wet soil conditions will increase compaction and physical disturbance to a site by large machinery. Very dry, high fire risk conditions will increase the risk of fire. Rocky sites should be avoided.


Picchio R, S. Verani, G. Sperandio, R. Spina, E. Marchi. 2012. Stump grinding on a poplar plantation: Working time, productivity, and economic and energetic inputs. Ecological Engineering 40: 117-120.

Truini, J. 2015.

Authors and Credit

Lead Author:Pamela Beitz, Integrated Pest Management Specialist, East Bay Regional Parks District


Andrea Williams, Marin Municipal Water District (former)

Additional Contributors: None


Ratings: Excellent (>95% control); Good (81–95% control); Fair (50–80% control); Poor or ineffective (<50% control)

Results are based on an estimation of maximum possible single-season reduction in weed cover and propagule production (=control). Control efficacy was scored for each plant and site characteristic for each management practice individually using best available information, assuming other conditions were optimal. Results for management practices are organized by efficacy rating based on the lowest rating they received for the combination of plant and site characteristics chosen. Rating results provided by the WeedCUT tool are generalized and may not be suitable for all plants or site conditions with the characteristics chosen. Ratings assume that a multi-year strategy will be employed to achieve management goals.
Plant Flowering Period
    Winter No Information
    Spring No Information
    Summer No Information
    Fall No Information
    Multiple Seasons No Information
    None No Information
Plant Germination
    Winter Good
    Winter / Spring Good
    Spring / Summer Good
    Opportunistic Fair
Plant Palatability
    Yes No Information
    No No Information
    Partial No Information
Plant Plant Growth Form
    Grass N/A
    Forb N/A
    Shrub Good
    Tree Good
    Vine N/A
Plant Plant Type
    Annual N/A
    Biennial N/A
    Perennial Good
Plant Propagule Production
    Low (<1000/square meter) Good
    Moderate (1000–10,000/square meter) Good
    High (>10,000/square meter) Good
Plant Rate of Spread
    High (doubling in <10 year) Good
    Moderate (50–75% increase in 10 years) Good
    Slow Rate (25% increase in 10 years) Good
Plant Resprouting / Regenerative Capacity
    Low Good
    Moderate Good
    High Good
    None N/A
Plant Seed Life
    Short (≤3 years) Good
    Moderate (4–10 years) Fair
    Long (>10 years) Poor
Plant Type of Reproduction
    Seed Good
    Vegetative Good
    Seed & Vegetative Good
Plant Type of Vegetative Reproduction
    Rhizome / Stolon / Stem No Information
    Bulb / Corm / Tuber N/A
    Root sprout / Sucker / Crown sprout Good
Site Existing Desirable Plant Cover
    <10% Good
    10–25% Good
    26–50% Fair
    51–75% Poor
    >75% Poor
Site Ground Condition
    Muddy N/A
    Smooth Good
    Cobbly Good
    Rocky Good
Site Habitat
    Marsh / Wetland N/A
    Riparian N/A
    Grassland Good
    Shrubland Good
    Woodland / Forest Good
Site Level of Tolerable Disturbance
    Low Ineffective
    Medium Fair
    High Good
Site Slope
    Flat Good
    Moderate (10–40%) Fair
    Steep (>40%) N/A
Site Target Area
    <40 square feet Good
    0.001–0.01 acre Good
    0.02–0.1 acre Good
    0.2–1 acre Good
    2–10 acres Fair
    11–50 acres Poor
    51–100 acres Poor
    >100 acres Ineffective
Site Targeted Invasive Plant Cover
    <1% Good
    1–10% Good
    11–25% Good
    26–50% Fair
    51–75% Poor
    >75% Poor
Site Vehicle Accessibility
    Roadside Good
    <100 feet from road Good
    100–1000 feet from road Fair
    >1000 feet from road N/A