Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

On Creating a Brush Pile

When Christmas is over there is often the question of what to do with your expired natural tree. Well, that is if you do real trees. The debate of real vs. artificial is all together another discussion for another day. But if you do have a live tree how do you dispose of it?

There are several ways that they can be reused to benefit your garden or local environment. Most of you readers probably do one of these already but here they are for a quick reminder.
  • Many municipalities offer recycling programs where they chip and shred trees turning them into mulch which can then be used in your garden, in public parks or walking trails.
  • My in-laws sink their tree into their pond for the fish to use as a refuge and breeding area.
  • You can give it a second life as a Christmas tree for your feathered friends by placing it in your garden and adorning it with fruit and nuts for the birds to feast on. 
  • If you have bird feeders you can lay the tree nearby and song birds will use it as a place to perch and take refuge.
  • Perhaps you might consider using it as a trellis in your spring vegetable garden for peas or beans to climb up.
Our local zoo feed their animals the pre-cut Christmas tree which didn't sell at the tree farms. It's a really cool concept! If you've never seen this before check out the post I wrote a few years ago here.


This year we've decided just to add our tree to a brush pile that we started earlier this year. Initially the brush pile was actually a burn pile. You see, my husband had removed several cherry trees from our front garden and we could only drag the really heavy tree trunks so far so we left them in an open area just in front of the woods with the intention of burning them in the fall. (Think fall bonfire, smores, and apple cider) Then in early fall my husband began removing some shrubs which had been a thorn in my side since we moved into our house. The shrubs are those builder grade shrubs which need lots of maintenance and don't provide any purpose to wildlife. You know the type. I can't tell you how happy I am that they have now all been removed. (Here's me doing a happy dance)  We threw all these shrubs on top of the logs because it seemed the most convenient place at the time. Then we added some limbs from a little bit of pruning that we did around the garden.


The pile sat and the shrubs died and the pile sat some more. And you know what happened? The birds found the pile. They used it as a spot to perch before flying to the bird feeders. It became a safe haven from predators. When the weather turned cold (as in last week when it dropped down into the teens) the brush pile was filled with song birds using it as shelter from the severe weather and I think they even gave me their version of a big group hug. So it was time to rethink this burn pile because now it had become a haphazard brush pile that was providing value to the wildlife in our garden.


The non-native shrubs that weren't any use to the wildlife or the gardener when they were upright [alive] are now getting a new life creating a habitat for our wildlife. It was one of those light bulb moments where I thought to myself, why didn't we do this before?


I wanted to show you some photos of the birds in the brush pile but my zoom lens is being cleaned/repaired and I am just not able to get close enough with my other lenses without the birds either flying away or going deeper into the pile. This little wren is the best I could do. So better bird shots will have to wait for another day, another post. I can tell you that we see lots of white-throated sparrows, wrens, mourning doves, Eastern towhees, cardinals, thrashers, titmice, warblers, mocking birds that are hopping, perching, side stepping, jumping, or hunkering down in the pile.


Brush piles can also provide cover for ground nesting birds. I would love to see some quail find a home in our garden! It is also a place for the chipmunks, rabbits and squirrels to hide when chased by hawks, owls or our very spirited dogs (who are sometimes more determined than the natural predators).

Going after a vole. (Maybe we'll plant a tree here in the spring)
Our brush pile being located at the edge of our woods makes for a nice transition spot for wildlife to emerge from the protection of the woods out into the open. At this time of year the pile blends nicely into the landscape and is rather inconspicuous but what about in the summer when all is green and bright. Well I think it will look wild and wonderful but some of our neighbors could find it to be a bit of an eyesore since it can be seen from the road. My solution is this. We collected seed pods from our very productive passion vine plants this fall so we have laid them around the brush pile. Hopefully there will be enough sunshine in this spot for them to grow this spring and the vine will make an attractive cover over the pile which will then support bees and butterflies during the summer and fall months. Stay tuned if my plan works I will definitely be sharing the results.

And, as the brush pile begins to rot and decay more insects will arrive helping in the recycling process as well as provide additional food for the birds. I've already see some insects buzzing around on some of our warmer winter days. It just seems to be a win-win solution for the wildlife and the gardener.

20 comments:

  1. So nice! I have a compost pile going in the back on the edge of a strip of natural area where I put my trees and brush (a very slowly decomposing compost/brush pile). I'm not sure if the birds use it or not as it's too far away for me to see well. That would be nice if they are though! A great use for some old Christmas trees!

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    1. I bet there is activity going on in your brush pile. It is amazing how quickly the wildlife find such habitat! Sneak up to your pile and observe it some time. You may be surprised who you find there.

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  2. I added a brush pile last spring although mine is much smaller. I have a weird empty corner behind a tree so I just filled it with logs from a few tree branches that I'd cut down as well as other yard debris and a few broken birdhouses and junky pots. I'm not sure who's living in it but if I were a small creature, I'd move right in!

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    1. Sounds perfect for your garden! I'm sure you have some interesting characters living there.

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  3. I love the idea of adding more refuge areas for wildlife. I could easily create a brush pile, but my big worry would be the neighbour's cat. Despite the dogs, the cat keeps coming over the fence to hunt in our yard. If I were to create a brush pile it would likely become the cat's favourite haunt. Darn cat! If my dogs were wandering next door I am sure there would be hell to pay!

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    1. What a bummer Jennifer! Indeed you would probably be building a cat's playground and not benefiting the wildlife in the long run. Dogs vs. cats roaming freely do seem to be viewed differently don't they.

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  4. As you say, a "win-win" for everyone! We have some brush piles near the edge of the woods, too. And actually a huge Oak tree that fell over one year. I think the neighbors must wonder why we don't clear it away, but it's a great habitat for wildlife. This is a great post, explaining the wildlife value of snags, logs, and twigs. :)

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    1. Thanks Beth! We have several snags and trees that have felled and fortunately they are further back on our property and the neighbors can't view them. I'm sure they too would wonder why we are such messy gardeners.

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  5. This is a great idea for a large garden where there is room for a brush pile. I wouldn’t really know where to put one in my garden :-) But after moving to London I have switched to artificial tree anyway so I just put it back in the box every January. When I was still living in Norway I always had a huge Christmas tree from the local woods and I used to leave it in the garage, chop it up in the summer and next winter it ended up on the firewood pile.

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    1. I understand Helene. Your garden is so beautifully filled with plants I think the birds and wildlife benefit from your London garden anyway.

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  6. Brush piles are so great for wildlife and a good addition to gardens that can have them. I saw a video where one zoo was giving the trees to the big cats and they were rolling in them like catnip. It was funny to see a lion acting like a house cat.

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    1. It is fascinating to see animals eating food that you wouldn't normally see in their native habitat. Indeed, it is easy to forget that those big cats are "cats".

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  7. Brush piles are *great* for wildlife. I have a huge brush pile at the edge of the woods that often has birds visiting it, and one time I flushed a covey of quail feeding there.

    I'm happy to see you blogging again! Your posts are always so interesting and informative (with beautiful photography too).

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    1. Lucky you to see some quail! I'm not sure that we will ever see them since we have three rambunctious dogs. It is good to be back blogging. I'm glad that you enjoy my posts and that I was missed.

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  8. Great idea and you have the perfect spot at the edge of the woods. Lucky you!

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  9. Behind our veggie garden is a drop-off that lost several trees during our 1990 tornado. The roots of these trees were ripped out of the earth during the storm, creating great craters and leading to collapse of part of the hillside. We began piling brush in the gap that year and have continued ever since. The hillside has been restored and even added to since then, with the brush eventually decaying to loamy soil. We continue to use that same area for brush, including our discarded Christmas tree. All the critters love us! (They can hide while plotting the perfect moment to harvest vegetables for us.)

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  10. My current post is linked to your blog! :o)

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  11. Fabulous idea Karin. We have one at the edge of the meadow and it gets heavy use by many critters.

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  12. I love this idea, Karin! My husband is from Oklahoma. He says, after the Holidays, they throw some trees into the lakes there, and fish love it! Fish uses the trees for laying eggs and to hide from predators.

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  13. I've had a brush pile near the northern hedgerow for many years. The pile rots and settles a lot faster than I would have thought. Every spring the branches from pruning get added to the top. Whenever I approach the pile, dozens of birds fly up. In the winter the birds are just sheltering but in the summer there may be lots of bugs in the rotting wood.

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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