How to deal with woody waste
Woody waste can be dealt with in a number of ways, depending on its size and how urgently it needs to be disposed of.
Cutting into smaller pieces
Where small quantities of hedge trimmings or other slender growth are involved, woody materials can be snipped up and deposited back on borders and beneath hedges, or consigned to the home compost bin and mixed in.
If dealing with greater quantities it is best to use a shredder which will quickly reduce the volume of waste, turning it into a useful resource for the garden. Most domestic shredders will cope with woody stems less than 3-4cm (1¼-1½in) in diameter. Many shredders only mill timbers and may not produce fragments. However, milling will still speed up decomposition very effectively even though timber remains rather stringy. For thicker branches heavy duty shredders can be hired, or contractors with access to such machines can be engaged.
The resulting cut or shredded material can be:
Used for mulching
Woody waste makes an excellent, long-lasting mulch for paths and borders and saves on costs from buying it in.
Being rich in carbon but low in nitrogen, shredded woody materials will need to be mixed with nitrogen-rich materials such as lawn mowings to increase their decomposition rate. It will take typically 3-4 years for woody chippings to break down into crumbly compost. Shreddings with a larger proportion of greener/younger wood may reduce the time required. Once well-rotted it can be dug into the soil to improve structure.
Used to build log piles and ‘dead hedges’
Unprocessed heavier timbers can be cut into lengths and stacked. When left to rot on their own, over long time periods, these log piles make excellent refuges for wildlife. This requires some space, but is very beneficial for biodiversity within a garden.
Again, where space allows, surplus woody brash that is too small to use in log piles can be arranged into a wildlife-friendly feature known as a ‘dead hedge’. Material is simply woven together into a line or used to infill between pairs of upright wooden stakes driven into the ground at intervals to form the basis of the hedge. As the brash collapses or rots down, more woody prunings are simply added to the top.
Alternative ways to deal with woody waste:
- Some timbers have potential, when sawn into logs or cut up as kindling, to become fuel for open fires and log-burning stoves (unless in a smoke control area)
- When dry, slender woody stems burn well in bonfires. However, bonfires create pollution and may also annoy neighbours. They should be conducted when wind and weather mean that smoke will not enter houses or inhibit others from enjoying their garden. Here are some government guidelines on bonfires in smoke control areas
- Garden contractors will remove and dispose of woody waste
- As a last resort light timbers can be bagged or bundled and taken to a green waste disposal site (seek guidance from your local authority)