Friday, November 26, 2004

My Brushpiles

Last fall I had occasion to do some drastic pruning of a large blue elderberry (Sambucus mexicana) and a coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) which had been planted for backyard wildlife habitat over twenty years ago. I didn't have any handy means of carting away such a large volume of prunings, so it became a good opportunity for me to personally test the wildlife value of properly constructed brushpiles.

I made a few large brushpiles in a weedy area of the yard which is only mowed occasionally. They were built on foundations of the largest logs and branches, with some attention to arrange them to create lots of hiding places. At each successive level, branches which were progressively smaller in diameter were used, and they were topped with leafy twigs.

Over the winter I was pleased to note flocks of small birds flying in or out of the piles, which provided good cover and a good place for them to find insects and spiders. In spring the piles were moved to a wildlife study area. At least five southern alligator lizards and more than twenty California slender salamanders were found under the piles, along with many worms, insects, isopods, millipedes, etc. Not bad for a suburban backyard!

If native vegetation must be pruned or cleared it can still provide great habitat value in the form of brush piles. Note that properly constructed piles are built exactly the opposite of the way one would build a bonfire; they should not present a fire hazard.

This article can also be found on the CNPS Santa Clara Valley Chapter website atBrushpiles


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