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Coppicing American Hornbeam aka Ironwood Tree

 
pollinator
Posts: 285
Location: North Carolina, USA Zone 7b
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I've searched this forum and found one reference to this tree being very high on the list of trees for firewood coppicing but nothing about the growth habit or coppicing advice.    I just acquired free,  3 saplings to plant in the understory of two old giant pecan trees.   I'm hoping to build an RMH or the Walker cook stove this year and am wondering about the following:

-  how far apart to plant the trees.   These are 15-20 feet diameter full grown but can they be closer since I'm coppicing - or will their roots still need to extend 20 ft ?

-  what age to start coppicing and what will the diameter of the limbs be at that age?  

-  A google search indicates they are slow growing so I wonder if a 3 yr rotation is too fast to get any volume from one tree

I have a very small house and hope that with a mass heater and I don't cook much,  I probably won't need a cord of wood per year - plus I have lots of dead fall from my giant old pecans.  But when I get to be an old lady (almost there :)   it will be nice to have a steady supply of small wood, easy to cut with my new pole saw :)

Thanks anyone!

 
 
Posts: 379
Location: SW PA USA zone 6a altitude 1188ft
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First, I have no experience with ironwood, never cut it and never burned it. I have burned a lot of wood over a couple decades, tried to keep my home warm with nothing but the firewood. I did have a gas furnace though that kept it livable through cold spells. I had mostly Maple, Wild Black Cherry, and red and white Oak. These all grew from seed.

Ironwood is a very hard wood, perhaps the hardest. The reason a wood is hard because it grows slow. I'd suggest you find a piece of Ironwood and look at the growth rings. They say that this wood will grow a foot high per year. If you're expecting that in 8 years you'll have firewood; for instance. In 8 years it will be 8 foot tall. We can guess at the diameter of the trunk. I'd guess maybe 2, 3 inches.

If I grew firewood, I'd want a large piece of ground. I'd scatter a LOT of seed. I'd expect to wait maybe twenty years. I'd want the trees growing close together to make them grow straight and without a lot of branches that'd make it hard to split. As they grew I might thin them out and burn that. In twenty years the trees will be producing seed which I'd count on to keep my wood lot going. In my area after 20 years I'd guess they'd be 4 inches? in diameter.
 
gardener & author
Posts: 1933
Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
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My experience of pollarding willows in the region I live in, is that they take several years to get established, but once they do, they grow faster and faster, so the interval between pollarding decreases, and/or you get a lot more mass of wood from a single tree each time.

I thought ironwood got its name because the wood is very very hard. If so, it might be a bit tough on your pole saw when you get old... But then again, hard wood might be dense and if so, would give a lot of heat for its volume.

I like having a variety of trees in case something goes wrong with one type, or in case it turns out they have different useful qualities. But when pollarding or coppicing it's good to have an area of the same kind of tree, and pollard one area per year. Otherwise some individuals can crowd out others.
 
Susan Pruitt
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Posts: 285
Location: North Carolina, USA Zone 7b
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John thanks for your thoughtful response - but where in heck would a city girl go "find a piece of ironwood" to look at the growth rings - haha!   Anyway,  your info is helpful and interesting.   I have  2/3 acre in town so my goal is simply to have some redundancy in firewood sources.  I'm still able to scavenge for limbs and pallets while I'm waiting for my coppice trees to grow.   We have "yard waste" curbside pickup in my city so it's not uncommon to find small tree sections around neighborhoods.   I just don't want to be doing that when I'm 80 :)

Rebecca - I hadn't thought about the coppiced branches will grow faster - makes sense when I watch the root suckers on my fruit and ornamental trees.   And that's a good point about the hardness for cutting.   My pole saw actually works better with stiff, hard branches but I should plan for sharpening or replacing the chain frequently.

Meanwhile folks,  I found this old thread with a ton of info and links to the tree experts.  Not sure how to link it here but the thread title is  "What is the best way to grow fuel for an RMH"
 
Posts: 123
Location: Eastern Ontario
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You need extremely fast growing trees  that are aggressive coppicers  if you plan on keeping your house warm by sustain-ably managing 2/3s of an acre.  Ironwood is neither. 2/3rds of an acre of Ironwood wont keep you warm. I would recommend black locust, coppiced on short rotations.  Its fast growing and very dense.  Its only con in your case is its young branches and stems (and thats all you are going to have is young branches and stems!) are covered in thorns.  But if you wear protective clothing you should be fine.  Other options to consider are hybrid poplar and willow. But they are not as dense as locust.

Ive burnt black walnuts nuts and they produce loads of heat.  Around here people cant be bothered preparing BWs for eating and just throw them out with the rest of the yard waste.  If your neighbours do too dont forget to scavange them too for burning or eating.

Last year I bought a Sedore stove (https://www.sedoreusa.com) , they are pricy but can burn any biomass including woodchips, pellets even used coffee grinds.  Maybe consider one of them? You could chip up the tops of your black locusts and then burn all of the tree.

 
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