It started innocently enough. (They always do.) A small heap. Trimmings from the hedges. Leaves. Weeds. Some branches that blew down in the last storm. You tossed the Christmas tree on there. It was convenient. And you’ve earned this, right? Look at my big yard! I have a brush pile!
But now it’s a mountain that seems to grow on its own. It’s unsightly. Brush piles can harbor ticks, rodents, fleas, and snakes. They can cause wildfires—the woody vegetation provides the fuel and the open, airy assemblage speeds and spreads the flames. The worst part? A brush pile alerts the world that you’re a procrastinator, you don’t care what your neighbors think, and you don’t like getting your hands dirty. Since none of these things is true, it’s time to get rid of it.
Since it can be hard to know where to start, create a post-brush-pile plan. What do you want the land underneath the pile to become? Maybe grass. Maybe a mulched garden bed, or a compost heap. Maybe just a smaller brush pile. And the brush itself? Could be kindling, compost, firewood, or trash.
Whatever you choose will dictate the tools you use. Then, set aside a weekend to get rid of the thing. Buy this stuff:
- If you live in an area with snakes, invest in snake-proof leggings such as the .
- Instead of using DEET, fight bugs with the , which vaporizes a repellent and creates a 110-square-foot safe zone around you.
- Work gloves.
- Sturdy pants—you’re going to get dirty. We like the by 1620, which is made in the USA.
Time to get to work restoring your yard, and your self-image!
So, What Are We Dealing With?
Drag thin stuff off the pile with a bow rake. Use a fire rake for thicker vines. Then chop it all up with a shovel. Woody vines require loppers, such as the ; a bank blade, such as the; or a machete, such as the justifiably famous . To transport the debris, has an internal spring to keep the bag upright and the mouth wide open. Line it with a disposable bag if you’re going to throw the debris away, or carry it straight to the compost pile.
Saplings and Branches
Small, dead branches can be repurposed as kindling. Break them up with your hands or use a hatchet. Saplings can be cut into manageable pieces with loppers, then fed into a wood chipper and turned into mulch.
Dead Trees, Stumps, and Logs
Cut bigger saplings, dead trees, or thick logs into smaller pieces with a light chainsaw, such as the . Wood that isn’t punky can be saved for next year’s firewood. The rest gets thrown on the truck for disposal.
Leaves and Weeds
Grass-like weeds that were growing under the pile can be cut with a lawnmower. Set the deck as high as it can go, to avoid stalls. For heavy weeds and fibrous stalks, use a string trimmer. The is a straight-shaft trimmer with a 2:1 gear ratio for increased torque to power through thick grass, ground cover, and weeds. Just be sure to wear eye and ear protection and a face mask, or you’ll shoot your eye out. If your objective is to clear out all the brush en masse, you may opt for a walk-behind brush cutter. You won’t be able to do any kind of precise trimming, but you will easily cut down small, bendable saplings that have sprung up and clear out the area faster.
How To Make It Go Away
Place your largest Y-shaped branch on the bottom with the stem facing away from the cab—this will act like a sled carrying everything you’re about to load on top. Load the rest of the stuff on top of the open portion of the Y. (If your largest branch is too big and the tailgate needs to remain open, be sure to secure the load with rope.) When it’s time to unload, pull that stem of the big Y branch out the back and everything else will come with it.
Wood chips are great garden mulch, which suppresses weeds and helps plants retain water and heat in the winter. They also serve as walkway substrates and play-area surfaces. Electric wood chippers are only powerful enough for chipping dried leaves and twigs. Gas chippers will get you through small branches, typically up to 3.5 inches in diameter. For less potential to clog, use a power-takeoff (PTO) chipper—but know that it requires a PTO tractor. Most areas will have places to rent all three.
Use ear and eye protection and exercise caution. And always feed the machine more slowly than you think you need to.
Burn It (If You Must)
Burning brush is not an optimal solution. Not only does some debris not burn well, but burning anything creates air pollution. In a lot of places, burning a brush pile isn’t permitted at certain times of the year, so check your local regulations. And be careful. Burn the brush in a small fire pit where the flames can be contained, and don’t leave the fire unattended.
This appears in the May 2019 issue.