Beginning a New ‘Stump Garden’

Tree damage in our area after the October 2018 hurricane swept through.


This has been a very bad year for our trees.  Our community sustained major tree damage when a hurricane blew through in October, and even more damage when heavy wet snow fell very quickly in early December, before the trees were prepared for winter.

There appeared to be just as much, maybe more damage, from the December snow.  At least that was the case in our yard, where we lost two old peach trees.


December 10, 2018, a few days after a heavy snow toppled both of our remaining peach trees. We couldn’t even work with them for several days because everything was frozen solid.


We found trees and limbs down all over our area again today, after a severe line of thunderstorms pass over us around 3 this morning.  There were tornadoes in the area, and we were extremely fortunate.  We had a mess to clean up, but no major damage to our trees.



I know many people whose beautiful trees have been reduced to stumps over the past several months.  Depending on how the tree breaks, you may have a neat platform, sawed off cleanly, or you may have a jagged stump left where the tree broke.

A stump is still another opportunity to respond to a challenge with resilience, seeing an opportunity instead of a tragedy.  There is nothing personal about a tree knocked over by gnarly weather and so there is no cause to sulk or lament.  Once the shock of it has passed, and the mess cleaned up, it’s time to formulate a plan.


Our peaches in bloom in 2017


Maybe easier said, than done.  I’ve pondered the jagged stumps left by our beautiful peach trees for the last four months.  The trees hadn’t given us peaches for many years, although they bloomed and produced fruits.

The squirrels always got them first, and the trees had some health issues.  Now we see that the stumps were hollow, which is probably why they splintered when they fell.  But we loved their spring time flowers and their summer shade.


The jagged remains of a once beautiful peach tree, that once shaded our fern garden and anchored the bottom of a path.


Now, not only do I have a stump at the bottom of our hillside path, but the main shade for our fern garden is gone.  I’m wondering how the ferns will do this summer and whether other nearby trees and the bamboo will provide enough shade.  A garden is always changing.  We just have to keep our balance as we surf the waves of change.


Native ebony spleenwort transplanted successfully into this old stump.


Stumps are a fact of life in this garden, and I’ve developed a few strategies to deal with them.  The underlying roots hold water, and they will eventually decay, releasing nutrients back into the soil.  I consider it an opportunity to build a raised bed, maybe to use the hollow stump as a natural ‘container,’ and certainly an anchor for a new planting area.


I planted ‘Autumn Brilliance’ ferns in Leaf Grow Soil conditioner, packed around a small stump, for the beginnings of a new garden in the shade in 2015.  This area has grown to anchor a major part of our present fern garden.


This particular new stump forms the corner of our fern garden, and I very much want trees here again.  And so I gathered up some found materials over the weekend and began reconstructing a new planting.  First, I found some year old seedlings from our redbud tree growing in nearby beds, just leafing out for spring.  I didn’t want the seedlings to grow on where they had sprouted, because they would shade areas planted for sun.

Tiny though these seedlings may be, redbuds grow fairly quickly.  I transplanted two little trees to grow together right beside the stump.  They will replace the fallen peach with springtime color, summer shade, and all year round structure.  Eventually, they will also form a new living ‘wall’ for the jagged opening of the stump.


I planted two small redbud tree seedlings near the opening of the stump.


I had two deciduous ferns, left from the A. ‘Branford Rambler’ ferns I divided last fall, and still in their pots.  I filled the bottom of the stump with a little fresh soil, and pushed both of these fern root balls into the opening of the stump, topping them off with some more potting soil, mixed with gravel, pilfered from one of last summer’s hanging baskets.



This is a fairly fragile planting, still open to one side.  It will be several years before the redbuds grow large enough to close off the opening in the stump.  And so I pulled up some sheets of our indigenous fern moss and used those to both close off the opening, and also to ‘mulch’ the torn up area around the new tree seedlings.  Fern moss always grows in this spot.

But fern moss also grows on some shaded bricks in another bed.  It is like a little ‘moss nursery,’ and I can pull off sheets to use in various projects every few weeks.  It renews itself on the bricks relatively quickly, and so I transplanted fresh moss from the bricks to this new stump garden.



After pushing the moss firmly into the soil, I wrapped some plastic mesh, cut from a bulb bag, over the opening in the stump, and tied it in place with twine.  I was hoping for a ‘kokedama’ effect, but the rough contours of the stump thwarted every effort at neatness.

I’ll leave the mesh in place for a few weeks, like a band-aid, until the moss grows in and naturally holds the soil around the roots of the fern.  Something is needed to protect the soil during our frequent, heavy rains.



I will very likely add some more ferns or other ground cover perennials around the unplanted side of this stump over the next few weeks, just to cover the wound and turn this eye-sore into a beauty spot.

The ulterior motive is to make sure that foot traffic remains far enough away from the stump that no one gets hurt on the jagged edges.  Could I even them out with a saw?  Maybe-  The wood is very hard, still, and I’ve not been successful with hand tools thus far.  Better for now to cover them with fresh greenery from the ferns.



The second peach stump stands waiting for care.  I noticed, in taking its photo, that it is still alive and throwing out new growth.  It is also in a semi-shaded area, and I plan to plant a fern in this stump, too.


The stump garden begun in 2015 with a pair of ferns has grown into this beautiful section of our fern garden, as it looked in May of 2018. The tall ‘Autumn Beauty’ ferns in the center are the originals, shown in the previous photo.


Quite often the stumps disappear entirely after such treatment.  The new perennials grow up as the old stump decays, enriching the soil and holding moisture to anchor the bed.  And of course all sorts of creatures find food and shelter in the decaying stump and around the new planting.

This is a gentle way of working with nature rather than fighting against it.  It calls on our creativity and patience, allows the garden to evolve, and offers opportunities to re-cycle plants and materials we might otherwise discard.  It allows us to transform chaos into beauty; loss into joy.



Woodland Gnome  2019


“Don’t grieve.
Anything you lose
comes round in another form.”

The fern garden in late April, 2018

About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

8 responses to “Beginning a New ‘Stump Garden’

  1. Rotting madrone and oak stumps have worked out nicely for epiphytic plants like orchids. I just need to find homes for the orchids before the stumps rot. Redwood stumps are another issue. Nothing grows on them, but they are so big that I built a shower inside one, and an outhouse with another.

    • Wow! A shower and lavatory in a stump! Now that is something to see! A shame nothing will grow on them- I’d love to see a shower stump covered in orchids and bromelaids! Have you tried staghorn ferns on stumps? Happy Easter!

      • Staghorn ferns will not grow on them either. Up on top of the shower, there was something of a trough around part of the top where I planted Bilbergia nutans (queen’s tears). They were the same that grew up near the ceiling of my shower at home in town (where the birds nested – but that is another topic for later). They were nice, but I would not have wanted them to grow too much because that was where the sunlight came in.

  2. Oh and the date – you mean December 2018- wink

  3. Love the Rumi quote
    And entire post was inspiring – yes – evolve and work with it vs right and force things
    – and we had the storm blow thru here last night –
    No trees down but lots of flipped patio furniture and debris in some streets
    – sorry about the two peach trees but as you noted – you are making it work.

    I thought this very thing whej folks were upset that they plowed down all the trees to bike the Redmond training camp – not sure if you recall That – anyhow – when we saw all the new treees go in – we realized future generations will benefit greatly

    • Thank you ❤ so happy to hear that your trees came through this latest blow OK. They do leave a mess, don't they? I am ambivalent about projects that cut down all of the native growing forest vegetation in an area to develop in some way, and then plant back a curated collection of trees. We lost so much when we destroy an ecosystem. It may not be neat or pretty by our human standards, but those doing the development certainly don't give thought to the complex web of life that have colonized the area and support many of the species essential to our larger community. I'm still heartsick over the destruction along I64 in our area. Have you seen it?? Just absolutely terrible destruction. Whatever is planted back will never replace the majestic old oaks, beaches, dogwoods, redbuds, pines and other trees, not to mention the beautiful Jasmine vines growing through them, that have grown there for so long. It was a bit of natural beauty along a very long, and tedious stretch of road. Whatever is planted back will be cookie cutter contractors' plantings, not selections made by naturalists.
      Of course- the peach trees we lost were planted by a previous resident who grew up in Italy and wanted a fruit orchard. Not exactly the native vegetation here 😉

  4. Very resourceful! I remember your stump garden from years ago.
    fyi: the date on your Dec. snow pic is in the future! 😉

    • Thanks, Eliza 😕 All of the various stump gardens we’ve begun are growing well. Two, with large stumps, look a bit tatty as the stumps themselves fall away. But the plants grow on 🐛.

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