Time-lapse of Tigercat mulcher clearing brush

Forestry mulching is a land clearing method that uses a single machine to cut, grind, and clear vegetation.

A forestry mulching machine, also referred to as a forestry mulcher, forest masticator, or brushcutter, uses a rotary drum equipped with steel chipper tools ("teeth") or blades to shred vegetation.[1] They are manufactured as application-specific tractors and as mulching attachments (“mulching heads”) for existing tracked and rubber-tired forestry tractors, skid steers, or excavators.

ASV RT-110 and DAF-180D clearing private property in Georgia
Fecon mulching attachment on a Sennebogen excavator, being used to clear roadside brush in Germany

Heavy duty forestry mulchers can clear up to fifteen acres of vegetation a day depending on terrain, density, and type of material.[citation needed] Forestry mulchers are often used for land clearing, right-of-way, pipeline/power line, wildfire prevention and management,[2] vegetation management, invasive species control,[3] and wildlife restoration.[4]

When the growth being cleared is a mix of leaves and grass, a Blower/Vacuum/Mulcher unit, rather than a chipper, offers a choice of gas-powered or powerered by electricity, which can be corded or cordless.[5][6]

Applications of forestry mulching

Right-of-way clearing and maintenance

An example of a tilting bracket
Forestry mulching attachment on a Bobcat skid steer
Examples of chipper tools ("teeth") available on forestry mulching attachments
Example of blade and hammer selection used in forestry mulching

Forestry mulching is used in the right-of-way clearing and maintenance for roads, highways, pipelines, and other utility lines. This process often requires complete removal of standing trees, stumps, and vegetation. The goal is improved soil, and it is accomplished "by shredding leaves with a mower and piling them up to age".[7]

Land clearing

This method can be used in commercial and residential land clearing projects such as site preparation and development, cutting and clearing brush, nature and recreational trail creation,[8][9] and seismic exploration.[10]

Wetlands and riparian habitat conservation

Forestry mulching has become popular among non-profit riparian conservation organizations, government agencies, hunt clubs, and private landowners in attempts to maintain habitats for pheasants, doves, elk, deer, and various other animals. Maintaining an animal habitat encompasses several different aspects: food, water, shelter, and space, and there are many products that can help reclaim and maintain wildlife habitats for these animals.[11]

Invasive species control

Some common invasive plants such as tamarisk (salt cedar), Pinyon-juniper, Russian olive, red cedar, buckthorn, and multiflora rose[14] can establish in a natural habitat, soak up a tremendous amount of ground water. This may merit removing the plants using mulchers to re-establish the native habitat or to preserve the water table.[15] Invasive insects such as pine beetles can also devastate forests, leaving behind rotting trees with diminishing timber value and that may become falling hazards if they lose their ability to stand up against wind.[16]

Proactive mulching can reduce stress on trees caused by crowding, making them less susceptible to attack from invasive species.[citation needed] Mulching invasive species in place can control the spread of invasive plants, insects, and fungus. The mulching action tends to discharge the material downward and within a reasonably confined area, versus other methods such as rotary cutters that may laterally disperse pine beetles or other invasive species into neighboring healthy trees.[citation needed]

Wildfire prevention and management

Hydraulic-powered mulching attachment on rubber-tired tractor

Disadvantages and advantages of forestry mulching

The New York Times published in 2022 that the American market for mulch compostings is $1 bilion (per year).[7] In 2005 they estimated that the average paid per cubic yard was $25.[19]

Disadvantages of forestry mulching

Depending on the size and orientation of the mulching head, forestry mulchers can only fell smaller trees. Mulchers with a mulching head that rotates about a vertical axis can typically handle trees up to 6–8 inches (15–20 cm) in diameter, while mulchers with a mulching head that rotates about a horizontal axis can handle trees up to 30 inches (76 cm) in diameter. Mulching trees at the upper end of this size range can be dangerous for both the equipment and the operator.[1] Some excavator mulching attachments are equipped with a tilting bracket that significantly reduces the risk of felling trees larger than those desired. Mulching areas with a variety of vegetation and terrain may require multiple pieces of equipment, including tracked mulching machines, excavator mulchers, and skid steer tractors equipped with mulching attachments.

Rocks and stones cannot be processed or moved by the machines, and the teeth grinding against rocky ground can both wear out and cause fire hazards. Blades, hammers, and teeth are replaceable and considered wear parts. Smaller rocks and other debris can be thrown through the air, and while these are usually deflected by a protective shroud, they can present a danger to the operator and surrounding people and structures.[1]

Even for the largest machines, mulching is only effective when less than 25 tons of vegetation or 100 trees are present per acre.[1][20]

Although mulching is significantly faster and less labor-intensive than land clearing by hand, it requires the site to have road access for fueling and maintenance.[20]


By processing trees and other vegetation where they stand, mulching machines eliminate many of the steps involved in land clearing such as site prep, cutting, felling, hauling, and site clean-up.[21][22] This also eliminates the need for multiple machines such as bulldozers accompanied by some combination of excavators, tree shears, wood chippers or grinders, and hauling equipment. On simpler jobs only one mulching machine is required, reducing fuel requirements and emissions.[23]

Some mulching machines also have the ability to operate on steep slopes and in small or tight areas, in poor ground conditions, and in wet or snowy weather.[24]

Mulching machines are capable of clearing land of unwanted trees and brush with limited disturbance to soils or desirable vegetation.

Traditional land clearing methods often present an increased risk of erosion by pushing over trees, uprooting the stump and roots, and substantially disturbing soils.[7] In contrast, mulching the vegetation leaves the soil structure intact. The mulched material can be left on the ground and will act as an erosion barrier while returning nutrients back into the soil through decomposition. Over time, grass will naturally grow through the mulch and can be maintained with mowing.

PTO-driven forestry mulching attachment on an agricultural tractor

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Mulchers (Also referred to as Masticators or Brushcutters)". Yandram.com. Retrieved July 7, 2013.
  2. ^ A.E. Araiza (May 6, 2010). "Mechanical grinder quickly creates firebreaks in Oracle". Arizona Daily Star (Azstarnet.com). Retrieved June 28, 2013.
  3. ^ "Features Vol 49 no 6 - Dwarf Mistletoe – The Quiet Kiss of Death". Landandwater.com. Retrieved June 28, 2013.
  4. ^ "Wildlife in "Edge Areas" Thrive When Habitats are Kept in Check". Forconstructionpros.com. January 4, 2011. Retrieved June 28, 2013.
  5. ^ Doug Mahoney (October 3, 2022). "The Best Leaf Blower". The New York Times. Retrieved January 16, 2023.
  6. ^ Nancy Spille (December 1, 1997). "Mulch Ado About Chipping In". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 16, 2023.
  7. ^ a b c d Margaret Roach (May 4, 2022). "Why Your Garden Needs Mulch (Assuming You Do It Right)". The New York Times. Retrieved January 16, 2023.
  8. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on November 23, 2020. Retrieved June 28, 2013.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "Camp Rotamer ready to host open house". GazetteXtra. Retrieved June 28, 2013.
  10. ^ "Seismic". Fecon. Retrieved June 28, 2013.
  11. ^ "Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, Becker County, Minnesota | Woodcock population and young forest habitat management". Timberdoodle.org. Retrieved June 28, 2013.
  12. ^ Gerri Hirshey (May 20, 2007). "Extreme Mulching". The New York Times. Retrieved January 16, 2023.
  13. ^ "cattails « Pheasants Forever Blogs". Pheasantblog.org. November 30, 2010. Archived from the original on July 23, 2013. Retrieved June 28, 2013.
  14. ^ "Non-native Invasive Freshwater Plants - Salt Cedar (Tamarix) - Technical Information". Ecy.wa.gov. Retrieved June 28, 2013.
  15. ^ "Russian olive - Invasive species: Minnesota DNR". Dnr.state.mn.us. Retrieved June 28, 2013.
  16. ^ "Pine Bark Beetles". Arborjet. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved June 28, 2013.
  17. ^ "Forest Service using cutting-edge technology to fight forest fires - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas". KTRE.com. Retrieved June 28, 2013.
  18. ^ Halbrook, Jeff; Han, Han-Sup; Graham, Russell T.; Jain, Theresa B.; Denner, Robert (July 30 – August 2, 2006). "Mastication: A fuel reduction and site preparation alternative" (PDF). Proceedings of the 29th Council on Forest Engineering Conference: 137–146. Retrieved July 6, 2013.
  19. ^ William Alexander (November 27, 2005). "Rakers vs. Blowers". The New York Times. Retrieved January 16, 2023.
  20. ^ a b USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station (2004). "Fuels Planning: Science Synthesis and Integration Economic Uses Fact Sheet: 1 Mastication Treatments and Costs" (PDF). Res. Note RMRS-RN-20-1WWW. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rocky Mountain Research Station. Retrieved July 6, 2013.
  21. ^ "Grinding Attachment Provides Efficiency". Construction Equipment. January 21, 2008. Retrieved June 28, 2013.
  22. ^ "Forestry Mulching - Is it right for you?". KW Land Works - Forestry Mulching and Restoration. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  23. ^ "No Burn, No Haul off". Lifescapes-forestry-mulching.com. May 27, 2013. Retrieved June 28, 2013.
  24. ^ "Innovative technology keeps Canadian contractors working in the woods - The Working Forest, Your #1 source for forestry and forest industry news". Workingforest.com. July 28, 2011. Archived from the original on June 29, 2013. Retrieved June 28, 2013.