Cut to the point – time to coppice

Coppicing from the French verb couper, meaning to cut, is a traditional forestry management skill used for hundreds of years to produce wood for firewood, poles and charcoal and to prologue the life of trees. Traditionally trees like Ash, Chestnut, Elder, Beech and Hazel are cut to the ground and then new shoots are left to mature from 7 – 20 years before the new shoots are harvested.

It’s not just for woods and forests though, it has its place in the garden too and late winter/spring, from the end February – March is the time to do it.

What is coppicing? Very simply it’s cutting back trees and shrubs that can withstand hard pruning to 2 -2.5″ (5 – 7cm) from the ground or from the last point of coppicing. Cuts are at an angle pointing away from the base or “stool” of the plant. This a very similar approach to pollardng except that trees are pollarded higher off the ground.

Why would you do it in the garden? There are a number of reasons: For some plants which have coloured stems such as Dogwoods (Cornus), ornamental brambles (Rubus cockburniensis) and willows, cutting them back this hard will promote the plant to produce more new coloured stems. If you want a good display each winter, do this every year.

Some trees such as the Indian Bean Tree (Catalpa) and Judas Tree (Cercis) can be encouraged to produce multi-stemmed plants with larger leaves, while Eucalyptus gunnii will produce many smaller juvenile leaves, useful for flower arrangements.

If you want to reshape and rejuvenate leggy shrubs and small trees such as Smoke Bushes (Continus), Lime (Tilia) and Elder (Sambuccus) this is a good technique, but be aware that some plants may be shocked by the process and might take a year or even two to recover.

If you’ve got a Hazel in the garden you’ll get the added bonus of long straight sticks if you coppice every 3 – 4 years, these are perfect to use as bean or pea sticks in the vegetable garden.

You can regenerate old hedges such as Yew, Hornbeam and Beech, but if you want it to function as a hedge you might want to only coppice some, not all of the plants in your hedge.

All you need to coppice is a sharp bow saw, a strong pair of loppers and some elbow grease.