Why Snags are Awesome (And How to Get Started)
Having snags on your land is a great way to support local wildlife, especially native bees. So what are snags, and how do they support local wildlife like native bees? Keep reading to learn more about why snags are awesome and how to get started with them.
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So what is a snag? Snags are just a dead tree that is still standing. A log by contrast, is a tree that has fallen to the ground.
Logs and snags provide great habitat for wildlife.
But you might be asking, what role do snags have on a suburban backyard or small acreage? Well, even a single, small snag can support a wide range of habitat. But in a small backyard, snags can provide critical nesting habitat for native bees.
Native bees are very important for pollinating not only native plants, but food plants, like your fruits and berries. So how can snags support these critical pollinators? More on that later in this blog post. But also, make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print guide to create habitat for native bees using snags.
This guide will walk you through the steps you need to take to turn a fresh snag into great nesting habitat for native bees.
The Importance of Snags for Wildlife
I remember reading the book The Hidden Forest by Jon R. Luoma and being amazed to learn that there is more living biomass in a dead standing tree than in a living tree the same size.
That’s just astounding!
But often snags are cut down and chipped up (and hauled off!) instead of left standing.
When this happens, this potential source of life on your land is removed.
What about safety concerns with snags? Snags are actually quite stable and not prone to falling except when the tree died due to root rot. I often salvage snags from construction sites, and only the oldest ones can be pushed over. The rest have to be cut down despite being rotten.
To reduce any risk from the snag, you can remove the branches and the top of the snag. These are always the first to break and fall to the ground. Just leave as much of the core trunk of the snag as you’re comfortable with—the taller the better.
But why do snags provide so much habitat for wildlife?
When a tree dies, life floods in to start breaking down all that newly deceased biomass. Some of the first will be wood-boring insects which will start tunneling through the dead tree.
These tunnels then provide access to the interior of the snag for other organisms such as fungi, insects and many other small critters.
This, in turn, brings in woodpeckers and other wildlife that eat those insects and other organisms.
Woodpeckers further open up the snags while trying to get to the insects living inside. These larger holes then support songbirds, small mammals and other critters.
Over time, these holes get larger due to weathering, and small critters continuing to eat the dead wood.
As the holes get larger, owls and other larger critters can start moving in. Of course, the size of the snags ultimately dictates the size of wildlife that can make use of it.
Eventually the snag will rot down to the ground. But in the meantime, the snag will provide habitat for countless living creatures.
What if You Don’t Have Any Snags?
If you have a large mature forest, chances are there will be snags in it—though these may be small. But in young forests, you might not have any snags.
And of course, in open grasslands and urban backyards you likely don’t have any snags.
So what do you do in this case?
The first option is to girdle a select number of living trees. To girdle a tree you cut a ring out all around it to break the flow of water and nutrients up and down the tree. This results in the tree dying.
This is a great way to thin an overcrowded forest and create more wildlife habitat.
But what about urban backyards or land with no existing trees?
This was the situation my land was in a few years ago. But today there are a number of small snags spread out through my food forests and other planting areas.
I collected these snags from construction sites and a prairie restoration site. In both cases the snags would have just been burned or chipped up.
None of these snags are very large, and none of them have large branches. This means there aren’t any safety issues.
I only pick snags that are small enough for me to pick up and carry—though sometimes these snags can still be a decent size!
Be careful to avoid injury, and don’t lift anything you’re not comfortable with. Teaming up with someone else is a great way to get larger snags than you could carry on your own.
Once the hole is dug, just put the snag in like you would a fence post. But don’t add gravel or any concrete. You want this snag to eventually rot down!
When the snag is installed, just pack in soil around the snag and pack it all down until the snag is secure.
Then just sit back and enjoy watching all the wildlife that make use of it!
Where should you install snags? These small snags can be installed almost anywhere. They’re a great addition to food forests and hedgerows. But you can also install them in your gardens! Every one of my garden beds has at least 1 snag installed in them. I want wildlife everywhere!
How Snags Support Native Bees
One way that small snags can support wildlife, even in an urban backyard, is by providing homes for native bees.
Many native bees need small holes to nest in. While you can buy native bee boxes, you can also just install snags and drill small holes in them.
If your snag is an old one with lots of holes and cracks in it, this step isn’t needed. But for fresh snags, you will want to drill holes to speed up the natural process.
When doing this, make sure the holes are drilled on the south side (or north side in the southern hemisphere) of the snag, from about chest height to as high as you can reach.
Then just drill a variety of sized holes throughout the snag.
And don’t forget to grab your free and easy-to-print guide (scroll back up to the top to get it) that will walk you through this process in more detail.
The result is a snag with a number of small holes of various sizes that mimics what happens naturally when wood-boring beetles, woodpeckers and other critters make holes in snags.
These are the prefect homes for solitary native bees like mason bees! And even in a small backyard, a few small snags can support a number of these critical native pollinators.
And don’t forget—the larger the snags you add, the more habitat they will provide!
A few small snags will quickly become hot spots for wildlife. Not just native bees, but also birds—I just love seeing songbirds and even woodpeckers hanging out on my small snags!
So do you have snags on your property? Are you going to add some? Let me know what you think in the comments!
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