Saturday, June 11, 2011

Permaculture Projects: Coppicing

Coppiced Basswood/Linden Trees

I think there are two types of people in the world: those who know a decent amount about coppicing, and those who don't even know how to pronounce the word.  This post is for the latter group.

Stand of Coppiced Sweet Chestnut

Coppicing (pronounced: KAH-piss-ing) is an ancient practice of woodland management where trees are cut down while dormant and allowed to regrow from the stumps/roots for a number of years before cutting again.  The new growth of trees/forest from these cut stumps is collectively called "coppice".

Coppicing has been practiced for thousands of years throughout the world.  It is still practiced on a fairly regular basis in the U.K.  However, it is almost unheard of in North America.  This is likely due to the fact that when settlers first came to America, there was such a surplus of forest that the settlers didn't think it was necessary.

Coppicing allows sustainable harvest of woody plant species without the need for replanting.  Since the roots are well established, regrowth is MUCH faster than growing a new tree.  Most Temperate Climate hardwood trees can be coppiced.

The new individual growing stems are called poles, and they can grow from the stump (also called the stool) or from the root buds close to the stump.  A variation of coppicing called pollarding is where the tree is cut above the reach of livestock.  This allows the new growth to develop without being eaten by the animals.

Recently coppiced Alder stool.

New growth of a stool.

The length of time between cuttings depends on what species you are coppicing and what the intended purpose of the cuttings will be, e.g. basket weaving vs fence posts.  The typical range can be anywhere from 5-30 years, but 100+ years is possible.  Coppicing can truly be a multigenerational project.

Wood for fuel is a common use for coppicing.

Baskets made from coppiced willow.

Fence made from coppiced hazel.

Uses for Coppicing:

  • Fuel, i.e. firewood
  • Charcoal
  • Mushroom medium
  • Crafts (furniture, baskets)
  • Tools
  • Fences
  • Other Structures 

Other benefits of Coppicing:

  • Lets more light to the understory.  Prompts the flowering of many woodland plants.
  • Creates more microclimates (varying degrees of light, shade, temperature, moisture, etc.).
  • Allows certain animals specific habitats that they desire (e.g. pheasants like dense hazel coppice).
  • Increase in sunlight allows more plant growth which provides more food for mammals, birds, and insects.
  • Coppicing actually increases the longevity of the tree.  One stand of basswood/linden trees in the U.K. is over a thousand years old... about four times the average age!

No idea how many times this Alder has been coppiced.

Trees that can be Coppiced in a Temperate Climate:

  • Maple/Sycamore (Acer species) - 7-25 yrs
  • Alder (Alnus glutinosa) - 12-40 yrs
  • Papaw (Asimina triloba) - fruit
  • Birch (Betula species) - 3-20 yrs
  • Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) - 20-30 yrs
  • Hickory/Pecan (Carya species) - nut
  • Sweet Chestnut/Chinkapin (Castenea species) - 12-18 yrs; nut
  • Hackberry (Celtis species)
  • Hazel/Filbert (Corylus species) - 6-15 yrs; nut
  • Hawthorns/Mayhaw (Crataegus species) - fruit
  • Persimmons (Diospyrus species) - fruit
  • Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus species)
  • Beech (Fagus grandifolia) - nut
  • Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) - 7-25 yrs
  • Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) - nut/leaves
  • Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) - pods
  • Apples (Malus species) - fruit
  • Mulberries (Morus species) - fruit
  • Aspen (Populus tremula) - 6-25 yrs
  • Cherries/Plums (Prunus species) - fruit
  • European Pears (Pyrus species) - fruit
  • Oak (Quercus species) - 7-50 yrs; nut (acorns)
  • Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)
  • Willow/Sallow (Salix species) - 6-25 yrs
  • Rowan/Service Tree (Sorbus species)
  • Mountain Ash (Sorbus species) - fruit
  • Basswood/Linden, called Lime in Britain (Tilia species) -  10-25 yrs; leaves
  • Fragrant Spring Tree (Toona sinensis) - leaves
  • Elm (Ulmus procera) - 7-25 yrs
  • NOTE: any tree that is a nut or fruit producer may take many years for new growth to produce again

Here are a few videos on Coppicing... all from the U.K.

A basic introduction to Coppicing.

Coppicing with a chainsaw.


  1. So if you were managing a stand of wood for coppicing, would it be all trees of a single species, or would you use this to manage a stand of mixed tree species?

  2. It could be either, but I prefer a mixed coppice. This creates more biodiversity. It could easily be integrated into one side of a forest garden.

  3. This is what we have to do to our roses, berries, cacti, and grapes every few years

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