Bits of twigs and branches are bound to end up in your compost pile; and, when they do, they tend to stick around for a while. That’s because woody wastes are very high in carbon content, making them some of the slowest decomposing organic matter. But don’t worry; with a little bit of prepping, even larger branches can be recycled into soil-enriching and functional compost for your yard and garden.
The secret to composting the twigs and branches that fall during autumn and winter winds? Increasing the surface area for decomposition. Put a branch with a diameter of one-half inch into your compost pile, and it will likely take multiple years to fully decompose. Shred that same branch into oodles of tiny chips, and the aerobic bacteria working in your compost pile or bin have many, many more opportunities to decompose that branch.
Increasing the surface area through shredding also gives you multiple options for using your branch stash. Without any composting, shredded branches or wood chips make a high-carbon brown compost mulch around garden beds, trees and shrubs. A smaller chipper-shredder can be easily stored in a basement or garage, and a chipper may be a good tool if trees in your yard drop lots of twigs or smaller branches throughout the year.
Shredded branches are also a very stable high-carbon material to mix with high-nitrogen “green” wastes from the kitchen and garden for composting in the spring or summer. Be sure to keep the pile well-watered when adding wood wastes to your pile; sawdust, wood chips and bits of branches or bark are very absorbent. Add the chips sparingly alongside plenty of high-nitrogen compostables.
Homeowners with lots of mature trees will usually have plenty of fallen branches to gather in the fall and late winter. Sawing the branches up into smaller pieces can help with transport and makes them a little easier to stack until you’re ready to chip or shred them. When the days start warming up toward spring, a high-capacity wheelbarrow like the powerful Cyclone SuperHauler makes the task of gathering up branches easier, especially when carrying the branches over varied terrain.