top of page

Dead wood - dead good for your garden

Why dead wood is a must in a wildlife friendly garden

Dead wood is bountiful in the Langdon garden and we love it. We have learned and witnessed over the last few years that the dead wood - the dead limbs, stumps. fallen branches, log piles - are are absolutely full of buzzing, scuttling, pecking, burrowing life - habitats and food sources to thousands of species.

"The UK has around 2,000 invertebrates that are saproxylic – that is, reliant on dead or decaying wood for part or all of their life cycle." (RSPB, 2018)

These thousands of insects are in turn a source of food for birds (we get a lot of woodpeckers here for example) and mammals (field mice, voles and hedgehogs too).

A male stag beetle
A male stag beetle. Magnificent stage beetles (a threatened species in the UK) spend most of their time as larvae - as much as 6 years, compared to just a few months in their adult stage. They live on and in rotting and dead wood throughout this stage - which makes them a really good example of a species that needs us to provide dead wood in the garden. Image by Mike Freedman (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This thriving mini-ecosystem also includes silent and mostly unseen organisms. The decaying wood is decomposed by many different species of saprophytic (deadwood-feeding) fungi. These fungi recycle the nutrients from the tree, nourishing the soil around it. Right now at Langdon the fruiting bodies (i.e the fungi that we can see above ground) are popping up everywhere - including many which are feeding on dead wood.

Images below are all dead-wood feeding fungi at Langdon: 1. Turkeytail (Trametes versicolor) - growing in the wood chip path, 2. Dyers mazegill (Phaeolus schweinitzii), growing in the lawn on old tree roots, 3. Honey fungus (Armaillaria spp), growing on a dead beech tree (see more further down on honey fungus)

What different types of dead wood are there?

You don't need to have a big garden to have some dead wood somewhere. It can be something as simple as a few logs and twigs piled up. Here are some of the different types of dead wood we have here.

Piles of sticks and branches

Pile of sticks
Sticks piled up around edges of garden

Windfall sticks and woody prunings. I pile them up around the edges of the garden. Log piles look very attractive too.

Dead hedges

A dead hedge
A dead hedge

This is a brilliant step up from just piling up your woody garden waste as I've been doing. Instead, hammer posts into the ground in two rows. Then stack the wood neatly between posts to form a boundary - like a hedge, but a dead one. I have plans to set a few of these up at Langdon. This pic of of one in my sister-in-law's garden.

Standing Deadwood & Monoliths

Man with log showing woodpecker holes
Brian with a section of the fallen birch tree with woodpecker holes

Trees that are dead or in the process of dying, with some dead limbs, are also highly valuable to wildlife. Eventually the wind fells them, or we humans decide to for safety's sake, but for as long as they can be left standing they are wildlife treasure chests.

Until it was knocked down in the storms of Feb 2022, this dying silver birch was a favourite of a green woodpecker. You can see the woodpecker's work here.

A cormorant perched in a tree
A cormorant enjoying a clear vantage point of the pond

The bare branches of dead wood are visible perches for displaying birds looking for a mate.

This dying ash next to the pond was a favourite perch for many birds, including this cormorant who was a regular visitor. I think he was more likely contemplating the fish in the pond below than displaying though.

A tree monolith with ivy growing on it
The ash tree monolith