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When to cut the first coppice?

 
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I'd like to understand when the best time to cut a tree for coppice regrowth is. Is this something that just comes with experience? or are there some simple rules of thumb that will help a new woodsman judge whether a tree will come back strongly from its roots.
 
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I'm new at this coppicing/pollarding thing too.  The 'best' time to coppice, is after the tree drops its leaves.  So, right about now here in the eastern US, is a good time to coppice.  The absolute 'best' time to coppice will be debatable.

There are a number of threads here on Permies that list the trees ideal for coppicing.  The list gets bigger and bigger as more folks add their favorites ... what I'd like to see is a list of trees that *don't* coppice, and simply avoid those.
 
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Gary is absolutely correct. You should cut back a tree, be it for coppicing or pollarding, in the Winter once the leaves have dropped and 'the sap is down'. The tree stores its starches in the root system during this period and is reabsorbing the nutrients from the leaves as they decompose. It's getting ready to put on new growth once the weather is warmer.

I've also heard people say "prune in Summer to restrict growth, prune in Winter to promote growth". They were talking about fruit trees, roses and shrubs but it applies equally to deciduous trees!

Some species, hazel in particular, are less fussy about when you can cut them. I've heard people say you can cut hazel all year round without causing it difficulty. Whilst I wouldn't want to cut in Summer, I would gladly cut from October through to March - although better not to cut once the buds start opening as it will really drain the energy from the tree.

I've been cutting hazel coppice for a month now here in Pembrokeshire. The hazel still has a few leaves but I am not worried as the trees were very large ("overstood") and I'm sure they have a lot of energy in the rootsystems. If the trees were smaller, I would wait until all the leaves have dropped.

In terms of trees that do not coppice well, I only know of two native species in the UK: beech and silver birch. Actually, beech will coppice quite happily provided it is cut when it is young. The beech hedges up and down the country are good evidence of this! I believe the same might be true for silver birch but I don't recall where I read that.
 
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This was helpful information.  I've got a patch of young black locust that I want to coppice for future use (or pollard, so I can use the ground under them for pasture for my goats).  Sounds like I need to get on them.  

I'd also like to know if there's a size that's too small or too big to start cutting for coppice or pollard?
 
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Kathleen, I am sure that varies on the species.

I wouldn't cut anything smaller than the size of my thumb and, ideally, it would be more like the size of my wrist or even leg. I'm talking about diameter, to be clear!

Some species, such as ash (F. excelsior), will grow back readily when a trunk of 16" or more is cut. Others, such as beech, would need to be cut much smaller than that to survive.

Perhaps someone with experience working with black locust can weigh in?
 
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my experience, as mentioned in that other coppice thread, is that trying to coppice black locust frequently leads to the tree shooting up new growth at seemingly random spots on its roots, not just near the original trunk. that way a black locust thicket lies. i don’t have experience with trying to pollard them, perhaps that would yield better results
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Yes, I already have little black locust shoots popping up everywhere.  In the area we want to keep as lawn or garden, they get mowed while tiny.  It wouldn't be an issue to just let them keep popping up in the area designated for coppice (actually, for pollarding, if they will work for that).  But I'd much rather have them grow as pollarded trees, will cut a few and see if it works.
 
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I don't yet have experience to say how young or how small of a diameter a black locust can be successfully coppiced. My experience is on the other side - it is never too late to coppice black locust. On a previous property I cut down a pair of black locusts that were around 70+ years old. The next year there was - as you assumed correctly - a black locust thicket, almost impenetrable, which grew to 12 feet tall in the first year. The sprouts were coming off of roots anywhere up to 40' from the trunks and they were in close proximity to each other, mostly just a couple feet apart through the whole thicket. So from 2 70 year old black locusts sprouted a thicket 80 feet by 80 feet with a stem every couple feet that grew to 12' tall and 2-3" diameters in the first year. I have driven by this property and can confirm that 10ish years later they are now 25'-35' tall and although hard to determine from the road I would estimate the larger stems at 8-12" diameters.

I will probably be cutting a few black locust stems this winter on my current property that are around 7-8 years old, 16-20' tall, 3-4" diameter. I will post next year about how that goes.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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Hmm.  We've got three or four big black locusts -- no estimate on age, but the largest is big enough to make dining tables out of horizontal -- cross-cut -- slabs of trunk -- that need to come down in my back yard.  The existing young black locusts are already coming off of the roots of these trees, be interesting to see what more we get by cutting the big parent trees.
 
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Kathleen Sanderson wrote:I'd also like to know if there's a size that's too small or too big to start cutting for coppice or pollard?



Thanks Kathleen, that was sort of what I was trying to ask! - thanks everyone that chipped in. My expectation would be that if you cut in summer, it would lead to less vigorous growth (like with fruit tree pruning) so if you want to optimise regrowth you would cut when all the growing energy is dormant. But at what age of tree would you need to cut? I've succeeded in cutting common alder at about 5 inch diameter, but have been nervous of cutting my silver birch at the same diameter(it hasn't quite got there yet). I've been told that silver birch coppices better than downy birch, but downy birch is more tolerant of damp ground so I have both. Beech I'm told pollards well, but doesn't coppice so well; pity, because it does seem to be reasonably good growing here as long as the ground is on the well drained side.
 
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Gary Numan wrote:
There are a number of threads here on Permies that list the trees ideal for coppicing.  The list gets bigger and bigger as more folks add their favorites ... what I'd like to see is a list of trees that *don't* coppice, and simply avoid those.


From my experience conifers do not coppice well, you can see it on storm damaged trees that have lost their top. Lots of branches try to be the new top but both the main join and where they curve up are week and more likely to come down in a future storm.
 
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Thank you all! Helpful info here for this very new woodland carer with no coppicing experience!
 
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I think there were a lot of great responses to this question so I'll just a few thoughts.

As with everything, the answer depends - on species, age, site quality to a degree (available sunlight, moisture)... you get the idea.
Many species will successfully resprout when cut after even just one year's growth. I regularly do this with vigorous species like willows, poplars, dogwoods, from which I want small diameter materials from. It is a good idea not to do this indefinitely though as it can be hard on the stool's long term health. But I've also had many plants inadvertently coppiced by wildlife when they were quite small - species like pecan, oaks, hickories, mulberry, etc. The thing is that it's rare that you'll get much useful material from a 1, 2 or 3 year old seedling/sapling. So it usually makes sense to wait until it's grown a bit larger.

Ben Law, one of my mentors, suggested waiting until the stem was of a size useful to you. So in our black locust stand that I planted for rot resistant building poles, I'm waiting until their roughly 8" in diameter so that I get a useful pole with my first coppice cut. But I've accidentally (and intentionally) cut black locust at just a year or two and it's sprouted back just fine.

I usually tell folks that trees and shrubs that I consider to be 'adolescent' are in the prime stages for coppicing. To me that means between about 5 and 35 years. This tends to be when the largest bank of viable dormant buds still persists and is capable of giving rise to vigorous new sprouts.
 
Nancy Reading
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Thank you for your advice Mark. That's quite reassuring, since that is what I am doing - cutting the tree when it becomes a useful size for logs at the base. I feel quite brutal cutting the tree down (my husband gets quite protective of them!) but almost all have grown back successfully, and regrow incredibly fast compared to a newly planted tree (6ft and multibranched v. 2ft  in 2 years is typical for the alder here). I've posted separately about those that haven't grown back here.
 
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