We have a bunch of dead tree waste, both from a dead tree as well as trees dropping branches. I think they are mostly box-elder tree parts.

Is there anything we can do in order to turn this into useful garden material? Either fertilizer or somehow otherwise use it?

It seems if we could convert this into something, it'd be useful for our garden. My best thought so far is to burn it and use the ashes. I assume any sort of composting process would take far too long?

For example, here is the quantity and type of material I'm talking about:

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5 Answers 5


Rent a branch chipper, the bigger the better, and run through everything that will fit. The resulting wood chips can be used as a coarse mulch for garden paths, etc, where they will decompose, or add to a compost heap.

the bigger stuff could either be burned and used for charcoal/ash, or used as stands, or split into smaller diameter pieces and run through a chipper. Or split to firewood size, sold, and the money used to purchase gardening materials. But box elder wood is soft and rots fast, and isn't the ideal firewood.

  • 1
    That's not a bad idea, we have plenty of yard waste from good ole Box Elder trees that like raining branches.
    – enderland
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 18:27

HUGELKULTUR! (Aka mound culture) There's an old school technique for using deadwood as a resource. I've been looking into this recently BC I have a lot of deadwood that's not getting used.

Essentially, deadwood is stacked beneath and around a garden bed, and allowed to rot under and around the root systems.

The ground layer of the bed is framed tightly with wood, and the gaps stuffed with manure (or any compost that will fit). You can grow on that as a mound, or frame the sides with more deadwood.

That's a free, easy, and fun solution. Another is chopping up and burying.

A great solution (but not free) would be renting a wood chipper (or calling a tree service and asking how much to bring one over for an hour) and making your own mulch. This is probably the best use. Fresh, native mulch is best mulch (if your goal is breakdown).


Best bet for quick (but involves a bit of setup) would be to turn it into charcoal, not just ash. More beneficial than ash alone (and longer lasting.) Various simple reactors involving something like a barrel where you fill the barrel with wood; it has a small vent pipe for gasses that you aim down under it, you build a small fire outside it, eventually the burning of the gasses from inside sustains the reaction until it's complete, and you open it up to remove charcoal in a day or two.

The small stuff and not too quick just add manure and wait a year or so.


You can use the large one, with few additional cuts for borders or as pedestal to your pots, for a few years, then they will smash easily.

Or just do a few grills/bbq this summer, and they will disappear quickly.

Branches could be cut in little bits and used as mulch, but this requires a lot of time, or the right machine. So burn and ashes is still the quick and easier way.


When I look at your pictures, I see fuel for maple syrup production. You don't say where you are, but here right now we are in full swing for sugaring-off. Scan your yard or neighbourhood for sugar maples and turn it into a learning experience.

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