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Pollarding and Coppicing

  • Pollarding and Coppicing
  • Pollarding and Coppicing
  • Pollarding and Coppicing
  • Pollarding and Coppicing

It's that time of year again... time to pollard or coppice those shrubs that really benefit from it.

If you're not familiar with those terms, they both mean the same thing: cutting down all the stems of a tree or shrub to a certain point, all at the same time, on a regular cycle.

The most familiar ones are those street trees that you see, the ones that are savagely cut back by the council every year or two, until they are just a trunk with a bunch of knobbles on the top. That's pollarding.

Coppicing is exactly the same, but at ankle height, and when walking on footpaths through scrappy old bits of woodland, you may will have seen Hazel growing as a mad tuft of straight stems which sprout from ground level, instead of growing like a tree, with one stem. That's the remains of an overgrown coppice.

Since time immemorial, coppicing was used to force trees such as Hazel, Willow, and Sweet Chestnut to give up the single-stem "trunk" life, and go for the multi-stem style. This is to produce a crop - materials which can be cut and used for making fences ("hurdles"), for making charcoal, for weaving into baskets, for producing fodder, for using as firewood ("faggots" which are just bundles of twigs tied tightly together, much as we make newspaper "logs" these days), and for many other uses.

Hazel coppice is usually done on a 7-year cycle, a Hazel woodland would be divided into seven parts, and every year, one section, in rotation, was coppiced. This ensured a steady flow of material, year after year, and gave the plants time to grow back to the required size before being cut again.

We do this in the garden as well, usually annually: Dogwoods (Cornus) with bright winter-colour stems look best if they are coppiced - cut down annually to ankle or knee height. This allows them to produce a new batch of long, straight stems every year, which have great colour the following winter. Un-coppiced Dogwoods are usually sad brown gnarly things with a small outer fringe of bright colour.

You could almost say that we pollard our Wisteria: to get the best flowers, we cut them back really hard every year, to a framework of the oldest wood, and in effect, that's pollarding, as is the annual Buddleia slaughtering: as with the Dogwoods, it prevents them getting too big, getting too gnarly, and getting top-heavy.

Then there is the lovely Cotinus coggygria, or Smoke Bush: to get the best foliage from them, they should be cut back hard every year, and they suit the head-height pollarding as well. It has the added benefit that it stops them getting too large for the space, as well! I wrote about Cotinus pollarding here.

So, which trees or shrubs do you coppice or pollard, in your garden?

Comments (3)

  1. Grower

    Mike Hill

    In my garden, Paulownia - coppicing each year gets the biggest leaves although prevents the production of the lovely purple flowers. But the garden is only small so there isn't room for a mature tree, plus, although the flowers are lovely, the tree is pretty weedy and not much to look at for the rest of the year.
    Plus, sort of, Melianthus major - quite often this is cut back by the winter so I get rid of the old stems and start again. This year the stems from last year are still looking OK but I will cut them back to just above ground level as the fresh young growth looks best.

  2. Grower

    Rachel the Gardener

    Hi Mike, Paulownia leaves are lovely, aren't they? I do this for a couple of my Clients, and one year I measured the leaves - most of them were well over a yard across!

    It's a great way to get a "big" tree into a "small" garden...and I agree with your comments about Melianthus major, sometimes it's best to just chop them all down and start again.

  3. Grower

    Mike Hill

    I grow Melianthus alongside (well mingled with) Arundo donax, they go very well together and I give them both the same treatment. One year the stems stood through the winter and both flowered in year 2 but while it was an interesting experiment the plants looked too ratty for my liking

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