Regenerating the Forest with Coppicing

When I first discovered the promising technique of coppicing, I was overwhelmed with possible solutions for the world. At first glance, I assumed that the Oak tree my Dad had cut at the base was gone forever. When several shoots began to regrow from the base of that trunk over the years, I was amazed at the eternity of life that this tree seemed to exude.

Strangely enough, I listened to a podcast later that week where a man who owns a Christmas tree farm was discussing coppicing.

Coppicing essentially means to cut trees and shrubs close to the base of their trunk, and allow them to regrow again for several years, sometimes decades. This has a very interesting effect on the regrowth and continuum of these beings, especially when done at strategic times of the year.

Image result for coppiced red maples

This gentleman’s tree farm hadn’t been planted in years because he uses the same trees again and again while providing customers with Christmas trees each year. This was all made possible because of coppicing. As his trees grew, he would harvest them a limb or two up from the base while they were dormant. From that cut, several shoots would form more Christmas trees. Thus, the process was repeated.

This action actually promotes several good things for the tree, as well as for the relationship we have with trees. New shoots regrow from the tree that was harvested, and there is no end of life. It’s almost like pressing the reset button. This is very unlike a lot of logging practices, where trees are cut to never regrow again. For instance, Hazelnut trees that aren’t coppiced can live for 100 years. Hazelnut trees that are coppiced can live indefinitely.

It allows certain species to be harvested again and again without actually killing the tree itself. You can get so many different resources out of a tree without having to replant it. This can’t be done in the heat of the summer; this in turn could hurt the tree or shrub badly.

When it’s dormant, ideally in late winter before bud emergence, or in early winter after leaf drop, is when coppicing has its greatest effects. These shrubs and trees have evolved to experience grazing from animals, so this process can actually encourage strong growth.

These shoots that regrow from a coppiced tree often actually grow much faster than a tree that hasn’t been coppiced. In addition to that, it creates a multiplicity of shoots rather than a singular shoot. Therefore, a larger amount of wood is able to be harvested, or provide habitat and food for animals.

Coppiced trees create a unique kind of shoot that can be useful in so many ways. As listed before, these coppiced trees are great fodder and habitat for animals. Some animals, like Moose here in northern Ontario, prefer nothing more than to munch on the newly formed shoots of tree species. The soft and young nature of the shoots provides a great source of nourishment for them.

Image result for coppicing

The straight nature of coppiced tree shoots are useful as fence posts, fire wood, building, tool handles, and basketry. The abundant and fast paced growth of these trees are useful as windbreaks, and can also be chipped into mulch. This practice could have universal benefits in forestry management, fire wood harvesting, Christmas tree production, mushroom production, and so much more.

One of the reasons why coppicing interests me so much is because of the potential for propagation. For instance, if you take a relatively mature gooseberry, cut it down at the very base, and cover with mulch, shoots will regrow. Once they regrow, you can pull each shoot apart and all of a sudden you are left with several vigorous new plants. A single plant is potential for dozens of plants you can grow out in your backyard. It is how commercial growers propagate root stock for apple trees. It is how they propagate dozens of trees, shrubs, and berry bushes. It is an incredible way to harness energy and resources, and create more from these things.

In regards to forestry, when trees are coppiced they not only grow back without having to be replanted, their root system remains intact. With an intact root system, erosion is a non issue. Several real world issues that harvesting of trees creates, are paralleled with solutions that are remarkably creative through the simple action of coppicing.

How to Coppice

Firstly, here’s a short list of species in a cold temperate climate that are suitable for coppicing; there are many more to add to this list, this is simply a short list of my area.

Ash sp.
Poplar sp.
Elderberry sp.
Manitoba Maple
Red Maple
Fir
Birch sp.
Black Locust
Hazel sp.
Chestnut sp.
Apple sp.
Willow sp.

The best time to coppice is when the tree, shrub, or bush is dormant. This is in late Fall after the leaves have dropped, in Winter, or in late winter before the buds have started to emerge. These trees should be fairly established, as you won’t have as much success with this with a brand new baby tree or shrub.

Cut low stumps 2-3 inches above ground and slightly on an angle. This will help to shed the water off the stump. Depending on the species, wait until shoots have regrown. Depending on your needs from them, as well as the typical growth habit of the species, develop a system that determines how often you coppice them. It can be anywhere from 1-5 years, to 50 years, to hundreds of years. It is truly a multi-generational action.

Image result for coppiced elderberries
Elderberry that was coppiced the previous winter

Elderberry for instance can be coppiced every single year. Many other shrubs benefit from this as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a dying shrub come back to life after coppicing. It is truly incredible, and has so much potential in many facets of our relationship with trees.

This ancient and simple process fits into a metaphor of life; that sometimes when ideas, people, or trees are cut in the right way, growing back can happen in a manner that’s almost better than before. In using this knowledge and applying it as humans, we can push trees to showcase their miraculous abilities to live eternally, vigorously, and with tremendous spirit. We can meet our needs and we can regenerate forests exponentially in our backyard, neighborhoods, and forests. This simple action can multiply our possibilities with tree regeneration.

References

  1. Mann, S. The Permaculture Podcast (2019) Episode 1914 Carving Out a Living on the Land with Emmet Van Driesche
  2. Jacke, D. Coppice Agroforestry on Youtube.com D’Acres of New Hampshire
  3. Jacke, D and Toensmeier E. (2005). Edible Forest Gardens Volumes 1 and 2. Chelsea Green Publishing

One thought on “Regenerating the Forest with Coppicing

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: