Beauty in the Bush: Build a Brush Pile to Benefit Nature in 8 Easy Steps!

Beauty in the Bush: Build a Brush Pile to Benefit Nature in 8 Easy Steps!

Quick steps to creating a nature-friendly brush pile
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Build a nature-friendly brush pile in 8 easy steps!
Monday, March 29, 2010 - 9:30am


No, not a pile of old toothbrushes or hairbrushes, oh urban one. I’m talking about a pile of branches, twigs and limbs of bushes, shrubs, trees, and vines heaped up in the woods from whence they came.

You see a lot of landowners, in the name of unsightliness, chip all of their brush trimmings and prunings into wood chips or mulch, or burn it up in the spring and fall. But burning it puts all that soot and CO2 into the air to warm us beyond where we’d like to be. And chipping it usually requires fossil fueled machinery, consuming petroleum and spewing more CO2 and other waste emissions. I like a wood chipped path and garden mulch as much as anyone, but you could just pile your brush in the garden or woods as a conservation strategy. Here’s why.

First, the brush pile will decay slowly over time, releasing its carbon mainly into the soil, not the air. Just like us, trees go dust to dust on their own. Brush spread on a hillside also helps to hold soil and stop erosion. But the biggest reason is the parade of critters that benefit from brush piles.

At the website Ecosystem Gardening, they’ll tell you. “A brush pile is a bonanza to all kinds of wildlife, including cardinals, wrens, thrushes, warblers, sparrows, as well as toads, snakes, squirrels, and overwintering butterflies.”

I’ve sat on my deck on a warm afternoon watching birds, butterflies, voles, red squirrels, rabbits and other wildlife use my brush pile for shelter and eating buds, bugs and other lunch foods. It’s way better than TV.

Brush piles provide critical habitat for many different kinds of wildlife. They provide hiding places from predators, nesting spots, escape routes, and dens. Bugs and slugs love the decaying wood and in turn become food for birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.

Brush piles are very easy to build, and you can save that yard waste from the landfill. A well conceived brush pile is a joy forever. Here’s how Ecosystem Gardening suggests you make yours:

  1. Start with large branches and logs and loosely stack them log cabin style.

  2. Don't use pressure treated lumber, creosoted railroad ties, tires, or lead-painted lumber as these materials contain toxic chemicals which leech into the soil and pollute waterways. (You can cover up a rusty old car frame or other iron artifact like the one some far sighted pioneer left me at my Minnesota cabin.)

  3. Rocks and stones can also be used in the base section to provide additional hiding spaces for wildlife.

  4. Cover the top of this base with smaller branches until you have a tall pile that resembles an igloo.

  5. The pile will shrink every year as the wood decomposes and you can just keep adding new materials to the top.

  6. Plant native vines such as Virginia Creeper Trumpet Honeysuckle or American Bittersweet around the base to provide more shelter and to hide the pile. DON'T plant Oriental Bittersweet because it is extremely invasive and difficult to eradicate.

  7. Border the pile with locally native wildflowers, which provide nectar for native pollinators.

  8. Screen the pile with fruiting native shrubs which provide much needed food for wildlife, especially migrating birds.

If the pile seems too big at first, don’t fret. It will decrease by about half the first year as gravity and snow compress the pile. This pile was once 6 or 7 feet high- 10 years later it’s humus, and the forest is the richer for it.

That’s all there is to it. You’ve created an important habitat element for wildlife for all your furry and feathered friends. Grab a chair or a stump and a cup of organic tea or Fair Trade Coffee and enjoy the parade. It’s a gift to Ma Nature that keeps on giving. is dedicated to our users. We focus our attention on changing the world through recycling, waste-to-energy and conservation. We reward our users for their sustainable behaviors on our website, through our Greenopolis Tracking Stations and with curbside recycling programs.