Pollarding is disturbingly severe but effective.

Very few arborists in America condone the extreme pruning techniques known as pollarding and coppicing. Both techniques essentially ruin trees, and deprive them of their natural form. Affected trees likely require such procedures to be repeated every few years or annually. Otherwise, they are likely to succumb to resulting structural deficiency. Restoration of such trees is rarely practical.

Pollarding is severe pruning to remove all except the main trunk and a few or perhaps several main limbs. Coppicing is even more severe, and leaves only a stump. Both are done while subjects are dormant through winter. Most or all new growth that develops is spring is concentrated around pruning wounds of the previous winter. Some coppiced stumps generate growth from the roots.

If pollarded or coppiced annually, all growth that developed during the previous season gets pruned cleanly away to where it grew from since the previous procedure. Distended ‘knuckles’ develop at the ends of pollarded limbs or coppiced stumps as the pruning is repeated for a few years. ‘English’ pollarding leaves a well oriented stub of any desired length to slowly elongate each knuckle.

Pruning wounds should be as flush to each knuckle as possible, without intrusive stubble. The many small pruning wounds left on each distended knuckle will compartmentalize (heal) efficiently as new growth develops during the following season. Pruning below a knuckle might seem to be more practical, but leaves a single but big wound that could decay before it gets compartmentalized.

Delaying pruning for a few years creates bigger wounds, and allows innately structurally compromised stems to get heavy.

Pollarding and coppicing were developed a long time ago to produce kindling, fence stakes, cane for basketry, and fodder for livestock, as well as silkworms. Nowadays, it is done to contain big trees, enhance the size and color of leaves, produce juvenile foliage, produce colorful twiggy growth, or prevent unwanted bloom or fruit. Not many trees are conducive to such severe techniques.

4 thoughts on “Pollarding And Coppicing Appall Arborists

  1. They love doing this to trees in my neighborhood. A guy comes along with a chainsaw he got for Christmas and tells the homeowner he can save them having to rake so many leaves and proceeds to dismember their tree for them. He never shows up again and the tree turns into an ugly rat’s nest of branches shooting off every which way.

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    1. That is a problem that my colleague down south contends with in the Los Angeles region. Trees are supposed to be protected by municipal ordinance, but enforcement is a joke. I really do not mind pollarding and coppicing if done properly. The problem is that it is almost never done properly. I would not recommend it to clients, mainly because I know it would be impossible to find an arborist who would continue the work properly and annually. However, I do it to some degree in my own garden. I even have a pollarded blue gum out there . . . which is VERY embarrassing for an arborist who should know better. I want the very aromatic juvenile foliage, but can not accommodate the tree. Pollarding does not allow it to develop into a tree, but provides only juvenile foliage.

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    1. Yes it is, but at least it is mostly done properly there. The English particularly know how to do it. The technique that I use works for me, but eventually produces huge distended knuckles like those in the picture. English pollarding is more sculptural and more sustainable. If I pollard a Schwedleri Norway maple, I might use the English technique.

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