Prep Irrigation System for Stump Grinding

Well, the tree is gone, but the stump remains. It seems like taking down the tree is the really difficult part until you have a massive and fully immovable object just sitting there…not moving.

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There’s no easy way to take out a big tree stump. Other than time, that is. Death, taxes, and entropy are the only guarantees in life. But decomposition takes some serious time when you are talking about an object as dense as a fresh tree stump.

If you want to get rid of a tree stump, you are either going to need lots of patience to let it rot over time, a healthy amount of explosives (*DO NOT USE EXPLOSIVES!*), or a big gnarly stump grinder.

Of the three options, time is arguably the least problematic as far as your irrigation system goes. And that’s saying a lot since time is pretty much the most destructive force in existence. Time is coming for us all. Even nuclear waste isn’t immune, though with a lifespan of hundreds of thousands of years, I’m willing to bet it’s going to outlive you, me, and the tree stump in the middle of your yard. 

If patience isn’t your thing, you’re going to need to hire someone with a stump grinder to take it out. Or you can rent a stump grinder from an equipment rental shop like Sunbelt, United Rentals, Herc, or a hardware store. Some Home Depot or Lowes locations rent out stump grinders. I know this because I have in fact rented a stump grinder.

Stump grinders are great at destroying stumps. Unfortunately, they are also great at destroying irrigation systems.

I don’t want to alarm you, but those giant rotating metal blades that tear through wood and grass will also tear through plastic sprinkler pipes and heads; and will tangle up your sprinkler wire and cause huge problems.

BUT, this is all preventable. It will save you money and headaches to relocate the underground irrigation components before the tree service or landscaping company shows up to slice and dice the tree stump into sawdust.

To minimize the impact on your sprinkler system, get in touch with your irrigation company to let them know that the stump is being removed. They will be able to come out and assess the sprinkler system in the area to determine what kinds of problems this might cause. 

And if the irrigation system runs through the area where the stump is being removed, your sprinkler contractor should be able to move the pipes and wires out of the way before the tree service comes out to grind it up.

The main concern is that a valve box, mainline pipe, or wires run through the area. Hopefully not, because if the tree was in the area, it would have made sense for the irrigation contractor to avoid putting much right underneath a tree. 

The area below a tree is not the ideal spot for valve boxes or other critical components of the irrigation system because as a tree grows, the tree roots spread around sprinkler heads, pipes, wires, and valves and can cause a lot of damage.

The roots get bigger and bigger over time and squeeze and ultimately crack the much weaker plastic parts until they break. For this reason, irrigation companies try to avoid installing much directly under a tree.

But, if you have a very old sprinkler system, it is possible that the tree was just a little sapling when the irrigation system was first put in. 

So, it is very much worth having your sprinkler contractor do the necessary prep work before the stump is removed. 

If the stump is surrounded by irrigation system parts, your irrigation company can reroute the pipes, wires, and sprinkler heads around the stump before it is removed.

First, the contractor will track the mainline pipe. The mainline pipe is the pipe that wraps around your home and feeds the valves, which then feed the sprinkler heads. 

If the water is on to your irrigation system, then unless you have a master valve, your mainline pipe is fully pressurized. This means that if the mainline pipe is broken during stump removal, it will create a massive leak until you shut off your sprinkler main shut off valve before the grinding commences.

More often than not, your sprinkler wire also runs along with your mainline pipe. So, finding the mainline pipe often means finding the wire and vice versa.

And both the mainline pipe and the irrigation wire each run to the valve boxes in the yard.

So,  by finding the sprinkler wire, your contractor will usually find your mainline; then once that knowledge has been obtained, it can be used to find the valve boxes. 

The sprinkler heads don’t need all of this fancy detective work to locate. Assuming your system is working as it should, you can just make sure the irrigation water valve is on and then run the irrigation system manually from your controller.

Then, once the sprinkler heads are located, the path of the lateral or feeder lines can often be deduced.

Once the irrigation heads, mainline pipe, valve boxes, and wire have all been located in the area of the stump, it will be time to start moving things around.

If it’s necessary, your contractor will cut the pipes and wires, attach new sections and route them around the stump. They will also move (or abandon and rerun) any sprinkler heads that will be impacted by the stump removal.

Once that is done, the stump grinder can do its thing and wreak havoc on the poor, helpless stump without demolishing your sprinkler system in the process.

If you don’t want to go to all that trouble, or if you’ve run out of time and the stump is about to be ground up, you can just shut off the water to the sprinkler system and deal with the damage after the work is done 

Either way, time to get to work. Happy grinding!

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