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Pruning Techniques: Coppicing and Pollarding Trees and Shrubs

Coppicing and pollarding are two types of pruning for trees and shrubs. For hundreds of years, these traditional British methods were used for wood production. Coppicing was ideal for getting wiry stems perfect for baskets, fencing and hurdles; pollarding was a great way to obtain firewood to withstand the harsh winter season. Both of these woodland techniques are still used today, often for ornamental reasons on trees and shrubs whose new growth is brightly colored, such as shrubby dogwoods (shown: Cornus sericea) and willows. Although the outcome is similar, these processes are different, mainly due to the location on the plant where the pruning begins.

cornus sericea dogwood

Coppicing is a pruning technique that cuts trees and shrubs to ground level, causing new shoots to grow rapidly from the base during growing season. This method is commonly used for harvesting the thin shoots, keeping the plants small and to produce larger and/or brighter stems or foliage. Coppicing also creates a multistemmed plant instead of one with a single, large trunk.

Trees and shrubs should be coppiced in late winter or early spring when the plants are dormant. Then they are cut down near or at ground level, creating a stump, known as the “stool.” The cut stems can be harvested, and new shoots will grow during spring or the next growing season. Once coppiced, trees and shrubs should continue this method every one to three years.

Pollarding is when young trees and shrubs are cut to the main stem or trunk, ultimately controlling the height of the plants. This is different from coppicing because the trees and shrubs are not cut at ground level, but much higher, usually around six feet. Pollarding maintains a desired height for the plants, reduces shade and defines the plants’ shape. This method is also employed to prevent tall trees from obstructing electrical wires and phone lines when planted near streets.

Pollarding, like coppicing, begins in late winter or early spring, when plants are no longer actively growing. Ideally, this method should be practiced on young trees and shrubs once they have reached the preferred height. Simply cut back the branches and stems next to the main trunk. Once plants are pollarded, it is important to continue this process for the remainder of their lives because new growth will be weak and break off, potentially damaging the plants. Continue pollarding every year or every other year for best results, cutting back new growth just above the previous cuts.

Pollarding and coppicing your trees and shrubs are not only great ways to help maintain your plants, but these techniques also supply an abundance of harvested wood that can be used for crafts, kindling or garden stakes.

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