Any gardener who has trees is faced with the problem of what to do with branches that are either pruned or blown down by winds and storms. The best way to deal with these castoff pieces is to use them in the garden. From the biggest branch to the smallest twig -- and everything in between -- woody pieces are usable and useful. Thrifty gardeners gather branches, sort them by size, and store them in a place where they won't get wet and rot.
Plants with large flower heads or weak stems often need support, and pruned branches are perfect for this. If the pruned branch can be trimmed so that one end has a "V" shape, the branch is more useful. Install single supports next to newly planted dahlias and use them to stake lilies, bearded iris and plump hyacinths. Trimmed branches can also be gathered together at the top to form a tepee-shaped support for beans. Use several stakes, linked to each other with garden twine, to corral drifts of Shasta daisies.
Wattle fencing is a low barrier composed of woven branches. It has been used in many places for centuries and was one method by which American settlers enclosed garden plots. Generally, green saplings or branches -- either alder or willow -- are used for wattle because they are pliable and easy to weave. The basis for a wattle fence is a line of stakes, either wood, or in modern times, rebar, pounded into the ground at regular intervals. The branches are then woven through these stakes until the barrier reaches a desired height.
Tree cuttings can also be turned into garden mulch by feeding them to a chipper or shredder/chipper. When choosing a chipper shredder, keep in mind the size of the branches that it will process. Small, inexpensive models can only handle small branches, while larger ones can process branches up to 6 inches in diameter. The chips can be spread right away, except in the case of black walnut chips, which contain a plant toxin. Compost black walnut chips for a few months before using.
Tree cuttings of all sizes can also be used to create brush piles that become habitats for birds and small animals. Ideally, a brush pile should be at least 5 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter to serve as a habitat, but smaller piles may have value on smaller lots. Usually the foundation of a brush pile is composed of larger branches, with smaller ones closer to the top. Large, heavy branches are also useful at the very top of the pile to keep lighter materials from blowing away.
Christmas Tree Branches for Ground Cover
Branches from discarded Christmas trees can be used as a winter ground cover to insulate plants. Remove all branches from the trunk and simply lay them over open garden areas. This ground cover will last until spring and spent needles will eventually fall from the branches, decomposing and providing soil nutrients.