male using wood chipper

How to Get Rid of Brush Piles

Brush piles always start innocently…just a few branches, then a few more, then the leaves from fall, and finally the dead Christmas tree. Before you know it, you have a mountain of debris that the neighbors can’t possibly enjoy looking at.

The only thing worse than having a brush pile is not having a brush pile – also known as procrastinating on lawn clean-up! Whether it’s standard seasonal maintenance or extra debris from a nasty storm, you’ll need to get rid of it.

Loose brush creates a fire hazard, and if you live in an area prone to wildfires, it’s especially important for you to eliminate that risk. There are several ways to remove brush, from low-maintenance decomposing to power equipment-assisted repurposing.

Survey the Damage

Before deciding the best method of brush removal, take a walk around your property (or to your pile) to assess the types of brush. It’s also helpful to note any spots on your property that could be difficult to work on, like wet areas or hills.

... Large branches have different needs than thin sticks, so it’s important to know what you’re working with.

Gather Brush into a Pile

The easiest first step for any brush removal is to collect it all in one pile. The question of where you pile it up, though, depends on your next step. For burning, create your brush pile far away from everything else. For repurposing in your landscape, keep it close to the garden or other final destination.

Option 1: Burn* the Brush

*Always check with local authorities for burning restrictions which may be permanent or temporary.

If you need the brush pile gone quickly, burning it is a possibility. Make sure the pile isn’t near any trees or houses and keep a hose nearby in case it starts to spread. It's best to burn on a dry day when it's not windy. Make sure that backyard burning of leaves/brush is legal in your location you’ve received the necessary permits from the local fire warden.

... Having a bonfire can be fun, but it can easily get out of hand if the proper precautions aren’t taken.

While there are pros and cons to each method of brush removal, burning your brush pile comes with some big disadvantages:

  • It’s not very environmentally friendly or healthy for your lungs.
  • It’s a huge waste of natural resources and money. All brush and yard debris can be reused in other landscaping and gardening ventures.
  • It kills any wildlife using the brush pile as shelter. If your pile has been sitting for a while, there’s no doubt that birds, rabbits, turtles, woodchucks, chipmunks, and more have moved in. Give those little friends a chance to find a new home!

Option 2: Turn the Brush into a Hügelkultur Mound

Hügelkultur gardening was invented in Germany and has been around for centuries. Any yard debris normally discarded, including branches, sticks, rotting wood, leaves, grass clippings, and dead plants can be placed together in a mound. The mound decomposes over time and becomes a nutrient-rich bed.

As the mound breaks down, start gardening! Hügelkultur mounds are great for vining plants like pumpkin, squash, zucchini, cucumber, or watermelon but not as ideal for root crops, which can disrupt the structure too much.

... Hügelkultur translates to “mound culture” and is essentially a no-dig raised bed.

Just like permaculture principles, Hügelkultur gardening replicates a natural process. When a tree falls and is quickly covered by organic materials, a rich environment is created where nutrients are recycled to help vegetation thrive.

If you have wood that is already decomposing, building a Hügelkultur mound is the best thing to do with it. Recently living wood will steal nitrogen from the soil and impact the health of anything planted in the mound. There aren’t many other options for decomposing wood other than making a mound or burning it.

Option 3: Put the Brush Through a Chipper or Chipper Shredder

For any living or recently living wood, the best method of removal is to chip it. Chippers and chipper shredders are powerful machines that turn branches, brush, and other yard debris into mulch for use in your garden or landscaping.

Chippers are designed for cutting thick materials like branches and have one chute. Chippers feature big hoppers with heavy flywheels and are the most efficient choice for constant wood chipping.

Chipper Shredders combine two machines into one with a chute for branches (to be chipped) and another for lighter debris (to be shredded). If you occasionally have branches but are primarily dealing with lightweight material, a Chipper Shredder covers all your bases.

... Chipper (right) vs. Chipper Shredder (left).

What Can Chipped Wood be Used For?

After sending your branches and other debris through a chipper/shredder, you’ll be left with nutrient-rich, organic material that can be repurposed in many ways:

  • Add it to landscaped areas, gardens, flower beds, and around tree bases.
  • Lay some on trails, paths, or other walking areas to keep weeds at bay.
  • Use it for livestock bedding – animals love to sleep on soft woodchips.
  • Cover any muddy spots on your driveway so you don’t track it inside.
  • Burn some in your smoker to make tasty meat!
... Turn your mess into money by making your own mulch!

Be sure to use this chipped or shredded material for the right purposes. Woodchips tie up nitrogen in soil as they decompose, so they should be spread on top of soil as mulch rather than mixed in like compost. Shredded leaves and grass should be added to the compost pile for future mixing with soil.

If you ever buy mulch for your property, making it yourself is a fantastic investment. Organic mulch can be very expensive (especially if you cover wide areas with it) and it’s never a bad thing to have some extra on hand for touching up washed out spots.

Create a Routine

By creating a seasonal routine you can avoid accumulating huge amounts of debris that can become a major project. Check out our growing selection of tools and power equipment that can help you get things done efficiently. Sign up for new product alerts and we'll deliver them to your inbox.

Last updated: 7/8/2022