Tuesday, July 18, 2017

There's a Word for Everything

Remember a few weeks ago I wrote about how to make your little property more oxygen-friendly? I said that I wait until winter and then cut certain trees down to the nub. They come back in the spring as "bushes."


Remember I said that this "bush" has been here as long as I've lived in the house I live in now, i.e., since 1987?

You don't remember that? Don't feel bad. It happens to all of us.

Anyway, the bored Goddess Cloacina tells me there's a word for this. It's a verb: coppice.

When you coppice a tree, you cut it when it's hibernating. In the spring when the sap rises, and there aren't any leaves to gather sunlight, the tree trunk sends out new branches. Can you believe it? By doing this you preserve the tree in a kind of eternal youth. It will live decades, just like this. And then if you let it get tall, it'll get tall. Or not, you can keep it small.

There are trees in Europe that date to the Middle Ages that have been coppiced. When I was back visiting the family farm in Appalachia, I noticed signs of coppicing there too.


This practice makes me happy, because I have a maple in my back yard that I am growing to make a staff for myself. It's nice to know I can do that without killing the tree.

And speaking of killing trees, I came home from work today to this, across the street:


The general rule of thumb in many forests is to mark "cut" trees with yellow and "save" trees with blue. Look at the color choice here. It could be any color, but the evil developer reveals his inner soul with one swatch of paint.

And so the majestic oak is slated for death, while its little offspring across the road lives on, diminutive and child-like. This consoles me.

A little free advice: Coppice a few of your trees! Why buy some expensive and fragile little bush when you can grow a nice native that will require no maintenance and will rock on for decades?

The economy is humming, so this free advice is really free. I won't have to pay you to take it. Have a nice day!


Janie Junebug said...

I had what I thought was a very large weed in my backyard, but it grew into a tree. If I can manage it, or if my son will help me, I'd like to coppice it. I want to keep it, but I don't want it to continue growing over the fence and hitting my neighbor's garage. Thank you for the information. I hate to see big, lovely trees cut down.


e said...

Many coppiced trees have a strong, tall, sturdy trunk with gnarly looking amputated arms. It's from those arms that the leafy branches spring. In many cities, the sycamore tree is favored for coppicing.

Here's the thing: you have to commit. If you coppice a tree, you are changing its natural growth pattern. When you make it conform to your shape, you change the way it would naturally branch out. Therefore, if you begin coppicing, and then abandon the practice, you injure the tree. It sprouts a bunch of weak branches that compete with each other instead of allowing a leading branch to grow strong.

But, in an urban environment, it is an established horticultural practice. I guess my problem with this practice is that humans have such short attention spans. Your grandmother may have planted a tree and coppiced it back in the early 1900's, but unless it's been cared for properly, it's a mess of branches or it has been cut down. Still, who can stroll the sidewalks of Paris or London or Madrid and not admire those venerable coppiced street trees? Yes, there are boulevards of beauties in this country as well, but the European street trees outdate the US by huge margins. Amazing beings!

Your Appalachian home place has coppiced for wood. It could be cut for cord wood and allowed to carefully grow back. Urban trees are generally coppiced for shade. A trunk with first year growth branches - easy to prune off in the fall.


I just realized that I went on a coppicing diatribe. My bad. I love trees, and I care about what happens to them. It breaks my heart that the two beauties across the street from you are slated for the chainsaw's teeth. I suggest that you go for a day trip that day. It's hard on the soul to be there when big trees are cut down. (PS: I live in timber country and was born in a family of house builders. We are all about the wood. And, we love trees.)
Again, sorry for blurting all over your comment section!

Anne Johnson said...

No apologies, e! I'm glad for the information! I believe the trees on my great--grandfather's farm probably were coppiced for firewood. I did mine by just being too lazy to dig up the little trees. My coppiced oaks are safe as long as I live here. I just love them. One is a pin oak whose parent was cut down years ago.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Coppicing sounds a bit like the Japanese art of bonsai, only much bigger of course. Don't laugh at me, e, I know nothing about trees.

Debi said...

A mighty staff! Very nice! Maybe pinch a branch fro the doomed tree across the way for extra power casting!

Jono said...

I cut the top off of one of the thousands of spruce trees on my property for a Christmas tree for some friends. In the spring it sent out 4 branches upward. After about 5 years there were 4 more Christmas trees available. I didn't know I was coppicing.


who knew?.. not me...thanks for this

Unknown said...

I'm grateful I live in a neighborhood with a preservation society. Trees only come down if they are dead.