Have you seen a snag lately? You probably have seen many as you walk in the woods. Snags occur naturally when trees die, so essentially, they are the remains of a dead tree. They are also called habitat trees since they become home to hundreds of species of animals, including birds, mammals, reptiles as well as insects. Snags are a source of food, nesting sites, roosting places, storage, and perching sites.
Snags can last for many years as they decay and soften over time, yet they still give life to many creatures. As dead trees decompose, they provide rich nutrients. Now we realize that snags are beneficial to both urban and suburban areas because they provide important ecological functions. These habitat trees can be beautiful. When left alone, their form can integrate as part of a garden or park. For example, they are attractive when used as a base for growing vines. Many artists work with snags to create a sculpture, carve a bat house or totems.
Woodpeckers tend to be the first birds to enjoy snags as they search for insect larvae beneath the surface of the tree bark. They also love snags as a place to perch which allows them to see other birds. After the woodpeckers leave, other birds such as bluebirds, swallows, wrens, and small owls, will come nest in some of the cavities left by the woodpeckers. Nuthatches will frequent snags as they search for grubs and insects.
Snags vary greatly. But if you wish to leave one in your garden, I recommend that it be a minimum of a 3-inch diameter and at least 6-feet tall. It is important to consider safety, be sure the snag won’t fall on your house or something important. If the tree is too large, you can prune it back by as much as by one half or even two thirds. Downed logs are often placed on the ground around the stump. These logs are called nurse logs because they are preferred by small mammals and amphibians.
You can also consider creating a stumpery which is a whimsical garden that is made up of stumps, logs, driftwood, and bark. Stumperies were popular in 19th century British gardens. Prince Charles has a stumpery garden at Highgrove House, his home in Gloucestershire, England. Creative stumperies often use upturned tree stumps and plant them with ferns. Some are made into Fairy Gardens, Gnome Homes, birdhouse stands, or tree houses.
So, the next time a tree dies in your garden, think first about how it can be turned into an artistic creation that benefits wildlife, adds whimsey to your garden, and saves money – less tree work needed.
Keep in mind that dead trees and logs live on as they continuously nurture new life.
Snags are perfect perching sites for owls to search for their prey. They also make it much easier for us to see the birds!