If you're a homeowner in the Twin Cities, there's a chance that you have an ugly stump in front of your house.
Thanks to the emerald ash borer infestation, St. Paul and Minneapolis have had to cut down thousands of boulevard trees in recent years. That's meant a backlog of stumps that have yet to be ground out.
Since 2009, St. Paul has taken down nearly 22,000 boulevard ash trees, including 2,555 so far this year. Another 6,000 are still facing removal. If you lose the ash in the boulevard this year, you likely will have to wait a year before the stump is removed and a new tree is planted, according to the St. Paul Parks and Recreation department.
In Minneapolis, the wait could be longer. The Park and Recreation Board has been removing about 5,000 ash trees a year for the past eight years. There are about 3,000 boulevard stumps that need to be ground out. That number is expected to grow to about 6,000 by the end of the year. Depending on funding, it may take three to four years for those stumps to be removed, according to Ralph Sievert, park board forestry director.
So you can stare at a homely stump — or you can use this opportunity for some creative yard decor. One caution: If you see the "Tree work" signs go up to remove the stump, prepare to remove your stump bling. Until then, try one of these crafty ideas:
Using a tree stump as a planter is a popular ideas on Pinterest and DIY landscaping websites. You could simply place a pot of plants on the stump, or hollow out the middle of the stump and plant annuals directly in the stump. Disguise it altogether by putting an old wine barrel over it and planting in that.
When ash trees were removed from a stretch of Dayton Avenue in St. Paul, local artist Chillon Leach got a micro-grant from the Union Park District Council to create a tree stump garden using fabric pots to grow squash, melons, pumpkins and marigolds.
"I thought it could give people something to focus on — besides the grief of losing trees," Leach said.
Set a bowl or a bucket on the stump for a dog watering station. Or you could park a bird bath on top of it. You can even use it as a platform for a fountain, using a solar- or battery-powered garden fountain.
Audrey Matson, owner of Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply in St. Paul, suggests making a bee bath. Buy one online or at a store like Matson's, or make your own. Get a shallow dish, put stones or pebbles in the bottom and add some water. It's a kiddie pool for insects — giving bees, butterflies or dragonflies a water source that isn't deep enough for them to drown in. Bee baths work best when they're set at ground level, so "a stump is a perfect height for it," Matson said.
Fun and games
Paint a checkerboard on the stump, add some checker or chess pieces and you've got a curbside board game. Or drill rows of holes in the stump, add some pegs and a deck of cards for stump cribbage.
For something more contemplative, create a finger labyrinth — a smaller-scale version of the winding footpaths used as a meditation tool. Draw, carve or glue twine to the top of your stump to create a labyrinth and let your fingers do the walking. Find finger labyrinth patterns online.
For your sweetheart, consider the traditional practice of carving a heart and a pair of initials in the stump. If you're more literary, write a poem or quote.
One obvious choice is "Trees," the most famous work written by American poet Joyce Kilmer (a second cousin of Val): "I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree." Or maybe a quote from the Shel Silverstein classic "The Giving Tree": "An old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest."
Artist Julie Benda suggests reflecting on the history of the tree and what it has seen over its lifespan. Use a Sharpie marker or be like Benda and carve text into the wood with a hammer and a V-shaped gouge. (Safety glasses advised.)
Depending on your twee tolerance, you could repurpose your stump into a fairy garden or an elf village. It could also be a pedestal for a garden gnome, a yard statue or an artful rock cairn. Or how about a diorama using HO-scale model railroad figurines? Get some inspiration from Japanese artist Tatsuya Tanaka and others who pair tiny figurines with normal-sized objects.
For a STEM lesson, make your stump into a sundial. Just put a stick in the center of the stump leaning slightly to the north and use small stones to mark where the stick's shadow falls at every hour. (Instructions at wikihow.com/Make-a-Sundial.)
The tree rings can be used to make a calendar. Count the rings: Each ring represents a year of growth. Label rings with a pin or a thumbtack to commemorate important years for you or the tree: the year you bought the house, the year the kids were born, and, of course, the 1991 Halloween Blizzard.
Since it's an elevated platform in a public space in an election year, your stump could serve as nature's soapbox. Invite local candidates for office to stand on your stump dais and give a pitch as to why they should get your vote. You know, like a real stump speech.
Rub to remember
Preserve your stump with a graphite rubbing. Using a piece of paper and a stick of soft graphite, capture the unique shape and texture of your stump including the tree rings, cracks and saw marks.
"You've got something that will tell the age of the tree," said Josh Winkler, an artist and associate professor of printmaking at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Winkler did a graphite rubbing of the Discovery Tree stump, the remains of a 1,244-year-old giant sequoia cut down in 1853 in Northern California.
For the best results, he suggests using an acid-free paper made of mulberry fibers from an arts supply store. As an alternative, you can make a print of the stump's surface by rolling some printmaking ink over it and then using a wooden spoon to burnish the paper on the inked surface.
The result will be a one-of-a-kind document of the life — and death — of a tree.
"That will be a way to memorialize the tree," Winkler said.