How to Create and Maintain Brushpiles

Brushpiles like this can be made from left over wood trimmings

Brushpiles can be built in teepee or mound shapes.

  • A mound-shaped brushpile contains the largest debris at the bottom, with branches and smaller materials added on top of them.
  • You can build a teepee-shaped brushpile by placing several five- to six-foot-long logs or very large branches in a square. This provides a stabilizing base or anchor for your brushpile. Leave a few gaps between the foundation pieces so rabbits or other small creatures can scamper in and out. Try to construct a solid, long-lasting core of braced materials for your brushpile’s foundation. Lighter materials you add later will break down faster and if you have a solid brushpile core, you can just keep adding new materials on top of it.

Next, lean several large branches, leaves pointed downward, so the cut, open ends meet at the top. You can secure this peak or “spire” with string or rope if you are afraid it might topple. Then incorporate smaller branches to fill many gaps, but not all. Leave some openings so birds and small animals can enter and exit. A good brushpile is usually about four feet high or taller and ten to 15 feet wide.

While not a living thing, the brushpile is dynamic. A large brushpile left alone may last as long as eight years. You will need to keep adding branches or sticks as parts wear down. After thinning your forest, this is a great place to “invest” your trimmings for wildlife. An ideal brushpile location is at the edge of a woodland. Some wildlife managers recommend two to eight brushpiles per acre to provide many species with ample cover.

Any living vegetation growing alongside a brushpile enhances its wildlife appeal. This is also a chance to incorporate native flora that softens the jumbled look of the brushpile.

  • Living brushpiles can be made as well. First, find a place where three to six young trees grow close together. Cut each about half way through at about one foot above the ground. Bend the trees down so the crowns knit together just above the ground. If the cuts are successful, the vegetation should continue to grow, creating living, low cover.  

It’s always a good idea to have a brushpile visible from your house so you can watch wildlife using your thoughtful contribution to their habitat. But don’t put one right next to your home—brushpiles can dry out and be a small fire risk. They also attract rodents.

Brushpile Dos and Don’ts

  • Don't put close to a house in fire-prone areas (and because they may attract rodents)
  • Do add twigs, sticks, branches, dead leaves and other plant matter
  • Do allow for gaps so wildlife can enter and exit
  • Don't clog with sod or other materials
  • Do allow native vegetation, such as vines and wildflowers, to grow up around your brushpile. Or plant your own native wildflowers, such as milkweed (valuable to monarch butterflies). These plants enhance a brushpile’s wildlife value and will likely attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators.
  • Do place stones at the base of the brushpile to encourage amphibians and reptiles and other creatures, but Don't remove stones from other good wildlife habitats to do so.

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