The chips are down
Chipper/shredders generally require a larger and more heavily treed property to make them worth the ticket price—about $300 to $500 for the smallest and up to $1,500 or more for heavy-duty machines.
There's no precise guide to choosing the right product, although if you're only going to use a machine once or twice a year for spring or fall cleanup, consider renting through an equipment dealer, hardware store or rental outlet.
Smaller machines start at about three horsepower and range up to five to nine horsepower for the most popular models, or even 10 or 12 horsepower.
Keep in mind that machines with less horsepower will take longer to get the job done. For most home gardens, the hopper for the chipper takes branches between four and eight (or even 10) centimetres wide.
Larger machines are mostly the preserve of municipalities, golf courses, nurseries and landscaping contractors. Besides the amount of waste you'll be chipping and shredding, consider what kind of material it is.
"The harder the wood, the more power it takes to cut it. If it's hardwood, you want tungsten blades," says Arnott.
Although you can get a dedicated eight- or 12-horsepower chipper if most of your yard waste is wood, dealers say most purchasers look for combination chipper/shredders that handle both wood and softer plant material.
Inside the chipper is a flywheel that rotates one or two blades fast enough to whittle branches down more efficiently than a chef dicing carrots. Grates at the bottom of the machine allow it to spit out chips as small as fingernails that pile up beneath the chipper or collect in a detachable bag.
The most efficient way to chip material is to strip leaves away from branches, then feed them separately through the appropriate hoppers. However, you needn't be so finicky if you don't mind partially shredded leaves mingled with your chips.
The machine can take freshly cut or even wet wood, although the chips will often be stringier than material left to age before it's chipped. Within the shredder, the rotor turns not knives but metal hammers or flails (some are also equipped with serrated knives) that whack everything into a pulp.
You could spread the finely mulched material directly onto a bed—not recommended because decaying green wood depletes the soil of nitrogen—or put it into your composter, where it breaks down more rapidly.