Have you ever ended up with a pile of sticks in the yard and wondered what useful thing could be done with them? This happens every spring on our homestead as we prune our fruit trees! Here are over 25 practical ideas for using sticks and branches on the homestead. These ideas will not only save you money, but will help you find ways to keep all that valuable, carbon-rich wood on your property.
The Basics of Using Sticks in the Yard
The best time to work with sticks in the yard is in the spring. In the early spring the sap begins to flow again and sticks and twigs will be pliable and easier to bend and use. For example, the branches you remove when pruning the orchard in the late winter can all be used in the yard and on the homestead.
The trees on your land or in your neighborhood will also drop dead wood throughout the year. While this wood is no longer consider green and alive, or “wick” as our British friends would say, it can still be useful for many things. Likewise, when a tree comes down, be sure to save all the parts, including the brushy sticks and leaves.
Here are some things to do to prepare to use the sticks in your yard:
- The first thing to do is to designate a place to pile the sticks you gather. Be sure it’s out of direct sunlight, if you can, to avoid premature decomposition on your sticks. Also, avoid any area with standing water for the same reason.
- You may want to put down a tarp, cardboard, or wood chips underneath your pile to prevent weeds from accumulating underneath.
- As you gather sticks from your yard, be mindful of how you place them in the pile. Keep them running all the same direction so they tangle less often.
- Create three piles if you have the space: larger branches, medium-sized sticks, and smaller twigs. Each one performs a different function.
- If you have sticks that branch off into multiple limbs, refrain from cutting these down, if possible. You never know when a branching stick will be just the thing you need.
Here are the most common things I do with twigs, branches, and sticks in the yard and on the homestead. You can implement these ideas immediately!
What to Do With Sticks in the Yard
We’re going to start with the smallest of the junk wood: twigs. Twigs are actually something that I use the most and typically for one purpose. Namely, marking where I’ve planted something.
I am an extremely absent minded gardener. I’m always forgetting where I’ve planted things. Early on, I realized the value that twigs could have for me in solving this problem.
To use twigs to mark plantings:
- Look around for 3-5 twigs that are at least 8-12″ long.
- After carefully planting your seedlings, insert these twigs in a teepee formation into the soil around the new plants.
- Be sure the twigs lean inwards slightly to create a kind of cone shape over the new plantings.
This cone-shape alert the human eye that there is something up ahead that a person should avoid stepping on.
Other benefits of using twigs from the yard:
- Providing a shield from rabbits and other garden thieves. These stick cones aren’t truly strong enough to keep out a determined rodent, but they can deter one that isn’t in the mood for a challenge.
- If firmly and properly placed, these stick cones also keeps cats and dogs from disturbing your baby plants. Their scratching and digging can be the death of fragile seedlings!*
- They last long enough to allow a plant to mature sufficiently to be seen; a growing season or even two, depending on your climate. Because they’re made from natural wood, these twigs will simply decompose into the soil over time. There’s nothing better than a woody dose of quality carbon for building soil structure!
*If you have particularly twiggy, gnarled sticks, you can place these multiple places in the garden to deter cats. Using two gnarled, twiggy, pokey branches, place them into the soil facing each other and slightly dipping towards each other. Should pressure be applied to either twig by a precocious cat, the sticks will fall towards each other and hopefully remain upright.
This size twigs also comes in handy for:
- Kindling for backyard fire pits or cob ovens
- Crafts like this simple twig star from Lovely Greens
- Making your own artists charcoal from willow (Which Joybilee Farm can teach you to do if you follow that link.)
- As fodder for other crafts like dollhouse furniture, fairy houses, and even DIY nativity sets, or creches.
How to Use Medium-Sized Sticks in the Yard
Just slightly bigger than twigs are medium-sized sticks, from 1-4′. I use these in the garden all the time as stalk support for tall blooms like peonies and delphinium. You can buy bloom cages, of course, but why spend the money when you can build one with sticks from your yard in about two minutes?!
This process is as simple as the twig cones described above.
To Make a Stick Bloom Cage
- Anticipate your flower stalk size when it’s mature. Peony stalks can be upwards of 2-3′; delphinium can be double that when blooming. You want the bloom cage to crest about midway up the stalk of the flower, or a little bit beyond. The stalk should be able to mature without interference from the bloom cage, while having it support the bloom in wind and rain.
- Insert the ends of your sticks into the soil in a circular shape around the plant. Place the sticks 4″ – 6″ from each other.
- Gather the sticks at the top with twine.
- The plant will mature up and through the stick tepee you’ve created. If the stalks or branches of the plant need even more structure, you may weave slim willow branches or cut vines through the tepee to lend horizontal support. (To learn to do that, please visit the article on Winter Plant Protection.)
You can make a dome-shaped variation of this stick structure for protecting lower growing plants, as well as maturing seedlings.
To Make a Plant Protection Dome
- Gather sticks from the yard that are at least double the height of the finished cage. The extra length will account for the insertion into the soil and the arch I’ll describe in the next few steps.
- If the ground isn’t soft from a recent rain, water it deeply to loosen the soil.
- Insert the first stick several inches away from the plant and carefully bend it over the plant to be inserted into the soil on the other side. Insert each stick tips at least 3-4″ into the dirt. This is best done in the early spring before the plant has begun leafing out for the year. If you didn’t get to it before then, simply be very careful not to damage the emerging leaves and bloom stalks of the plant.
- Repeat this process of insertion, bending, and insertion again as you crisscross the sticks across the the plant. Be careful not to so closely cage the plant that you essentially imprison it and inhibit its growth. 3-5 (possibly 7 if the plant is large) sticks should do.
These cages last up to two growing season in my climate, FYI.
There are several more variations on this size of stick garden structure. For example:
- As mentioned before, this DIY winter plant protection can be made with this willow design.
- For larger plants like tomatoes or growing beans and peas, you can try this DIY garden obelisk from Susan’s Garden.
- For real inspiration, watch Dave Jackson, the “Stick Smith” build an obelisk. This man is a true artist and I could watch him form these stick creations all day long. (Then again, I am a bit of stick nerd, so…?)
Don’t forget other homestead applications for sticks and twigs! If leafed out and from safe, edible plants, these sticks can be fed to livestock as forage to decrease your feed bill.
How Do You Use Tree Branches in the Garden?
The larger branches that are over 4′, I save for plant trellis material. There are several ways I use these larger branches as trellises:
- Inserted into damp soil in the spring, I let vining plants like beans and climbing roses grow straight up them.
- I add them to metal frame structures like old greenhouse frames to use for heavy vining plants like pumpkin.
- Tossed into new hugelkultur beds, they make wonderful filling.
- This size branch and a bit larger are perfect for making your own biochar (which Modern Farmer can teach you to do) for use in the garden.
- They make excellent branches to use in woven wattle garden fences or beds.
- Added to existing trellis structure, these larger branches can expand what you already have by making it more robust.
Random Ideas for Using Sticks in the Yard
There are scads of other ways to use sticks on the homestead. Here are just a few:
- Impromptu hot dog or marshmallow roasting
- Growing mushrooms (larger logs) – Practical Self Reliance can teach you to grow Shiitakes on logs, for example
- Support for young trees
- Animal bedding, especially goats that love to trample them
- Add to ponds to provide hiding places for baby fish
- Layer in with piles of leaf mulch to provide air pockets
- Leave in stacks to provide shelter for wildlife (keep these away from your house)
- Make a playhouse or fort, or other children’s garden structure
- Use small but sturdy sticks as garden spades if you’ve misplaced yours (like I’m always, always doing)
As I mentioned before, if the sticks still have green or even brown leaves, gather these and feed them to livestock. Back in Medieval times, these branches were called “autumn hay” and were traditionally harvested to offset the loss of summer grasses.
For even more ideas, please see our resources section below. Let me know if you have a great way to use the sticks you find in the yard and I’ll include it in the article with credit back to you, intrepid reader that you are.