Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Brush Piles

This is one of many piles of cedar skeletons once belonging to trees that were robbing sunlight from the plants of the prairie. Identifying brush pile sites was one of my first management activities at Blue Jay Barrens. I wanted the piles to be easily accessible from the areas being cleared, but I didn’t want them to be readily visible from the trails and I didn’t want to smother any desirable plants.

I stopped this pile just short of a nice Ebony Spleenwort, which has since grown in size and fostered some small plants nearby. Ebony Spleenwort isn’t a rarity, but I like the plant and didn’t want it covered up. I marked several potential brush pile sites and monitored them for at least a year to make sure there were no desirable plants in danger of being buried. Those sites that passed the test, grew brush piles.

I tried to keep the basal area of the pile as small as possible, so some of the piles grew quite tall. This became a two tier pile with the first level rising to six feet and the second continuing on another five. I would throw the cedars up on to the first level and then climb up to stack them on the next level. Each cedar placed on the pile was hand placed to achieve maximum density of material. The piles quickly decrease in height as the needles and smaller branches decompose. An eight foot pile will shrink to four feet within a year.

I did some experimentation in using piled cedars to slow gully erosion. The idea is to create a barricade so wide and so dense that runoff water is temporarily ponded and forced to slowly flow through the pile to get away. In this location, a deep gully was located just to the left of the large cedars in the middle of the pile. I stuffed small and medium sized cedars as tightly as possible into the gully and then built the pile so it extended up both banks to a point where the water couldn’t get around. The gully above the pile is now full of debris carried by the runoff water and the previously bare area below, is now growing vegetation. Eventually the pile will shrink to the point where it will no longer slow the water. I’m interested in seeing if the gully has healed enough to withstand the accelerated flow.

In many cases, I used large cedars to support the pile. With this cedar, I removed branches to make room and then created a pile that reached to the lowest remaining branch. The cedars don’t seem to have suffered at all from the piles of brush surrounding them. The piles gain some additional material as I do maintenance work, but I just don’t have the masses of medium sized cedars necessary to bring the piles back to their earlier glory.


  1. In my few brush piles (not set out or thought through as well as yours are)I love to watch the animals that take refuge. Sparrows, mice and chipmunks and their antics, oye!

  2. I've had the same good experience with brush piles as Renee. We had a brush pile out in front behind the hedge that was housing for rabbits and garter snakes. The rabbits were fun for the kids to watch and the garter snakes ate the slugs in the garden.

  3. HI Steve..Is not one of those jump on piles?? : }
    I am with Lois and Renee....my brush pile is not visable and pretty high but it seems to be home to some creatures because I see alot of tails in under there!!

  4. Good Evening, Ladies. Brush piles certainly do attract the animals. Mine are packed too tightly for most animals to easily enter, but the Carolina and House Wrens love to use them as nest sites. I see wrens flying in and out of the piles all the time.
    Special note to grammie g - I may have jumped up and down on a couple of these piles, but I didn't get my leg stuck in any of these.