Use woody debris to build structures

7 Ways to Use Woody Debris on Your Homestead

Woody debris is often considered a waste product. People tend to think of it like the outdoor equivalent of clutter—something that needs to be cleaned up and gotten rid of, or even burnt in large piles. But woody debris is an incredible asset to your homestead, and there are many ways to use it besides burning it. Keep reading to learn all about 7 ways you can use woody debris on your homestead.

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Often woody debris is seen as waste to be cleared and removed from land. When someone has a tree felled, often even the stump is ground or burned away. But one person’s junk is another one’s treasure—this woody debris can be put to use to improve your homestead and support local wildlife. Read on, and you’ll never look at these humble treasures the same again.

Here are 7 different ways to use woody debris on your homestead.

7 Ways to Use Woody Debris on Your Homestead

  • 1
    Wildlife Habitat – Wood Piles and Snags
  • 2
    Trail Borders
  • 3
    Hugelkultur Beds
  • 4
    Play Structures for Kids
  • 5
    Building Garden Beds and Other Structures
  • 6
    Improving Your Soil
  • 7
    Creating Micro-Climates Around Your Plants

If you rely on wood for your heating and cooking, then that’s another great way to use woody debris. But these 7 uses are great ways to make the most of any excess woody debris you have.

So are you ready to stop burning and start learning to use woody debris to benefit your homestead? Before you scroll down, make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet summary of this post. This cheat-sheet also has some tips to find woody debris if you don’t have enough from your own land.

1. Wildlife Habitat – Wood Piles and Snags

Use woody debris to create wildlife habitat

Woody debris like this snag can provide great wildlife habitat. The birds love the snags I put in on my homestead as part of my food forest. I salvaged this snag from a forest that was going to be destroyed for development.

If you walk through any healthy forest, you’ll see dead standing trees called snags, as well as downed logs and wood piles. Snags and downed wood provide critical habitat for wildlife, such as birds and other critters.

By creating habitat for wildlife, you can help ensure wild homestead keep your pests in check by forming a balance between pests that eat your crops and the predators that eat those pests.

2. Use Woody Debris for Nature Trail Borders

Use wood debris for trail borders

Here you can see the entrance to my food forest. The trail edge is marked by logs that I salvaged from various sites. This makes it easy for family and friends to walk around the food forest without stepping on plants.

A simple way to use woody debris on your homestead is to mark the nature trails running through your growing areas. Not only does this define the trails, but the woody debris will also create moist habitat for beneficial soil life such as fungi and earthworms.

Remember all the life you found as a kid turning over logs? Logs used for trail borders will provide habitat for the same type of critters.

If you use large logs, then the borders can also serve as benches and balance beams for kids to play on, making your growing areas more family friendly.

3. Use Woody Debris for Hugelkultur Beds

Use woody debris to make hugelkultur beds

Here you can see one of my hugelkultur beds being built and what it looks like today. This was a great use of a bunch of woody debris that I salvaged from a friends place.

One of the best uses of woody debris is to create hugelkultur beds. These beds are made by burying woody debris with soil and then planting in the soil. The wood works as a slow release fertilizer and creates habitat for beneficial fungi.

The wood and the fungi also help the bed retain water. This can greatly reduce how much watering you need to do, and potentially even eliminate your watering altogether depending on your climate and how large the beds are.

4. Play Structures for Kids

Use woody debris for play structures

I built this sandbox for my kids using woody debris that I salvaged from a golf course, a friends place, and from a restoration project. This let me turn unwanted woody debris into a great sandbox that my kids love.

You can also use woody debris to make some fantastic play structures for kids. The logs can be used as balance beams, you can make climbing structures out of them, a sandbox, or just let your kids build their own!

On my own homestead, I built a sandbox and a climbing structure using woody debris. I also have big logs placed around to mark trails and the edges of growing areas, which are great balance beams for kids to play on.

My toddler loves walking up and down the logs that border my hedgerows, and he’s developing an amazing sense of balance! (Just be sure to leave enough space between your plants and your balance-beam trail markers that your plants won’t be damaged if wobbly little ones step off onto that side of the “beam!”)

5. Building Garden Beds and Other Structures

Use woody debris to build structures

My kitchen garden beds (shown here soon after being built) and a simple little storage structure were both built using woody debris. The wood came from various sites including a prairie restoration site.

Raised beds and other wooden structures are often made using cut lumber, but logs and other woody debris work great.

In the pictures above, you can see some of the raised beds I made from logs I salvaged from an old tree farm, and a simple storage structure made from a pallet and old branches.

What kinds of structures or beds will you build on your wild homestead?

6. Use Woody Debris to Improve Your Soil

Using woody debris to build soil

I find mushrooms growing all around the woody debris that I place around my homestead. As the woody debris breaks down it helps to build new soil.

Woody debris can also make for a great mulch. Branches that are small in diameter will quickly rot and break down, providing excellent habitat for beneficial fungi. These branches will also help to hold down mulch made from lighter material like fall leaves that may otherwise blow around.

I always like having a mixture of rough and fine material when I mulch my plants. This way, I’m mimicking what happens in a forest. The forest floor is made up of leaves, needles, twigs, branches, and logs. Together, these materials create the rich habitat of the forest floor.

7. Creating Micro-Climates Around Your Plants

Use woody debris to create micro-climates

I tend to place logs around all my trees and shrubs in order to create beneficial micro-climates. The logs block the wind, hold in moisture and sometimes double up as a place to sit. Here you can see the log helping a young shrub.

You can also use woody debris to create sheltered micro-climates around your plants.

A good-sized chunk of wood will create a moist environment underneath it, which can benefit your plants. It does this by protecting that patch of soil from direct sunlight, cooling the soil and blocking evaporation at the same time.

Wild Tip

If you use a decent-sized piece of wood, it will deflect some of the wind blowing over the ground around your plants, which will further decrease your watering needs.

All of these benefits can result in a nice moist, cool micro-climate around your plants, making woody debris a great way to reduce how much watering you need to do in the summer.

Just place the wood on the south, east, and west sides of your plants to create this sort of habitat. (If you are in the southern hemisphere, then place the wood on the north, east, and west sides of the plant.)

This is a great use for woody debris, and it can also double as habitat for wildlife and beneficial fungi.

Start Using Woody Debris on Your Homestead

Use woody debris

As you can see I'm always collecting woody debris. These piles grow and shrink throughout the year. For me woody debris is a core part of my homesteading work.

So are you inspired to start using woody debris on your homestead? These 7 uses of woody debris will benefit your homestead while also helping the environment by reducing the amount of wood that’s burned just to get rid of it.

A lot of the uses in this post can overlap. In permaculture design, this is called stacking functions, where one element serves multiple functions. This is how nature works, and the more you can mimic nature on your homestead, the better off you will be.

So which of these 7 uses for woody debris appeals to you? Leave a comment sharing how you are going to use woody debris on your homestead.

But don’t forget to grab your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet which summarizes this post and has some tips on how to find more woody debris if you don’t have enough on your homestead.


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Daron

Daron is a restoration ecologist, a lifelong gardener, and the founder of Wild Homesteading. He manages the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he applies restoration and sustainable gardening techniques on his family’s own wild homestead. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children. In addition, to running this site Daron manages the restoration program for a local non-profit and is a husband to an amazing wife who makes this site and the homestead possible and daddy to 2 perfect kids.

  • Don’t forget play areas for chickens! I’ve got a lot of woody branches and logs that I’ve arranged around for the peeps to climb on. And soon there will be BUGS!

  • Ron says:

    I had never thought to use larger chunks of wood as breaks for small plants etc. Even though I am a city dweller I plan to use this thought in the future.

  • Diane Kistner says:

    I have a zone 9 Meyer lemon bush planted on the relatively sunny southern corner of my house in zone 8. If I wanted to make a warmer microclimate to protect this plant in the colder times of the year, where would be the best place to put logs?

    • Daron says:

      Hello Diane! Woody debris is generally better at creating cooler and more moist micro-climates than warmer ones. I would use large rocks (as big as you and a helper can move) instead of woody debris if you want to make a warmer micro-climate for your lemon bush. You can create a ring around the lemon bush with the rocks. These rocks will absorb heat from the day and release it at night helping to warm the air and soil around them.

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