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The British are Coppicing, and You Can Too

Coppicing, pollarding, pleach, fedge, and cordon. All of these are strange and intriguing botanical terms that I’ve encountered on the Royal Horticultural Society’s website. What do they mean? Well, I’ll leave it to you to look up the last four. I’m just going to tell you about the first—coppicing.

clientuploads/Blog/Garden/December/20131127-New growth on coppiced dappled willow in Moon Garden_.JPG

So what’s coppicing?

Coppicing is a pruning technique in which you cut a tree or shrub almost to the ground, leaving a stub that is just a few inches.

How does the tree or shrub respond to coppicing?

Multiple shoots will re-sprout from the stump. This will create a multi-stemmed tree or shrub. Because there is already an established root system, the new shoots grow quickly.

Why coppice?

Coppicing can control the size of a tree or shrub. With certain species, such as red twig dogwood, coppicing produces attractive, brightly colored new shoots. Basket makers coppice willow yearly. The long, thin shoots are great for making baskets. Check out this link to see pictures of brightly colored coppiced willows.

How often should you coppice?

This depends on what you want to achieve. When a tree or shrub is getting too large or the stem color is fading, it’s probably time to coppice it.

What is coppiced at Minnetrista?

Two dappled willows (Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’) growing in the Minnetrista Moon Garden are too big for the space. They were cut back to twelve inches last winter. In one season they are back to the same size, so they will need to be coppiced again this winter.

clientuploads/Blog/Garden/December/20131127-Dappled willow to the left of conifer and magnolia in Moon Garden_.JPG

Last winter the Minnetrista gardeners and I also coppiced some red twig dogwoods. The new stems are bright red. Another way to get bright stems with dogwoods is to remove one third of the oldest stems every year.

Can you coppice any kind of tree or shrub?

No. Some trees and shrubs respond better than others. Species that are good for coppicing include willows (Salix sp.), including pussy willow (Salix discolor), elderberries (Sambucus sp.), and dogwoods (Cornus sp.). Conifers cannot be coppiced. Yew is one exception to this.

When is a good time to coppice?

Late winter or early spring is the best time.

Can you coppice an old tree?

Yes, you can. However, older trees that haven’t been coppiced before may be slower to re-sprout.

clientuploads/Blog/Garden/December/20131127-New, colorful stems on coppiced red twig dogwood_.JPG

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about coppicing. Share your questions, thoughts, or experiences regarding coppicing in the comment section below. For more in-depth information on coppicing, check out I especially love the picture of the wattle fence you can find under the heading “Hazel Cultivation.”