Getting rid of garden waste

Posted on Thursday, October 31st, 2013

With Bonfire Night almost here, many of us will be taking the opportunity to get rid of some garden waste on the traditional bonfire (check for hedgehogs first though and make sure garden fires are allowed by your local authority). But burning garden waste regularly has environmental implications that not every gardener is comfortable with. So how else to get rid of garden waste? Well, here are some ideas:

Use it yourself or give it to someone who needs it

A compost heapThe most obvious answer to garden waste is to have a compost heap producing organic matter to add back into your garden (a typical garden compost heap is shown on the right). Find out more about composting. You may find that your local authority will subsidise the cost of a compost bin.

You can make your own liquid fertiliser for the garden. Steeping cuttings from soft plant parts in water for a few weeks will produce a liquid feed which can then be diluted and applied to plants just like a shop-bought feed. Comfrey, bracken, clover, groundsel, nettles, borage, chicory and strawberries are particularly good plants for making liquid feed.

There are many ways to use woody cuttings from your garden, though you should ensure that no diseased materials are re-used:

  • To create supports for perennials or climbers.
  • As features within the garden, large and interestingly shaped pieces of wood are particularly good for this as they look attractive with plants growing over them or can be useful as low seats.
  • For garden edging or raised beds – either by lying long pieces lengthways supported by stakes on either side, by weaving more pliable stems through upright stakes, by sticking smaller pieces upright into the ground to form an informal edge or by sticking both ends of pliable stems into the soil to create a ‘hoop’ effect.
  • If you have an open fire or wood burner then cuttings can provide winter fuel, including smaller pieces which are useful as kindling. If you don’t have a fire, bundle it up and advertise it on a recycling website, such as Freecycle, Freesharing, Freegle (UK) and Any Good To You (UK). Remember that wood should be seasoned (left to dry out for at least 6 months (softwood), up to 2 years (hardwood)) before being used on a fire and that not all wood is suitable for burning in this way.
  • Chipping/shredding woody waste can give you an excellent garden mulch or additive for your compost heap. Chippers can be hired for the day, though you will still need to cut the wood down to the right size to go into the chipper. To eliminate this work you could employ a local gardening company to do the chipping for you.

For those who have an artistic bent, many garden cuttings can be used to provide home decorations. Pliable stems (willow, hazel or dogwoods are the best, but most young woody growth will work) can be used to create wreaths or similar decorations. Cuttings from hollies, conifers, willows and variegated evergreens can provide a wintery alternative to indoor flower arrangements, or be stuck into outside containers to provide a backdrop to your winter bedding display.

If you have old patio slabs or pieces of rubble to get rid of then you can usually find someone who needs them via a recycling website, such as Freecycle, Freesharing, Freegle (UK) and Any Good To You (UK).

Turf can be a real problem to get rid of as it’s so heavy. But if you have the space you can stack turf (grass side down) in a dark spot and leave it for a year or so. After this time the grass will have broken down and you’ll have a great soil improver to add onto your beds or veg patch.

Your local authority

Most local authorities offer a collection service for garden waste (though they generally won’t take large branches), which they then compost. Because they are composting on such a large scale the compost heaps reach a much higher temperature, which means that they can take most garden weeds and diseased materials – though you should check what they will and won’t accept as they won’t appreciate you putting things like Japanese Knotweed into your garden waste bin!

If you frequently have a large amount of garden waste then your council may allow you to purchase an extra bin to contain it, or use additional waste bags. If you have a ‘one off’ large load of waste then it’s worth calling your local authority as many will offer a special collection service, which can be much cheaper than hiring a skip.

The majority of local refuse disposal sites/tips will also accept garden waste, including rubble, soil and turf, which is generally sent on for composting or recycling in other ways.