Time to get started with snags

Why Snags are Awesome and How to Get Started

Having snags on your land is a great way to support local wildlife, especially native bees. So what are snags, and how do they support local wildlife like native bees? Keep reading to learn more about why snags are awesome and how to get started with them.

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So what is a snag? Snags are just a dead tree that is still standing. A log by contrast, is a tree that has fallen to the ground.

Logs and snags provide great habitat for wildlife.

But you might be asking, what role do snags have on a suburban backyard or small acreage? Well, even a single, small snag can support a wide range of habitat. But in a small backyard, snags can provide critical nesting habitat for native bees.

Native bees are very important for pollinating not only native plants, but food plants, like your fruits and berries. So how can snags support these critical pollinators? More on that later in this blog post. But also, make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print guide to create habitat for native bees using snags.

This guide will walk you through the steps you need to take to turn a fresh snag into great nesting habitat for native bees.

The Importance of Snags for Wildlife

Large snags provide lots of habitat for wildlife

Large snags like this one can provide homes to a wide range of wildlife, including owls! Not only does this add to the diversity of life on your property, but it can also help reduce pest issues.

I remember reading the book The Hidden Forest by Jon R. Luoma and being amazed to learn that there is more living biomass in a dead standing tree than in a living tree the same size.

That’s just astounding!

But often snags are cut down and chipped up (and hauled off!) instead of left standing.

When this happens, this potential source of life on your land is removed.

Wild Tip

What about safety concerns with snags? Snags are actually quite stable and not prone to falling except when the tree died due to root rot. I often salvage snags from construction sites, and only the oldest ones can be pushed over. The rest have to be cut down despite being rotten.


To reduce any risk from the snag, you can remove the branches and the top of the snag. These are always the first to break and fall to the ground. Just leave as much of the core trunk of the snag as you’re comfortable with—the taller the better.

But why do snags provide so much habitat for wildlife?

When a tree dies, life floods in to start breaking down all that newly deceased biomass. Some of the first will be wood-boring insects which will start tunneling through the dead tree.

These tunnels then provide access to the interior of the snag for other organisms such as fungi, insects and many other small critters.

This, in turn, brings in woodpeckers and other wildlife that eat those insects and other organisms.

Woodpeckers further open up the snags while trying to get to the insects living inside. These larger holes then support songbirds, small mammals and other critters.

Over time, these holes get larger due to weathering, and small critters continuing to eat the dead wood.

As the holes get larger, owls and other larger critters can start moving in. Of course, the size of the snags ultimately dictates the size of wildlife that can make use of it.

Eventually the snag will rot down to the ground. But in the meantime, the snag will provide habitat for countless living creatures.

What if You Don’t Have Any Snags?

You can install snags if your property doesn't have any

My property didn’t have any snags when we bought it. But that didn’t keep me from adding snags!

If you have a large mature forest, chances are there will be snags in it—though these may be small. But in young forests, you might not have any snags.

And of course, in open grasslands and urban backyards you likely don’t have any snags.

So what do you do in this case?

The first option is to girdle a select number of living trees. To girdle a tree you cut a ring out all around it to break the flow of water and nutrients up and down the tree. This results in the tree dying.

This is a great way to thin an overcrowded forest and create more wildlife habitat.

But what about urban backyards or land with no existing trees?

This was the situation my land was in a few years ago. But today there are a number of small snags spread out through my food forests and other planting areas.

I collected these snags from construction sites and a prairie restoration site. In both cases the snags would have just been burned or chipped up.

None of these snags are very large, and none of them have large branches. This means there aren’t any safety issues.

I only pick snags that are small enough for me to pick up and carry—though sometimes these snags can still be a decent size!

Development sites are great areas to salvage snags

This large snag is now in my kitchen garden!

Be careful to avoid injury, and don’t lift anything you’re not comfortable with. Teaming up with someone else is a great way to get larger snags than you could carry on your own.

To install these snags, just dig a hole with an auger or post hole digger that is wider than the widest part of the snag and deep enough to ensure the snag won’t fall over.

Once the hole is dug, just put the snag in like you would a fence post. But don’t add gravel or any concrete. You want this snag to eventually rot down!

When the snag is installed, just pack in soil around the snag and pack it all down until the snag is secure.

Then just sit back and enjoy watching all the wildlife that make use of it!

Wild Tip

Where should you install snags? These small snags can be installed almost anywhere. They’re a great addition to food forests and hedgerows. But you can also install them in your gardens! Every one of my garden beds has at least 1 snag installed in them. I want wildlife everywhere!

How Snags Support Native Bees

Snags are great for native bees

While a lot of my snags are old and rotten, I’ve also used fresh snags. Drilling holes into these fresh snags is a quick and easy way to speed up the natural process and support more wildlife, like native bees!

One way that small snags can support wildlife, even in an urban backyard, is by providing homes for native bees.

Many native bees need small holes to nest in. While you can buy native bee boxes, you can also just install snags and drill small holes in them.

If your snag is an old one with lots of holes and cracks in it, this step isn’t needed. But for fresh snags, you will want to drill holes to speed up the natural process.

When doing this, make sure the holes are drilled on the south side (or north side in the southern hemisphere) of the snag, from about chest height to as high as you can reach.

Then just drill a variety of sized holes throughout the snag.

And don’t forget to grab your free and easy-to-print guide (scroll back up to the top to get it) that will walk you through this process in more detail.

The result is a snag with a number of small holes of various sizes that mimics what happens naturally when wood-boring beetles, woodpeckers and other critters make holes in snags.

These are the prefect homes for solitary native bees like mason bees! And even in a small backyard, a few small snags can support a number of these critical native pollinators.

And don’t forget—the larger the snags you add, the more habitat they will provide!

A few small snags will quickly become hot spots for wildlife. Not just native bees, but also birds—I just love seeing songbirds and even woodpeckers hanging out on my small snags!

So do you have snags on your property? Are you going to add some? Let me know what you think in the comments!

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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.

  • Diane says:

    I’m so glad I read this before I went out behind my back fence to try to clear out some trees that are blocking sun. These aren’t large trees, but they are large enough that if they fall over they’ll crush the fence. I’m wondering, with girdling a tree to kill it, if there is a way to do it so it’s more prone to fall in a direction you choose. If so, I could girdle them to fall into the natural gas easement. Tips?

    • Daron says:

      Removing the branches and a section of the top of the snag will make it a lot more stable overtime. A single snag that is just standing straight up with no branches and the top removed will most likely slowly rot down as opposed to falling over. If it’s right next to the fence then these pieces could still damage it but since they’re more likely to be smaller they tend to fall more around the base of the snag. But there isn’t any guarantee–the safest option is to girdle the tree and cut it down low enough that what is left standing is no longer tall enough to be able to hit the fence.

      I hope that helps! Good luck!

  • Ron says:

    Wow! What a great idea. Thanks for sharing.

  • Laura says:

    Loved reading this! We are in the suburbs and my kids just watched some neighbors cut down a snag the other day. It took them about four hours with a chainsaw and axe. We are looking for some property and have been hesitant to buy anything completely wooded but will be more open to dense woods keeping in mind the girdling technique! Thanks for sharing!

    • Daron says:

      Thank you! Yeah, dense woodlands can be a challenge to work with depending on what your trying to accomplish on the land. But most woodlands these days are overcrowded so thinning can make them more healthy. And creating habitat features like log piles and snags can really improve the habitat the woodland provides for wildlife. Also, healthy forests often have openings in them that are created by trees falling overtime. You can mimic this natural pattern to create open areas for fruit trees, shrubs, and vegetables. If you create open areas that open up towards the south (or north in the southern hemisphere) you can create sun traps. The trees on the north side stop cold winter winds and reflect some sunlight back into the open area. The result is a nice warm micro-climate for growing food crops while still having a nice wooded area for habitat. That supports the natural environment but also provides habitat for beneficial critters that will help keep your garden pests in balance. And the removed trees can be used for a lot of different projects! Hope that helps and good luck!

      • Lana Dion says:

        I really appreciate that explanation and description! I can’t wait to get out of the city and into the woods, but I have been concerned about removing trees. What you described is just what I’d love to do! =)

        • Daron says:

          Great to hear and thank you! Just so you know even in the city if you have any space you could fit in small snags. I’ve got a few that only stick about 2.5 to 3 feet out of the ground. These don’t provide as much benefit but they can still support native bees 🙂 Thanks again!

  • Faithmary says:

    Hi Daron, I am so happy and excited reading all about wild homesteading so I’m asking go a plan to build a root cellar especially the roof please help me
    Thank you

    • Daron says:

      Thank you! I’m afraid I’ve never built a root cellar so I’m not going to be much help. It’s on my list of projects I want to do for my own land but I haven’t researched how to do it yet since I won’t be building it for another few years. I know there are a bunch of videos on YouTube showing people building root cellars. I would start there and see which methods look practical for your place. There are also a number of books on building a root cellar. You could see if your local library has access to them. Good luck!

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