5 Tips & Tricks For Dealing With Brush & Tree Debris

A tree can produce a ton of brush and debris over the course of a year. These tips and tricks will help you tackle cleanup smoothly, safely and effectively.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: J. Keeler Johnson

Trees can be messy, particularly after summer thunderstorms or winter ice storms. Maybe the stately shade trees in your yard have dropped a ton of branches. Perhaps a pine tree in a windbreak row has fallen in the line of duty, creating a huge volume of debris to clean up.

Or maybe you’ve been busy cutting down marauding saplings on the edges of your fields.

In any case, it’s common to find yourself with a ton of brush and tree debris to clean up over the course of a farming year. These tips and tricks will help you tackle these projects smoothly, safely and effectively, without inadvertently creating more work for yourself down the road.

1. Don’t delay and say, “I’ll clean it up later.”

It’s best to clean up branches as soon as they fall. And whatever you do, don’t create a pile of branches in your yard with the intention of transporting it to a better location “in a few days.”

Life inevitably gets busy, and growing grass waits for no one. Once grass grows up and around branches and brush piles, they’re significantly harder to clean up.

Plus, a neglected tree brush pile can become a home for stinging insects such as wasps, hornets or yellow jackets.

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This advice will help you if you’re cleaning up tree debris after storm damage.

2. Choose an appropriate location for permanent brush piles.

For many reasons, including those listed above, you want to avoid moving a brush pile once it’s been established. Carefully choosing an ideal location from the start will save you a headache later on.

Visibility and accessibility are two key factors to consider, along with the projected size of the brush pile.

3. Wear appropriate safety gear.

It goes without saying that proper safety gear should be worn when handling brush and tree debris. Branches can be sharp, so safety goggles are a must. Long sleeves and gloves are similarly important.

4. Don’t leave stumps behind.

I’ve made this mistake before. When cutting down a large number of trees—even saplings—cleaning up branches and trunks is imposing enough as it is. It can be tempting to leave the stumps behind, but you must resist!

Unless you’re able to cut them perfectly flush with the ground, or below ground level, they’ll quickly become a hazard for humans and machinery alike. You don’t want to damage your lawn mower by striking a grass-obscured stump on the edge of a field.

So although it takes some extra effort, try to address stumps while they’re still fresh and easy to find. A stump grinder, mattock, or backhoe attachment on your tractor can simplify the task. Or if you want to get really creative, you can try wrestling them out of the ground with nothing but your (gloved) hands and a pair of pruning loppers.

Here are some tips for removing stumps without creating huge holes in the ground.

5. Tie down your loads thoroughly.

If you’re like me, you’re keen to pack as many branches onto a single trailer load as reasonably possible. Of course, the time you’ll save making fewer trips to the brush pile will be wasted if your trailer hits a bump on the path and sends the top of your towering load tumbling back to the ground.

Tying down your loads requires a few extra minutes but can save time and effort in the long run. I like to use ratcheting straps; they’re easy to attach to the wooden sides of my trusty red wagon, and by gradually tightening the straps, I can really pack down a load of debris tightly and effectively.

Good luck with your cleanup duties!

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