The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Coppicing in the southern Appalachians

Pollarding and coppicingI've been intrigued by coppicing ever since I visited the ancient New Forest in England and saw huge trees that had been providing wood to the locals for hundreds of years.  The idea is simple --- certain trees resprout when they're cut, so you can cut off the shoots every five, ten, or twenty years and have a renewable source of wood without disturbing the forest.  Since I'd only read about coppicing in Europe, I was excited to hear Zev Friedman's information on which species can be coppiced in our neck of the woods.

The eight species that Zev considers worth coppicing in the southern Appalachians are black locust, mulberry, willow, basswood, tulip-tree, hazelnut, black cherry, and chestnut.  These trees not only resprout copiously, the bushy habit you get after coppicing has a benefit to the forest gardener.  For example, mulberries bear fruits on first year wood, so the fruiting area tends to move further and further out on the tree.  By coppicing, you keep the mulberries within reach, and can even coppice part of the tree each year so that you have young wood ready to bear fruit annually.

Hazel coppiceOn the backyard scale, you're probably only going to have a few trees to coppice, but on the homestead scale you might set up an entire woodlot in what's known as "coppice with standards."  Standards are full-sized trees that are left alone and only cut every 75 to 150 years for timber, providing shade and livestock feed in the interim.  Oaks are a good choice for standards in our area (or perhaps walnuts or sycamores in damper areas?), and Zev recommends keeping 20 standards per acre.

Scattered amid the standards are the smaller trees that are coppiced much more regularly.  These coppiced trees are generally spaced 6 to 10 feet across on diagonal and provide firewood, fiber (mulberries), tender young leaves (basswood), mushroom logs (tulip-trees for oysters and oaks for shiitakes), and fruits or nuts.  We might try coppicing our mulberry tree and hazelnut bushes in a couple of years to see what kind of growth form results.

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This post is part of our Real Forest Gardening lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I really like the idea of coppicing, especially if they coppiced trees are mixed in with the oaks, maples, etc... We might have to give this one a shot at our next place.
Comment by Everett Mon Mar 14 10:59:09 2011
I've noticed a lot of trees that have been coppiced in residential yards around Front Royal. I'm sure it's for no other reason than asthetics, their being "part of the lawn", and what I've "learned" of the practice was that it was essentially destructive. However I have some aging mulberries around the house that my father still owns in the D.C. burbs that I was planning to cut out entirely. I hate the idea because of the copious berries they provided in years past. This timely post just may well be their reprieve! Thanks for sharing!
Comment by Dean Mon Mar 14 12:17:16 2011
Everett and Dean --- I've been reading about coppicing for years, meaning to try it out, and never getting around to it. (Probably because we always have so much deadfall to use for firewood...) If you try it before I do, I hope you'll report on your results. I'm especially interested in hearing whether it rejuvenates Dean's mulberries.
Comment by anna Mon Mar 14 13:08:24 2011

===I have been getting the emails on this is going to be very good indeed.

Comment by Geoffrey Wendel Mon Mar 14 14:20:46 2011
I'm dying to read it now! Too bad it looks like it's too late to pledge.
Comment by anna Mon Mar 14 15:28:54 2011

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