December 8, 2011
Brush Piles 101
Create valuable habitat without spending a cent
Before you pile those leaves, tree limbs, and garden debris by the curb, consider the year-round needs of your wild neighbors. You can help restore and preserve wildlife habitat in your community by creating a simple brush pile shelter for wild animals.
Waste not, want not
Throughout the year, wild animals need dense cover in which to hide from predators, rest, nest, and seek shelter from severe weather. When trees and shrubs lose their foliage in autumn, permanent sources of cover become even more important. Creating a brush pile is a cheap and easy way to provide critical shelter and cover for ground-nesting birds, reptiles and amphibians, chipmunks, rabbits, and other small mammals.
A little organization in your construction will pay off; wildlife will make use of a haphazard pile of limbs, leaves, and twigs, but a carefully constructed brush pile will provide a much more useful habitat. The idea is to create ground-level pathways into the brush pile with internal spaces where creatures can find a protected corner or perch safely off the ground.
Two basic ways to construct a brush pile
(This is more frequently recommended.) Use a pallet of material as a base and then stack tree tops, old Christmas trees, flower stalks, limbs, leaves, and twigs on top to form the pile.
The most common type of pallet brush pile is made by stacking two or three layers of 6-inch-diameter logs at right angles to each other. Logs should be about 6 feet long and should be placed about 10 inches apart within each layer. You can also use several tree stumps or 12-inch rocks as pallets.
Arrange about eight 6- to 8-foot untrimmed branches in a diagonal teepee fashion, either standing alone or over a tree stump.
Tips for building a better brush pile of either type
- Isolated piles are less likely to be used. Choose an area with good drainage; near a forest edge, along a stream, or at the edge or back corner of a property; and close to existing food sources and shrubs.
- Ideal piles are 4 to 8 feet tall and from 10 to 20 feet in diameter.
- Brush piles are flammable; keep them away from buildings.
- On larger properties with little natural cover, create three or four brush piles per acre.
- Where aesthetics are important, plant native vines such as wild grape, honeysuckle, and trumpet creeper as an attractive cover for the brush pile, or plant a border of wildflowers.
- Rot and decay are a normal process of brush piles. As they rot, they attract more insects, providing additional food for birds. The piles should be inspected yearly, though, to see if the state of decay is such that a new brush pile should be constructed.
Create a Sanctuary
Enjoy the company of your wild neighbors in your yard. Every day, more and more wildlife habitat is lost to the spread of development. But you can help wild animals in urban and suburban areas by offering them sanctuary in your own backyard (or front yard, roof-top garden, or deck), no matter how small. Learn how make your green space an Urban Wildlife Sanctuary.