Written by Tolly Beck
Tolly Beck is the horticulturist at Lasdon Park and Arboretum in Westchester County. She was formerly a horticulture educator for New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland, NY.
Brush Piles for Wildlife
Autumn brings so many changes- cooler temperatures, colorful leaves, fall harvests. Most of the changes in autumn are ones we eagerly await. Then there’s the fall yard clean-up. It’s not that we don’t enjoy being outdoors, but raking and picking up sticks and branches can be tedious tasks. What can make the job interesting and even rewarding is what we decide to do with some of the yard waste. Utilizing fallen branches and sticks we have the perfect start of a habitat for wildlife- a backyard brush pile.
Brush piles can be used by a variety of wildlife including cardinals, wrens, sparrows, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, mice, and overwintering butterflies. In winter, brush piles offer shelter from the elements as well as shelter from predators. In spring and summer wildlife use brush piles to nest or den, protect young, for escape routes and for relief from the heat. Brush piles are easy to construct and maintain.
The location of a brush pile needs some consideration before construction begins. Brush piles are best placed in out of the way places as they can look a little messy. A place next to the garage, in the back of the property, or behind a planting of native shrubs are all good locations. Neighbors and passersby must also be given consideration. Brush piles are best kept some distance from the house and any garden areas to avoid unwanted visitors.
The foundation for a brush pile can simply be a few long, thick branches laid over some flat stones. Brush piles are often 10-15’ long and 6-8’ high. You can add branches on top of the foundation in alternating directions. Smaller twigs and sticks can be added as needed to fill in spaces. Leftover greens from wreath making, evergreen branches cut for needed pruning, or branches cut from a discarded Christmas tree can be placed on top of the brush pile to provide extra warmth and protection.
When winter settles in for good, you can feel warm and content indoors knowing that many types of wildlife are also warm and content inside the brush pile you built for them.