What do you do with garden waste?

September 6th, 2020
Posted In: Gardening know how

Garden waste is a big issue in a middle-sized garden, especially at this time of year.

There are five ways of getting rid of it:

  1. Locally run bin collection services, if available
  2. Taking your garden waste to the local recycling centre
  3. Bonfires
  4. Composting your garden waste
  5. Using a garden shredder to compost faster or to use the waste as mulch on borders

If you have a large garden – more than around half an acre – you probably have space for several compost bins, to store a garden shredder and even somewhere for a bonfire, perhaps.

And if your garden is ‘small’ – less than, say, 50ft long and around the width of your house, then you can usually manage with council garden waste bins, if available. There is often an extra fee associated with this.

If you only have a little extra garden waste, then you’ll probably only need to do a few trips a year to the council recycling centre. And if you have just one or two trees or hedges professionally trimmed, then you can add the cost of disposing of the waste to the bill.

It is worth noting that all these options involve cost and take up varying amounts of time.

But a middle-sized garden has a lot of garden waste – too much for a bin recycling scheme. And we are short of space for compost bins and machinery. Even when we get trees and hedges professionally trimmed, the cost of disposing of the clippings increases the bill noticeably.

Garden waste ideas

All our trees, shrubs and climbers are clipped at least once a year, plus we have lawn clippings and weeds to dispose of.

Our garden is 100ft long and L shaped. It’s 80ft wide at its widest and 40ft wide nearer the house. We have eleven trees and even more shrubs and climbers, all of which need pruning annually. Plus a lot of weeds.

The Middlesized Garden overview

The Middle-sized Garden – you can spot that most things either need pruning or have just been pruned.

Take garden waste to the recycling centre

Mr Middlesize takes a huge mound of garden waste to the recycling centre around once every six weeks. It takes a couple of hours and has sometimes strained his back. In between visits, we live with an ever-growing mound of garden clippings and uprooted weeds just outside the back door.

During lockdown, our recycling centre was closed. Currently you have to book visits and are only allowed one visit a month. Fly-tipping has increased massively as a result.

If you take waste to the recycling centre, you need good bags. We used to have garden manure delivered in one tonne bags. Then we used the bags for garden waste. But they were too heavy and hurt Mr M’s back.

We found some slightly smaller Large Garden Waste bags, which held a decent amount of clippings and were easier to carry. They also had three handles, one of which was at the bottom, which made the bags easy to tip up. We’re very pleased with them. Note: links to Amazon are affiliate, which means I may get a small fee if you buy. But it doesn’t affect the price you pay, and I only mention products I’ve bought and used myself.

However, that still meant that we had bags of garden waste piling up outside the back door. Middle-sized gardens don’t have the space for things to pile up.

If you are more efficient that we are, you could go to the recycling centre after every major pruning experience. But that would mean a lot of trips in the car, getting the car messy. And the recycling centre would need to be open for regular visits.

Can you dispose of garden waste with a bonfire?

If you live in a town or city, then bonfires are not usually a viable way of disposing of all your garden waste.

Many people think bonfires are illegal in the UK, but there are no national laws against them. However, there may be local restrictions, and you are not allowed to burn certain things, such as plastics or rubber. Check local regulations.

And in dry summers, bonfires are a fire hazard. In countries where wildfires are an issue, such as Australia, there are laws on if, when and how you can burn garden waste.

Even if you are allowed a bonfire, safety must come first. You need to find a part of the garden where flames can’t accidentally set fire to a fence, shed or someone’s property. Always keep a couple of watering cans full of water at hand in case any sparks escape with the wind.

Mr Middlesize created a DIY open wire incinerator out of galvanised welded wire mesh fence panels. It is much stronger than chicken wire. But we still had to allow the garden waste to dry out. Then we had to wait for a day which wasn’t too windy, too wet or in a too-dry period.

We did manage to find a space in the garden where flames could burn safely.

Incinerators for disposing of garden waste

Incinerators help keep a bonfire safely confined. The top shows our DIY incincerator made from galvanised wire mesh fence panels. Below it is a ‘dustbin’ style incinerator for small gardens.

I’ve seen smaller ‘dustbin’ style incinerators in small gardens. But when I have asked whether they work well, I have always received a rather vague reply.

Overall, we decided that a bonfire wasn’t convenient enough and didn’t dispose of enough garden waste.

Composting garden waste

If you have the space to compost all your garden waste, then that is brilliant.  Garden compost can be piled on your borders as mulch in spring and autumn. Your garden will benefit hugely.

Compost your garden waste

Compost bins take up space. In a middle-sized garden, there is some space, but it’s limited, so composting doesn’t always deal with all garden waste.

There are two ways of composting – the fast way and the easy way.

The easy way needs more compost bins. You just throw your garden waste and veg peelings into a bin or onto a pile. Let them rot down. It will generally take a year or more, which is why you need the extra space for more bins or piles.

The fast way involves cutting or shredding garden clippings, maintaining a good balance of ‘green and brown’ and turning your compost regularly. The compost gets very hot and breaks down in months.

If you have more patience and less garden waste than we do, you could try cutting your clippings up manually.

Compost bins

You can see how much more space garden waste takes up when it’s not shredded. Plus the shredded waste composts down so much faster.

But for us to do enough composting to dispose of it all, we either needed a shredder or space for more compost bins.

So do you really need a garden shredder?

We are very cautious about buying large items of garden equipment. We have two storage sheds, both small and both nearly full. Any new stuff has to earn its space, as well as being worth the money.

And garden shredders can be expensive. Garden machinery has improved enormously over the past two decades. Garden shredders used to be wood chippers. They were essentially aimed at people who worked in forestry or on large estates.

Now garden shredders are quieter, easier to use, safer and more compact.

When you put garden waste through a shredder, it composts far more quickly than it would if you just pile it on.

You can also use shredded garden waste directly on your borders as a mulch, where it will help keep in moisture and suppress weeds. It will slowly break down and return nutrients to the soil. However, avoid including any roots or seeds from weeds or invasive plants.

So we decided to invest in a garden shredder.

How to choose a garden shredder

When I first looked into choosing a garden shredder, I was advised to think whether to choose one with blades or a roller. But in the end, that didn’t seem to matter.

You need a petrol-driven garden shredder if you’re going to be shredding garden waste a long way from a power point. Otherwise, you can run a garden shredder with an electric cable from the mains.

Generally, your shredder should be able to chop up to 40mm diameter clippings. It’s also a good idea to buy a shredder with a paddle to push waste through.

In the end, the choice came down to a balance between robustness and weight.

The more robust garden shredders have an integral basket for the shredded clippings. They are more expensive and heavier. They’re quite compact – about half the size of a supermarket trolley.

Lighter garden shredders look more like golf trolleys. You place your own bags under the shredder. They’re easier to move round the garden, in and out of storage, and are less expensive. But judging by reviews over a wide number of sites, they get more complaints and are less robust.

So we chose the….

We decided to buy the Bosch Shredder AXT 25TC on the basis of largely positive reviews across a number of different sites. As we have so much garden waste, we decided we needed ‘robust’ over ‘easy to move around’.

Disclosure: We bought this at full price with our own money. We have had no contact at all with Bosch, and have not been paid or in any way rewarded for including this product in this post. 

The equivalent lighter weight ‘golf cart’ Bosch Shredder AXT Rapid 220 was about half the price. That generally reflects the difference in price for the two kinds of shredder across most brands.

Using a garden shredder

Firstly, safety. You absolutely must have good strong garden gloves. We used leather rose pruning gauntlets. But even if you are wearing gloves, don’t clear any clogged material from within the blades with your hands. Use the paddle provided or a stick. Mr M cut his finger badly trying to free some stuff that got stuck within the blades.

Choosing and using a garden shredder

Push garden waste through a shredder with a paddle and don’t use your hands anywhere near the blades, even when stopped.

Protect your eyes. Wear shoes that will protect your feet if you drop something. It’s generally a bad idea to garden in flip-flops or sandals anyway, as there are far too many sharp, heavy things around.

You’re advised to wear ear defenders too, when operating a garden shredder. We found the Bosch AXT 25TC reasonably quiet, so I admit we didn’t bother. But we should have done.

You also need to put aside some time to learn how to operate it. It is not difficult, but manoevering the garden waste in through the funnel and getting to know how much goes through at a time takes practice.

Most of the negative one-star reviews I saw for both the Bosch and other shredders seemed to be from people who had tried the shredder out a few times, but had found that it clogged up too quickly. You need several hours of practice.

Did the garden shredder do the job?

Overall, we are delighted.

And I’m so excited about my compost bin. The newly shredded garden waste is already composting down and generating so much heat it is smoking. I expect to have usable garden compost in less than six months, rather than having to wait at least year for it to rot down.

It is also wonderful to have the space back. Our terrace no longer has a corner piled up with bags of garden waste.

But there are a few criticisms…

Mr M is very pleased, but says: ‘I had to learn how to shred efficiently by trial and error.  It took some time to “get the hang of it”, before I could shred without lots of jamming.  It would be nice to have more practical advice on shredding from the company.

Although the Bosch AXT25TC says it can cut wet material, in practice that significantly reduced the performance. And any small amount of damp soil attached to wet garden waste, such as with a root, soon caused a jam.  But when it’s all dry, then it’s much easier. Any soil easily breaks off as dust.

It claims to cut up to 230 kilograms per hour – that’s almost a quarter of a ton. But in practice it’s volume that counts.  To avoid jamming, you need to do a little at a time.  Even with dry material, I averaged two litres per minute for hedge clippings, and that came to about 20 kilograms per hour.

Because they have heavy motors which are high up, care must be taken when moving the shredder.  The wheels are not far apart and the stability is therefore low.  It can be easy to accidentally topple when moving it over uneven ground.  It is particularly difficult to move up or down steps.’

Was a garden shredder financially worth it?

Disposing of garden waste costs money. You either spend time and car fuel taking waste to the recycling centre. Or you pay councils for a garden waste collection. And professional help costs more if it includes disposing of clippings and cut branches.

But if you only have a small amount of garden waste, then those costs are not going to add up to much.

The other side of the financial calculation is the money you save on compost and mulch. I estimate that faster composting and using garden waste shreddings as mulch should save me about £200-£250 a year. I’ll let you know if that calculation works out accurately.

We decided that the garden shredder did not save time over taking the constantly reappearing pile of garden waste to the recycling centre.

But it does save effort. Carting bags in and out of the car, then up and over into the recycling hopper is hard work and causes back pain.  It’s easier to shred it here in the garden.

And it’s nice being able to shred as we go along, rather than building up a mound of rotting clippings outside the back door.

It’s really pleasant to be able to step out of the back door to a tidy courtyard, rather than an ever-growing number of bags containing garden waste.

How other people get rid of their garden waste

The compost bins above belong to Stephen Ryan, Australian broadcaster and owner of the Dicksonia Rare Plants nursery. He uses shredded garden waste for paths and composts everything else. He even picks up out of date food from local supermarkets and used coffee grounds from the local coffee shop and adds them to the compost heap, so he is a ‘net importer of garden waste.’ (See his advice on growing tree ferns here.)

Garden compost

Stephen Ryan adds to his garden waste with out of date fruit and veg from the local supermarket and coffee grounds from the coffee shop.

Middle-sized Garden blog reader Tricia says that in her garden ‘all sappy prunings get laid out on the lawn and mowed. You do need a mower with collection box. Then this gets put in the compost bin and makes beautiful compost in no time.  We cut up the hard prunings and dry them, tucked behind the shed. Then we use them as kindling in the woodburner. The ash that this generates also goes in the composter too.’

More practical posts from the Middlesized Garden

There are often lots of different ways to garden. And there isn’t necessarily a ‘best way’, just the best way for you. The No Nonsense Guide to Weeding Your Garden Easily has lots of tips from gardening writers and experts.

And because not everything goes as smoothly in our own gardens as it does on the telly, The honest truth about how to divide perennials should make dividing your plants easier.

And do you want easy compost or fast compost gives you more details on getting the most out of your compost bin.

Shop my favourite gardening books, products and tools

I’m often asked for recommendations so I’ve compiled lists of my favourite gardening books, products and tools on the Middlesized Garden Amazon store. If you’re just starting gardening, then my list of essential tools should be useful.

Pin to remember garden waste tips

And do join us on Sunday mornings for more tips, ideas and inspiration for your middle-sized garden. See here to follow by email.

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