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Coppicing/Pollarding - How Old is Too Old?

 
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Howdy all - I will admit, I am unashamedly here to qualify myself for Mark's book :) but I do have a question about coppicing old/big trees.

Specifically I have a very tall Populus tree on my property. IT is getting to the point where it is dropping quite large branches from ~70 feet up, and there are some cracks developing in some larger crotches. Is there any chance of slowly, over the course of some years, cutting and pruning this old one into a coppiced or pollarded tree?

With the increased incidence and severity of windstorms, I fear its only a matter of time before this tree is blown over or snapped, as its in savanna and is the tallest thing for ~ 100 meters in all directions. It would be great to be able to keep this one growing for decades to come.

Thanks!
 
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This is also my question. Planting here is crazy-difficult, because it's all rock & heavy clay. We've a mixture of old and young growth (we live in the woods), but I don't know where to draw the line, when it comes to coppicing older growth.
 
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Dustin Everett wrote:With the increased incidence and severity of windstorms, I fear its only a matter of time before this tree is blown over or snapped, as its in savanna and is the tallest thing for ~ 100 meters in all directions. It would be great to be able to keep this one growing for decades to come.


I don't know your particular flavour of poplar. A picture would help. My long term observation suggests these general principles:

If it's in the middle of nowhere, leave it be.

If it might come down and threaten buildings, fences, take it down in a controlled way. I have a couple of four-storey monsters that I have to deal with (balsam poplar) because I know from experience that they rot from the centre about 3' up and eventually there is only a living rind. They will fail if the right windstorm comes along, and do serious damage to my apple and spruce trees and fences.

But here's the "fun" part about poplars (in my experience): the rootstock does not die if you take off the main stock. In fact, if you start pollarding/pruning it aggressively, it will trigger the root system to go nuts and kick out an entire forest of clones. You may also trigger this response (deliberately or accidentally) by hassling the root system with various sharp implements.

I have the remainder of a poplar (white/trembling aspen) that I chopped off 10 years ago that keeps invading one of my terraced growing beds, and sucking out all the nutrients and moisture. It is a tenacious and unwelcome little SOB that is mighty hard to kill.

My 2c.
 
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So good question Dustin. Again, the answer depends. Species and context specifically (and the specific age). Some species like oak, chestnut and even the mighty redwood will coppice at quite mature ages. Others like birches are unlikely to sprout with much vigor beyond 30-40 years.

I'd assume the poplar you describe is a very poor candidate for pollarding. It sounds very weak to begin with and I can't see any reason to try to preserve the aerial architecture and keep it productive. Coppicing on the other hand ought to do exactly what Douglas described - rejuvenate it by stimulating a bunch of new root suckers. This could be great for you if you'd like a bunch of young poplars springing up - or a headache (or worse) if it's near your terraced garden beds like Douglas. Sometimes, with poplars you don't really get to choose. As the tree gets stressed, it starts to develop new root suckers so that the organism persists in the landscape.

If you're okay with suckers and it's already somewhat hazardous, I'd suggest cutting it. It'll likely trigger sprouting both from the stump and also from the roots and you'll have a healthily rejuvenated stand of poplars in its wake.
 
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Carla Burke wrote:This is also my question. Planting here is crazy-difficult, because it's all rock & heavy clay. We've a mixture of old and young growth (we live in the woods), but I don't know where to draw the line, when it comes to coppicing older growth.



Again Carla, it really depends on the species and I don't know the properties of all species. But I generally tell people that coppicing is best done when trees are 'adolescent'. To me this means between 5 and maybe 30+ ish years old. Older trees often will resprout but may lack in vigor, especially initially. Also, keep in mind that the new sprouts want as full sun conditions as you can provide.
 
Carla Burke
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Thanks, Mark! That's good to know - and about half of our tree population thanks you, from the bottom of their heart wood!
 
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I walked past a fairly large ash stump today that is showing quite strong regrowth. I thought if this thread and snapped a couple of photos. Ash is known for its strong regrowth butx even despite this, I find it amazing to see a large tree regrowing like this.
PXL_20221203_134948589.jpg
Regrowth
Hand for scale
PXL_20221203_134941946.jpg
Hand for scale
Regrowth
 
Carla Burke
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Luke, that is SO COOL!!! Thank you for sharing it - it offers some hope, for some of the bigger trees we have!
 
Luke Mitchell
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I found another couple of examples today. There have been a lot of big ash trees felled nearby due to the Ash Dieback epidemic. I hadn't noticed how many of them were regrowing until now!
ash-tree-regrowth.jpg
[Thumbnail for ash-tree-regrowth.jpg]
 
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