A tree in the yard means cooling shade to beat the hot summer days and a practically unlimited supply of tree limbs that fall from the tree in high winds or as they die naturally. Branches can take several years to decompose if left in a pile, so put them to use as natural decorations for your yard. Some projects are for adults only, but use smaller projects as a way to keep your kids busy -- if they're making something rather than fighting with the sticks, it's a parenting success story.
Lay two straight 5- to 8-foot branches side-by-side on a flat work surface, spaced about 2 feet apart. Lay 2-foot-long branches horizontally or diagonally across the long branches, and attach them using ring shank nails in a hammer. Prop this ladder-like structure against a garden wall, or bury the feet in the ground as a trellis to grow climbing flowers and vegetables. You can easily adapt the trellis into a garden arbor by building two identical trellises, spacing them 4 feet apart with wide sides facing in, and connecting them with additional branches spanning horizontally across the top.
Gather three or more 1-inch diameter sticks in a bundle; each stick should measure about 5 to 6 feet long. Tie the bundle together at one end, using natural twine, about 6 to 12 inches from the end. Spread the sticks apart at the untied end and place it over climbing plants, such as annual morning glories (Ipomoea tricolor) or pole beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). These plants climb structures through the use of thin tendrils that will wrap around the branches and climb the teepee.
Collect long, flexible branches that measure less than 1/2 inch in diameter to create a wattle border fence for flower bed and walkway borders. Green branches should be fairly flexible, but dead branches are dry and snap easily. Drive 12-inch wooden stakes -- make these from branches -- into the ground spaced about 2 feet apart along the border. Weave the flexible branches in front of and behind the wooden stakes. Alternate the direction with each level, much like weaving a basket, so if the first level goes in front of a stake, the next level goes behind that same stake.
Glue small branch pieces to the outside of a plain birdhouse to give it a rustic look for decorating the garden. Browse garden centers and discount stores to find pre-assembled, low-cost birdhouses that you and your kids can decorate. Use only non-toxic glue so birds won't be harmed when they make the house their home. Alternatively, you can build a birdhouse entirely from sticks, but this takes much more work and attention to detail.
Cut a large diameter tree branch into 2- to 3-inch slices, and lay those cross-cut sections on the ground to make a stepping stone path through the yard -- minus the stones, of course. If you only have smaller branches, such as 4- to 6-inch branches, you can place them close together to mimic the look of a paver stone path or even a patio.
Lay a large, gnarly tree limb in a flower bed to accent flowers and other plants in your garden. You can leave the bark in place or strip it to give the decoration a sleeker look. Allow the branch to stand alone in the bed or, if desired, plant a groundcover plant, such as plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides), to grow along the branch.
Install a 4- by 4-inch-diameter, 6-foot tall fence post in your yard. Drill several 1- to 2-inch-diameter holes on all sides of the top half of the fence post. Push whole 1- to 2-inch-diameter branches into the drilled holes to create a fake tree for birds to perch. If you have branches because a tree in your yard fell, birds that normally frequent your yard might not be inclined to return. This fake tree bird perch serves as a replacement for the tree that invites birds to visit.
Glue several skinny branch pieces around a 1- to 2-inch-thick cross-section of a log. Glue them to one side with several inches of the branches sticking out in a sunburst pattern. Paint or use a woodburner to make a face on the wood cross-section. Hang this sunburst face ornament on a privacy fence or exterior wall.