Nature has use even for dead trees

Published 9:48 pm Friday, October 12, 2018

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Kristi Hendricks

Stumped whether to take down the tree that died last winter or grind out the resulting remnant remaining in your landscape? Well, if that dead tree isn’t threatening your house nor your neighbors’ abode, leave the snag standing. If the stump isn’t in your driveway or causing too much trouble while mowing, let it be. We all are saddened to see the passing of a lovely tree, but here’s why there is value in keeping stumps and snags around.

Dead trees, whether standing or fallen as logs, and stumps are important resources for wildlife. They provide protective shelter, nutritious food and cozy nesting sites for many wildlife species that depend on their presence. Cavities in dead trees and stumps entice wildlife to your habitat by offering this free room and board.

The eastern bluebird, hoot owl and black-capped chickadee all enjoy the shelter that these naturally-hollowed out spaces provide. Chipmunks and raccoons also use dead tree cavities for nesting. And these spaces provide rapid access for a whole host of lizards, turtles and skinks.

A dead tree quickly becomes infested with fungi and insects. As it slowly decomposes, nutrients are recycled into the soil creating favorable conditions for the accelerated growth of a replacement tree or shrub. Attaching a bat house to a dead tree doesn’t cause the home gardener cost or worry as the screws bite into deadwood rather than exposing heartwood of their favorite live tree.

Home gardener uses for stumps are just as numerous. Elevate your favorite decorative pot above neighboring plantings by placing the container on a stump. Allow the surrounding plants to mostly obscure the view of the decaying wood. This is a great way to highlight your favorite flowering centerpiece.

Or make a stump planter by scooping out the rotten center wood and backfilling with plants of differing heights (uprights, fillers and trailers) and flowers and foliage of contrasting colors and textures. As the stump decays, the soil is enriched and moisture retained. Droppings from wood beetles augment the compost and their tunneling activity breaks up compaction.

View wildlife enjoying a sweet sip of rainwater held captive in a topside stump cavity. Watch a squirrel perch atop a stump to work the outer fleshy hull of a hickory nut to get to the meat. Entice birds by placing a tray of water for them to bath after snacking on the various insects lurking beneath the decomposing bark.

For more information about the forests of Virginia, read Virginia Cooperative Extension online publication 465-315 by web searching


KRISTI HENDRICKS is a member of the Western Tidewater Master Gardeners. Contact her at