While anytime of the year is a good time to begin a wildlife brush pile in the yard, late fall and early winter are a good time to begin. Fall storms and the first wet heavy snows bring down many branches. A brush pile has many advantages and, even though the material used is usually dead material , the pile is a green action for the environment.
The brush pile is a wildlife habitat; it provides an excellent cover for many small animals from predators as well as a protective shelter during harsh weather. A host of insects, including bees will benefit from the pile as well as will numerous birds. Depending on the materials used and it’s location on the property, the pile can also attract, salamanders, toads and snakes.
Instead of taking the yard debris, such as hedge clippings and broken branches from late summer and fall storms, to a local landfill, the material can be used in the construction of a backyard brush pile for wildlife. In the fall and early winter, the winds will carry fallen leaves into the brush pile, adding to the protective cover. Later in the season, when the traditional Christmas Tree is discarded, the brush pile offers another opportunity for a green disposal and the discarded tree makes for more protective cover.
Location is Important
Some areas have local ordinances about habitats such as brush piles, it is always a good idea to be aware of the rules of your area are first. The pile needs to be in an area with good drainage and certainly aways from buildings; a brush pile can be a fire hazard.
Know your property and where wildlife is feeding and travel corridors; these areas will be a good choice to provide protection and coverage. Usually, a good site will be along woodland edges or hedgerows; the brush pile should be in an area free of intense human activity. Give the brush pile plenty of space; it should be at least ten feet by four feet or more high.
A wildlife brush pile is not a pile of yard trash. To be a valuable backyard/property asset it should be properly constructed. In general, it begins with the larger pieces at ground level and the smaller pieces criss-crossed in a somewhat pyramid style to about four feet higher or taller.
Along with the larger branches and logs on the bottom, discarded stones or rocks can also be used or, in some cases, the entire bottom of the structure can be constructed of rocks if they are readily available. Rocks will attract salamanders, toads and snakes to the pile.
Another option, depending on the location is to cut back a wild rose or blackberry patch or similar brush to ground level and begin building the pile. As the sunlight filters through the brush pile, these native plants will begin to grow up through the pile and eventually provide additional wildlife protection and an eventual food source for the pile’s inhabitants and visitors.
Every year, more material can be added to the brush pile as the original material begins to de-compose. As the material begins to decompose, more beneficial insects will be drawn to the pile.
One way to asses the value of the construction project is to observe the pile after a snowfall. Be aware of the number and species of birds which visit as well as the tracks in the snow coming and going.
Options for a Really Good Brush Pile
Native vines such as wild grapes, honeysuckle and trumpet creeper can be planted around the brush pile. The vines will add to the protective qualities and increase the food value for wildlife. The flowering vines will also, besides adding a quality of attractiveness, provide needed nectar for pollinators.
Native wildflowers can also be planted around and near the brush pile which will also increase it’s wildlife food value and the appearance. Milkweed is a good, hardy choice. The wildflowers will increase the presence of more pollinators, which are in serious decline because of habitat loss.
A brush pile enhanced with native vines and plants will attract more butterflies to the area since there is a readily available food source, shelter during harsh weather, and a habitat providing protection during the important chrysalis stage (metamorphosis stage from larvae to adult)
Green Recycling for Wildlife
A well located, constructed and planted brush pile is a great family project and learning experience. It is a valuable asset to numerous species wildlife. The construction material, which otherwise costs to take to a landfill, is free for the taking on any weekend throughout the year.