In an Outer Banks Garden: Give them shelter

Published 6:29 am Monday, February 11, 2019

By Rhana Paris

Consider building a brush pile for local wildlife the next time you are cleaning up your yard.  Not only are you saving yourself the hassle of dragging your downed branches to stack on the side of the road, but you will be doing small animals a service. Also, by managing your brush piles, you will be practicing fire wise techniques that reduce the risks of fires in urban areas.

Brush piles give small animals a place to hide from predators like hawks, cats, dogs and coyotes.  Placed between different habitats, a pile creates a corridor for small animals to move from place to place.  Overwintering animals, like butterflies, toads and birds, use these “hotels” to ride out cold or wet weather.  Many of these animals, in turn, can provide insect control in the spring and summer.

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Building a useful brush pile is not rocket science, but there are some aspects to consider if you want your pile to serve its purpose.  First, consider location. To avoid potential pests, such as termites, or fire fuel, don’t put a pile next to your house or other outside structures. Piles can be placed behind established borders to hide them or you can encourage flowering vines to cover your heap.  Second, use what you have lying around rather than cutting trees and bushes expressly for your pile.  Start by laying larger logs side by side to provide tunnels.  Put the next row of logs perpendicular on top of the base layer, then loosely lay branches and brush on top.  Got a lot of brush?  Make several small piles rather than one large one.  The suggested maximum size for a brush pile should be 6 feet high and 15 feet wide, as any bigger restricts air flow.

Eventually, your brush pile will decompose, leaving you with rich soil where the pile was built.  Don’t stop there! Build another pile to keep your “hotel” in service. Once your brush pile is established, enjoy watching local wildlife taking advantage of your generosity.

For more information on reducing wildfire risks go to:

Rhana Paris is a Master GardenerSM Volunteer for Dare County. For gardening questions contact the Dare County Cooperative Extension at 473-4290 or email


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