P90508Pollarding and coppicing are proper pruning techniques. If you think you are an arborist who believes otherwise, do not waste my time arguing about it. More than likely, you are neither as educated nor as experienced as I am with such matters, or you work exclusively with trees for which such procedures would be very inappropriate.
Well, yes, pollarding and coppicing are very inappropriate for the vast majority of trees and shrubs out there. Furthermore, even for those trees and shrubs that they are appropriate for, such procedures are very rarely done properly here in California. Most attempts at pollarding and coppicing are really horrid!
Take these blue elderberries and mock oranges for examples. They were mutilated last summer to improve the view of the historic Felton Covered Bridge. It sort of accomplished that objective, although the improved view of the Bridge was then cluttered with the disfigured and mostly bare trunks and limbs of the brutalized shrubbery below. Because they were chopped back too late in summer to grow much, they stayed that way until now.
So it is spring, and the shrubbery is growing from the tops of the mutilated but tall trunks and limbs, right back to obstructing the view of the Bridge. They will likely get chopped when they get to be too overwhelming, which again, will be in late summer, repeating the process. It would be better to just remove the shrubbery not only because it would be less work, but also because the shrubbery is so unsightly when it gets chopped!
OR; the shrubbery could get coppiced. Both blue elderberry and mock orange respond favorably to the procedure. If coppiced, or in other words, if pruned back to the ground annually each winter, they could regenerate fresh new growth each spring, but not get big enough to crowd the view of the Bridge by the following winter, when they get coppiced again. The elderberry would not bloom or fruit; but that is not important here anyway.
Coppicing takes advantage of the natural dormancy and regenerative processes of the plants. Starting over fresh each spring and growing uninterrupted through summer is more natural for them than trying to recover from getting brutalized while they are actively growing in summer. Since they start the process at ground level, they have room to grow without interruption. If cut back only as much as necessary, they have no room to grow.

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8 thoughts on “Horridculture – Bad Pollarding And Coppicing

  1. Hi tony, very interesting article and relevant to my garden. Is the mock orange you refer to, also known as Philadelphus? I have a Philadelphus which would be ideal for coppicing. Also, I have a forsythia which is a major headache- if I could coppice it I would be very happy! Any thoughts?

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    1. Yes; mock orange is Philadelphus. Under normal circumstances, I would not recommend pollarding it. Pollarded plants produce only new canes which will not bloom until the following year, but will get removed before that happens, so there is never any bloom. I just wanted this Philadelphus coppiced because of where it is located. It can just grow as low foliar shrubbery there. In a normal garden, it ‘can’ be coppiced, but will not bloom the following year. I have done it to restore old plants. They do not bloom the following year, but resume bloom the second year. The same applies to forsythia. The correct way to prune both Philadelphus and forsythia is known as ‘alternating canes’. It involves the removal of older canes that already bloomed, while leaving new canes to bloom the following year. In extreme cases, the plants can be pruned annually leaving only new canes that developed the previous year. They will bloom in spring as they should. If you prefer a bigger plant, you can leave the new canes, as well as one year old canes . . . . or new canes and one year old canes AND two year old canes . . . and so on, depending on how bit you want the plants to get. Of course, it is not possible to know how old some of the canes are, so it is not an exact science. For the biggest plants, it can be an almost free for all, with only the oldest and gnarliest canes getting pruned out. I do that with filberts and red twig dogwoods. I just cut out the tired old canes that are arching over and getting crowded, leaving younger and more vertical canes.

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