Recycling Yard Waste Into Something Useful

recycling yard wasteUnless you rent an apartment, you probably have a yard to maintain. That means grass to mow, bushes and trees to tend, maybe flowers or a vegetable garden to maintain. A yard of any size will produce a fair bit of yard waste. What do you do with all the trimmings, clippings and cuttings?

Municipal Disposal of Yard Waste

If you live in a city, you can probably put your yard waste into special biodegradable bags and the city will pick it up for composting. This may be the easiest solution, but if you are also buying fertilizer for your yard, it’s not the best solution. 


You can easily compost your yard waste and kitchen scraps (fruit and vegetable) to make a nutrition-rich soil additive to fertilize your plants. And it costs you nothing!

The basic recipe is 1 part green waste (grass clippings and kitchen waste for example) to 3 parts brown waste (dead leaves or wood chips) both in thin layers. Add enough water to moisten it (think wrung out sponge) and oxygen to promote the good bacteria, and avoid any smell (which comes from bad bacteria).

Keeping the pile oxygenated is done by turning the pile or tumbler regularly.

The most basic composting set-up is a space on the ground 3 feet deep by 8 feet wide. Build up a pile in one end of the space. Use a garden fork to turn the pile (what was on top goes to the bottom) into the empty space every couple of weeks. Just keep rolling it back and forth from one end to the other until it turns black and crumbly.

More elegant solutions involve bins or a tumbler. If you’re handy with tools, you can build these yourself for a small investment in materials. If you lack the skills, tools or time, you can purchase bins and tumblers from your local home improvement or garden center.  [More on Composting]


With a mulching mower, grass clippings can be chopped up fine and put back down into the lawn to feed it. This works well if you mow often and it saves you from having to bag or rake the clippings.

Grass clippings can be collected and used as mulch around vegetables or flowers. Lay the clippings out in thin layers – just barely covering the ground – so they dry or they’ll get slimy. Additional layers can be added once the last one dries. As they decompose they add nutrients to the soil, and the covering helps retain soil moisture, especially in a hot dry summer.

Branches and sticks from trimming your trees and bushes can be run through a chipper to produce fine wood chips that are great for mulching around flowers, trees and some vegetables. Wood chips can also be used to surface a walkway or patio area if you’re not keen on pavers or bricks.


hugelkulturHugelkultur is German for “buried wood” and describes this method of gardening. There are two variants: you can dig out a trench in the ground, fill it with branches and sticks then add enough soil to cover it, or you can make long thin piles of branches and sticks above ground and cover that with soil brought in from somewhere else. Leave this to sit for a year or two, then plant in the dirt. The rotting wood inside the garden bed provides nutrients and retains moisture, reducing the need for constant watering and occasional fertilizing. This works for vegetables, flowers, even trees.

Using this method, you can directly recycle branches and sticks without the need of a chipper.  For info on what species of wood to avoid in your hugel bed, see Good Wood, Bad Wood


Burning yard waste is still the preference for many. In most cities, ordinances prohibit burning anything. Rural residents still have the option but may need to get a burn permit from the local forestry or land management office.

In many ways, burning clippings and branches wastes a resource: but if you have more than you can use otherwise, burning reduces the bulk immensely. Wood ash does have its uses as a soil amendment to increase alkalinity for plants such as asparagus that prefer an alkaline soil to grow in.


These have been a few ideas on ways to recycle your yard waste into something useful to you, and maybe even save some money. Do you have another way of using yard waste? Please leave it in a comment below.


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