“Don’t get rid of that pile of debris,” my neighbor told me recently. “There is a box turtle living under it. He is so cute!” I grinned with satisfaction and then introduced her to brush piles.
A brush pile is just that: a pile of sticks, pruned limbs, and broken-off branches – a somewhat organized wad of organic debris. It is a place to store your dead plant parts as they rot and decompose. You should see ours at the UF/IFAS Extension, Volusia County office!
Storing rotting plant parts around your house has surprising rewards. For one thing, there is that turtle. With all the monocultural, manicured landscapes threatening to turn our state into one giant lawn, many small animals discover there is no place to call home. Brush piles provide hiding and nesting places for amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals. They also attract beneficial insects who help the pile slowly decay and serve as a food source for small predators. Birds and dragonflies feed on the insects and rest on top of the debris. A brush pile becomes a working Florida ecosystem in your own backyard, supporting many beautiful and curious creatures.
A brush pile also reduces your carbon footprint. Rather than stacking dead sticks out on the curb for noxious waste trucks to haul off to a far-away dump where more fossil-fueled machines churn and grind them down, building a brush pile recycles your biodegradable debris on-site, repurposing it for wildlife and, as it decays, returning valuable nutrients to the soil. It’s the easiest recycling ever!
You could advertise your green-ness by displaying your brush pile out in the front yard, but placing it in the backyard near other habitat elements such as trees and bushes makes it more enticing to wildlife. In addition, since brush piles could possibly be a fire hazard, you would be wise to locate them away from the house. Depending on the size of your yard and your willingness to collect dead plants, you may want more than one of these wonderful wild piles.
My neighbor now has a fledgling pile, hoping to attract an interesting tenant of her own. She has discovered that a brush pile is an oasis of wild in a suburban desert, a missing stop on the waste truck’s route, and a simple and rewarding homeowner project.
This article was contributed by Leslie Nixon, a Master Gardener in Volusia County