Given a steady supply of fuel, a chipper/shredder should be able to chip and shred from dawn to dusk and into the night, with a few pauses to refill the gas tank. Your ability to keep material flowing into the blades will be the limit on how much pruning debris and yard waste you can run through the machine. These tips can help you turn a large residential lot of baby pine tree fire hazards into mulch in a weekend’s work, or turn a 20-foot palo verde tree into a pile of mulch and some firewood in a day.
Don’t accumulate big piles of pruned material you plan to shred “someday“. The best place for things you plan to prune and shred “someday” is on the tree, not piled in your back yard. Take pruned material straight to the shredder and get rid of it.
I’m assuming you are using a gas-powered 8- to 10- horsepower chipper/shredder that can shred a 3-inch diameter branch. If your shredder has smaller capacity, some of these tips might not work for you.
Keep you and your helpers working steadily with these tips:
* Don’t shred alone. It’s a dangerous machine, and if the worst happens to you, your partner can call 9-1-1.
* Minimize dust and pollen by washing down the bushes and trees a day or two before your planned pruning and shredding. Use a power washer if you have one, or a sprinkling wand set to “jet stream”.
* If you are allergy prone, take a dose of anti-allergy medication the night before you plan to shred, and another in the morning. Rinse your nose with a saline spray every hour or so.
* Take a mild anti-inflammatory in the morning, not for the coming day’s work, but so you can get out of bed the day after. You will have aches where you didn’t know you had muscles.
* Do not wear floppy clothing, beach shoes, cutoffs, or other ludicrously inadequate clothing. This is rough work. You need protective gear, including ear protection against the engine noises, eye protection against flying chips and shreds, sunscreen, long-sleeved shirts, snug-fitting gloves, and work boots.
* Stay hydrated and energized with frequent water and snack breaks. Beware of “energy drinks” with caffeine, and high-sugar snacks. You’ll get jittery, not energized.
* If you can, keep the shredder in the shade.
Keep the material flowing through the hoppers with these tips:
The best work flow depends on how many workers you have. If you have two workers, it’s more effective if they both prune and stack material for a while, then both shred. With three to five workers, three can cut and stack, while two work at the shredder.
* Have pruning tools (good loppers) for everyone in the crew.
* A big gas-powered shredder can handle material being fed into the brush hopper at the same time that branches are being fed into the chipper chute. Keep both sides of the machine busy.
* Stack the branches and large prunings with all the cut ends pointing towards the person who is feeding the chipping chute.
* Stack the small prunings and brush with all the cut ends pointing towards the person who is feeding the brush hopper.
* Don’t waste time cutting material into small bits if your shredder can handle large material.
* Feed material into the brush hopper with the branch tips first. It’s less likely to clog.
* Pay attention to the sound of the shredder’s engine. If it is slowing down as you feed, either feed less material into the brush hopper or open the throttle to give it more power.
* Move the shredder to the trees, don’t drag pruned branches to the shredder.
* Have a plan for disposing of the shredded material that minimizes the number of times you move the shreddings. If possible, empty the collection bag straight into a compost bin or onto a place that needs mulch. Fresh tree shreddings compost quickly and make great mulch.
Tips for Shredding Special Materials:
Small, straight trees and up to 3-inch straight branches can be fed into the chipper chute without lopping off the side branches. Feed it cut end first, bending the branches towards you to make it fit. When only the tips remain, pull it out of the chipper chute and drop it into the pile for the brush hopper.
Thorny vines and shrubs, such as bougainvillea and roses, should be cut into lengths no longer than the brush hopper. When the shredding flails catch the end of the branches, they whirl around and leave nasty scratches on the human.
Soft fleshy plants, such as aloes and cactus, don’t shred well. They leave an adhesive slime all over the flails.
Fallen fruit shreds extremely well in the brush hopper, and smells great as it shreds.
Some fresh-cut vines and branches are too difficult for the flails to handle. Green-barked mesquite shoots, for example, leave strings of the incredibly tough bark wrapped around the flails and kill the engine. I’ve heard that pea vines and some brambles can do the same. If you discover that something is a problem, usually letting the material dry for a couple of days will make it shreddable.