I’m Stumped

I’m working on accelerating stump decomposition for an early-spring removal and driveway repair/expansion.

I’m approaching 20 years from the date I moved into my new house. A perk of building a new home was the ability to design the landscape exactly how I wanted it. That meant choosing trees and shrubs that would add curb appeal to my home. I thought I had a great plan. I made several mistakes with that landscape plan, however, and one of the biggest was including a poplar in the mix.

“Don’t confuse poor decision-making with destiny. Own your mistakes. It’s ok; we all make them. Learn from them so they can empower you!”

Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

I carefully researched plants that would thrive in our climate and also enhance my property, but I obviously missed some important warnings about poplars. Before I moved into my new home, I purchased a collection of trees and shrubs from a local nursery and planted them according to a landscape guide I built online. The young poplar was planted in an 8-foot wide space between my driveway and the property to the north.

Unlike the other trees I planted, the poplar thrived. Many trees planted in my young neighborhood went through various diseases and died. I was pleased, however, that my poplar survived and was a fast grower. Unfortunately, that giddiness was fleeting. Poplar trees, unfortunately, have invasive roots that can cause damage to sewer lines and push up pavement. The root system also sends up tree shoots that can invade a wide spanse of land. My neighbors to the north and I battled one particularly invasive spring and summer as new tree shoots sprang up all over the place.

A Mighty Wind

Several years after moving into my new home, a series of storms and microburst winds passed through my area, and the force split my large poplar tree into three damaged sections. I was at work when it happened, but a kind neighbor was already cutting down the debris before I arrived home. I knew that he was an avid camper, so I offered the wood for his campfire supplies as an expression of my thanks. It didn’t take much for him to accept the offer.

After the damage was cleaned up, I had a huge stump to remove. I researched solutions, and the choice I made was the second big mistake I made with this poplar tree. I purchased a product that guaranteed rapid stump and root decomposition for easy removal. The testimonials for this product seemed so authentic, and I was eager to test what appeared to be the easiest of solutions. Never opt for easy solutions.

Everything seemed fine for the remainder of the fall season. Snow soon hid the stump, and I assumed the product was working its magic. Unfortunately, the following spring brought a new surprise. Branches began growing in the stump gaps, and, by the time I scheduled time to do something about it, a thriving new tree was taking over the spot. I decided to let it grow until I had enough money to hire a professional to remove the tree and the stump. Mistake number three.

Is Hindsight 2020?

So, that now brings me to 2020. That tree grew and thrived. In fact, it looked healthier than it had in the past. Perhaps, poplars are great trees when planted in spaces with plenty of room to expand, but my limited yard was not one of those places. The tree didn’t seem to be causing any serious problems, however, so I let it remain planted in its spot. My neighbors and I learned how to control the root spread, and we all liked the shade the tree provided in the summer. 

At 7:09 AM on March 18, 2020 a 5.7 magnitude earthquake hit the area. Although we had just begun distance learning with our students due to the pandemic, I decided to work on my lesson plans and online instruction from my school building. I thought I had hit a section of damaged road on my commute, but I was soon informed by coworkers waiting outside the building what had happened.

I returned home to inspect for house damage. My house structure was fine. The earthquake, however, forced the roots of my poplar tree up and created a crack across the width of my driveway. With each of the subsequent aftershocks over the course of the next month, that crack became more pronounced; one section of my driveway has been pushed up nearly two inches from it’s previous level.

Everything changed on March 18.

I knew I needed to finally remove the tree, but I didn’t have the means to do it. The poplar tree had grown to nearly 40 feet tall, and I didn’t have the tools nor knowledge to safely cut it down. I would wait, I told myself, to remove it when I could afford to pay some professionals to do it. Finally, in July, I hired a contractor to cut it down. It would take nearly a full day for two people to cut and clean up all the debris, and I was committed to paying them a fair wage. Unfortunately, I did not have the extra money to pay for stump removal, so I decided it would have to wait for another time. Mistake number four?

 As I am stashing extra money to pay for the stump removal, I am experimenting with new ways to kill and deteriorate the stump. As you can see in my photo, I have begun to pound copper nails into the stump. This should be a suitable solution as winter approaches. I will need, however, to use at least fifty nails to make it work. Wish me luck.


Hopefully I am learning from past mistakes and will be able to move on from them. My plan is to save enough money, successfully kill the stump, and fully remove it by early spring. After that, I hope to replace and widen my damaged driveway for a cleaner landscape with greater curb appeal. I will post the progress as it happens.

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