Less Noise, More Green: Coppicing: an ancient wood management technique

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Coppicing: an ancient wood management technique


Rose of Sharon
One of the tasks on my 'to do' list for the fall was pruning my Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) bushes. Although, they are so big they are more like trees! We knew that one of the bushes was not doing well and there were a lot of dead branches. When I went to inspect the bush to decide how to prune it, half of the bush came away in my hand - it was completely dead. With a little coaxing, the other half came up, too.

Looking at the bush, now lying in my driveway, it suddenly dawned on me that we had been coppicing the branches!  This made me very excited because coppicing is a great frugal and sustainable gardening practice.


Coppicing Rose of Sharon, urban farming, gardening
In the center you can see where we pollarded and the resulting new growth.


If you have not heard of coppicing, it is an ancient English form of wood management. Trees are cut down almost to the ground, leaving just four to six inches of stump or 'stool'. Pollarding is when you cut the tree to just above the deer feed line. The result is rapid regrowth due to a well established root system. The tree sends up many new shoots from the stool that grow straight and true. Depending on the tree and what you will use the wood for, you can cut these new branches (underwood) in anywhere from 2-20 years time. This process keeps the tree at a permanent juvenile stage and the process can be repeated over and over again.

Coppiced Rose of Sharon, urban farming, gardening
Coppiced underwood
The underwood can be used for a variety of purposes from firewood, to weaved fencing, to plant supports, even for weaving baskets. I grew up in Somerset, England and the Somerset Levels are known for their willow fields grown for basket making. Trees that are traditionally used for coppice are ash, hazel, oak, willow and sweet chestnut. Most broad leafed trees are good candidates.

Coppicing in a wood allows for increased light, without having to remove any trees. This light encourages the growth of floor vegetation including berries and flowers. It is highly beneficial to the whole woodland ecosystem.

Coppicing, Urban Farming, gardening
The underwood before being trimmed.

Living on a 5,000 square foot urban plot, preserving a woodland ecosystem is not an issue for me, but creating light is. A few years ago we cut our Rose of Sharon bushes down to the fence line and took a few branches down to the earth, effectively coppicing and pollarding them. The result was growth of underwood. Tall straight, strong branches that were as tall as the bush was before we cut it.

Coppicing, urban farmong, gardening
Pollarded Rose of Sharon with underwood

Examining the bush, I don't think it was the coppicing that killed it, I think it was diseased. The Rose of Sharon bush growing next to this one was coppiced at the same time and is thriving. The removed bush, however, is a valuable resource.

Coppice, urban faming, gardening
The end result

I cut off all the underwood, stripped it of smaller branches and leaves and trimmed them to different sizes. The result is a large pile of wood I can use for plant supports and frame building. How cool is that!

The bush is gone but the space wont be empty for long.
Looking at my remaining Rose of Sharon bush I can see where I can harvest the underwood next year if I need it.  With the bush gone, I can extend my strawberry patch which is now going to have more light. I am sorry to lose the bush but I am not sorry to have all the underwood to use in my garden.

See you in the garden,

Sue

Pinterest Pin



1 comment:

  1. New Day Pest Control providing: Pest Control service in Bergen County, NJ
    Pest Control

    ReplyDelete