Q: We had to cut down an old maple tree, leaving a stump as big as an armchair. It could cost as much as $600 to have it ground up. Is there another solution? — Jane Easton, Washington, D.C.
A: There is no inexpensive way to remove a large stump quickly, but you don’t have to watch it moldering, either. For several hundred dollars, an arborist will saw the stump level with the ground. Rather than grinding down the remaining slab, however, you can plant an attractive living cover-up. One solution (assuming you’re prepared to dig among the tree’s roots) is a ring of spreading shrub roses. Disease-resistant, repeat-flowering ‘White Meidiland’ or ‘Flower Carpet’ roses, for instance, planted about 4 feet apart, will hide the stump in a year or two if you train the canes over the center. Any vine works equally well, especially if you give it a pile of branches, a wire-mesh arch, or an arbor to scramble over. Or you can ring the stump with tall ornamental grasses, and you’ll soon have a perfect place for kids to hide — or for you to hide the compost pile.
Covering the stump with compost, mulch, or growing vegetation will keep the wood damp and hasten its decay. After a few years, it will soften enough for you to start breaking it up with a pick. From time to time, mushrooms may pop up on your lawn, above the decomposing roots, but just toss the fungi onto the compost pile. Rotting wood, of course, brings termites to mind. It’s small consolation, but entomologist Dr. Donald Booth, at the Bartlett Tree Research Labs in Charlotte, North Carolina, says, “If you live anywhere in ‘termite country,’ you’ll have termites around. One stump won’t make any difference.”