Coppicing And Pollarding Annoy Arborists

Pollarding is a long term commitment.

Coppicing and pollarding are the most extreme of pruning techniques. They may also be among the oldest in some cultures. Yet, arborists are correct to condemn both as improper. Coppicing is the complete removal of all stems and trunks back to a stump. Pollarding is the removal of all stems back to main stems and trunks. Both procedures happen in winter, annually or every few years.

Both coppicing and pollarding stimulate vigorous and prolific cane growth during the next season. Lush foliage of such growth is useful as fodder. Foliage of pollarded mulberry is the primary food of silk worms. Canes are good kindling for the following winter. Thin canes of various species are useful for basketry. New foliage of pollarded eucalypti is useful for both essential oils and floristry.

Of course, few rely on modern urban gardens for fodder, kindling, eucalyptus oil, or basketry material.

Arborists disapprove of coppicing and pollarding because both techniques ruin trees. Many of such trees are too structurally compromised to support the weight of secondary growth after the first year. Consequently, they rely on annual coppicing or pollarding. Some trees will support their weight for a few years. Strangely though, many properly coppiced or pollarded trees live for centuries.

Coppiced trees generate from stumps of cut down trees. Ideally, they begin young. Grafted trees are less cooperative. They are likely to generate suckers below their graft unions. Pollarded trees get to develop their main trunks and limbs prior to their first pollarding procedure. The locations of the first pollarding cuts is very important. Subsequent pruning will be back to the same locations.

Distended ‘knuckles’ develop after repeated coppicing or pollarding back to the original pruning sites. Pruning must be flush to these knuckles. Stubs interfere with healing. Annual pruning leaves smaller wounds than less frequent pruning. Secondary growth should be able to overgrow wounds efficiently. Cutting below knuckles leaves wounds that may be too big to heal before they decay.

Pollarding And Coppicing Appall Arborists

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.

Bad Pollard

P90831KJust about any other arborist will insist that any pollard is a bad pollard. I am not any other arborist. I have no issue with pollarding certain trees properly.

Pollarding is severe pruning that removes all growth that developed since the last pollarding procedure, leaving only a main trunk and a few main limbs. It is done while trees are dormant in winter, and must be repeated either annually or at least every few years, before the resulting growth develops into major limbs. Pruning must be very thorough and neat, leaving no stubs.

Most new growth develops from where older growth had been pruned away during the previous winter, with only a few adventitious stems possibly developing on the main limbs or trunks. Distended ‘knuckles’ develop where this growth repeatedly gets pruned away and regenerates. All subsequent pollard pruning must be done only on the outside of these knuckles, not below.

It may seem easier to cut entire knuckles off with fewer big cuts rather than cutting all the secondary growth off with so many more cuts. However, as new growth develops, the many small cuts on the distended knuckles will be compartmentalized (healed over) much more efficiently than fewer but larger wounds. Wounds that compartmentalize too slowly stay open to decay.

Once pollarded, a tree will always need to be pollarded, or at lease pruned regularly to compensate for compromised structural integrity. Secondary growth is innately vigorous and heavy, but weakly attached to the main limbs.

Pollarding is done to produce an abundance of lush foliage, to produce an abundance of twiggy growth, or to deprive a tree of bloom. Pollarded mulberry trees provide lush foliage to feed silkworms. Pollarded willow trees provide many uniform limber canes for basketry. Pollarded privets are unable to bloom and bother those who are allergic to their objectionably fine pollen.

Well, enough about pollarding.

I pollarded a blue gum, Eucalyptus globulus, for the second time earlier this year. It was done dangerously late in the season, and at the same time that the roots of the tree were brutally damaged by relocation. (It is a canned tree that rooted into the ground.) The tree has no branches, but only a single ridiculously bare trunk with a silly new knuckle on top. Oh, the shame!

As you can see, the unfortunate tree has not grown much since then. It is now getting to be September, so the tree will not be growing much through autumn. As much as I would prefer to pollard this tree annually, I will likely not pollard it this winter, but instead let it grow for another year before pollarding it again. The blue juvenile foliage is exquisitely aromatic, but scarce.

For this picture, I could have moved the tree away from the fence that it is tied to for support, but the barbed wire somehow seems appropriate.

Six on Saturday: Oh, The Shame!


Not my shame of course; but that of the trees in the pictures below.

Do not try this at home. I only did it because I am a horticulturist and arborist; and I happen to be one of the last arborists in America who condones coppicing and pollarding, which are depicted here.

Coppicing is cutting trees or shrubbery down to the ground annually, or at least regularly every few years or so. Some coppiced trees form basal burls or lignotubers. Some just form thicket growth that replaces itself after getting coppiced back to the ground.

Pollarding is similar to coppicing, but rather than cutting all growth back to a stump or stumps at ground level, it involves pruning all growth back to the same distended knuckles at the ends of a few main limbs annually, or at least regularly every few years or so. It is done in such a manner that the pruning wounds are compartmentalized by the new growth of the following year. Knuckles can be elongated by leaving single short stubs.

There are a few reasons for coppicing and pollarding. Some subjects develop an abundance of appealingly lush foliage. Some develop an abundance of appealing or useful twiggy growth. Coppiced red twig dogwoods are much twiggier and more colorful while bare in winter. Pollarded or coppiced willows produce an abundance of canes for basketry. White mulberries are pollarded to provide an abundance of lush foliage to feed silkworms.

I coppiced a Eucalyptus globulus ‘Compacta’ and pollarded a Eucalyptus globulus for two main reasons. Both are such problematic trees that I do not want to plant either into the ground, so must keep them contained. Also, I want the remarkably aromatic juvenile foliage that develops in response to coppicing and pollarding.

1. Eucalyptus globulus ‘Compacta’ coppiced stump. It is not such a great example of a coppiced stump, since the tree did not grow enough two years ago to get coppiced last year. Consequently, the few main trunks that were just recently coppiced are already starting to form their own separate lignotubers on top of the original, which is now rotting below. Soon enough, they will fuse to form a single lignotuber, concealing the evidence.P90601

2. Eucalyptus globulus ‘Compacta’ before getting coppiced. It is quite small for a specimen that was not coppiced last year.P90601+

3. Eucalyptus globulus ‘Compacta’ after getting coppiced. Rhody is not impressed.P90601++

4. Eucalyptus cinerea in need of pollarding. This tree grew too big too fast to survive any longer in the relatively small #15 (15 gallon) can. Fortunately, in just a few days, it will instead get installed into a landscape where it can disperse roots and mature into a normal unpollarded tree. After a few years, it might get pollarded anyway, just to produce silvery juvenile foliage withing reach of the ground, but that is not a concern just yet.P90601+++

5. Eucalyptus globulus pollarded knuckle. This is only the second pollarding procedure for this subject. The first procedure involved lopping the lanky single trunk off right here where the knuckle is now. The multiple limbs that developed were just recently lopped off, leaving this distended knuckle to repeat the process, hopefully annually.P90601++++

6. Eucalyptus globulus pollarded trunk. This is why Eucalyptus globulus should not get pollarded! They look ridiculous if deprived of their naturally elegant form. They do not look much more dignified with multiple pollarded limbs. Oh, the shame!P90601+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Horridculture – Bad Pollarding And Coppicing

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.


P90413KThis is the beginning of one of several new knuckles on a pollarded crape myrtle tree that was pollareded for the first time just this past winter. It was quite a mess of thicket growth that was too congested to bloom well. It is also located in a confined situation where it could not just be groomed, pruned up for clearance, and then just left to develop a larger canopy higher up. Pollarding will both contain it, as well as invigorate healthier growth.
New shoot growth now emerging from the ends of limbs that were pruned back last winter will elongate and eventually bloom through spring and summer. Next winter, after all the colorful autumn foliage has defoliated, the tree will get pruned back to these same knuckles to repeat the process. Stems will get cut back as neatly as possible, leaving no stubs, but such pruning causes knuckles to become slightly more distended as the develop.
Minor shoot growth that develops elsewhere on the mature stems below the developing knuckles should be removed as it appears. It is easy to knock off now, before it gets big enough to need to be pruned off. Knocking it off or ‘peeling’ it off, as drastic as it sounds, is actually better than pruning it off. It removes more of the callus growth that is likely to develop more stem growth later. New growth should be concentrated into the knuckles.
Pollarded crape myrtles bloom later than those that are not pollarded, but they bloom more profusely. They are also more resistant to mildew, and develop better foliar color in autumn.
The picture below shows the same crape myrtle that I got the picture of the single knuckle above from, shortly after it was pollarded. This picture was used another article at:

Charles Grimaldi Brugmansia (not a bio)

P90406KKWhen spelled like that, the whole thing looks like someone’s long name. ‘Charles Grimaldi’ really is someone’s name, and the particular cultivar of brugmansia happens to be named after him. Because no one knows who the parents of this hybrid cultivar are, the species name is omitted. It is therefore described by just the genus name followed by the cultivar name, as Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’; or simply ‘Charles Grimaldi brugmansia’.

After all that, some of us know it, as well as all other cultivars, even more simply as ‘angel’s trumpet’. They are more likely to be distinguished by floral color and form than by cultivar name. For example, Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’ might be described as a single yellow angel’s trumpet. There is also a single white, a double white, a single pink, a single pink with variegated foliage, and so on. Most are fragrant at least to some degree.

This particular specimen was not planned. As I mentioned in my ‘Six on Saturday’ posts earlier today, my colleague, Brent Green, planted it out in the back garden as a wimpy #1 (1 gallon) specimen many years ago. It grew like a weed and displaced a few other perennials that were too close to it. Brent coppiced it to the ground annually for a few years. It grew back and bloomed spectacularly and very fragrantly through each summer.

A few years ago, rather than coppice it back to the ground, Brent had me pollard it on a few tall trunks. Rather than regenerate as a big fluffy and obtrusive shrub that occupied too much of the limited space, it was able to spread out up and above the garden, while the tall and lanky trunks were pruned bare. The abundant and very fragrant flowers naturally hang downward from the upper growth.


P80729Coppiced trees and shrubs are just like pollarded trees, but without the trunk and main limbs. Instead of getting cut back to the same distended knuckles at the ends of disproportionately stout limbs, they get cut back to the same stump just above grade over winter. Some get coppiced annually. Others get coppiced only when they get too big. The coppiced California sycamore in this picture may never get coppiced again.
It was not intentionally coppiced. It had merely been cut down. The trunk was in the middle of where this thicket of secondary growth is now, but all of the canopy was over the adjacent parking lot from which the picture was taken. The tree was so severely and asymmetrically disfigured and leaning that it was unsightly and unmanageable. It really looked ridiculous. Removing the tree and replacing it with a new one would have been more practical than attempting to repair the disfigurement with corrective pruning over many years. Besides, such severe pruning to repair the disfigurement would have caused other disfigurement, and in the end, the tree would still be leaning.
Others California sycamores nearby had been cut down years ago because they were crowded. As the remaining trees continued to grow, those that had been cut down regenerated from their stumps with multiple trunks, and are now getting almost as tall as the others that were not cut down. Some of their smaller trunks will get cut down next winter, leaving them with single, double or triple trunks, but they will not be cut down completely as they were before. Instead, they will be allowed to adapt to their crowded conditions naturally. They are all becoming such appealing trees.
The coppiced but technically cut down California sycamore in the picture will be given the same sort of second chance. While bare in winter, the secondary growth will be pruned to leave only one, two or three trunks to hopefully develop into a new tree on the same spot.

the Good, the Bad, and they’re both UGLY!

P80307Pollarding and coppicing are bad words to most American arborists. These extreme pruning techniques are considered to be synonymous with topping. Yet, both have been around for centuries, and have actually kept some trees alive and productive significantly longer than they would naturally live.

Rather than redundantly explaining what pollarding and coppicing are, and why they are useful arboricultural techniques, I will provide this link to an article I wrote about them earlier:

I am one of the rare American arborists who not only condone pollarding and coppicing, but I also use these techniques when necessary. I will be coppicing red twig dogwood soon so that it produces more vigorous red twigs next year, and also because we can not allow it to grow wild as a thicket. Some of my fig trees will get pollarded to make vigorous shoots for cuttings, and also to keep them contained in their minimal space. Both techniques are very effective if done properly.

I must stress the word ‘properly’.

Improperly executed pollarding or coppicing really is disfiguring, and can be disastrous. Yet, it is done quite often by those who get payed to maintain landscapes!

The picture above illustrates a remarkably well pollarded flowering pear tree. It was obviously done by an arborist who knows how to pollard in the English style. Although it is difficult to see in the picture, the knuckles were pruned back cleanly last year, leaving no stubble. The vigorous secondary shoots developed mostly from the knuckles, with only a few stems emerging from lower on the main limbs. When this tree gets pollarded again (and it may have already been pollarded since this picture was taken last week), it should get pruned back to the same knuckles.

The pictures below show some sort of magnolia that was severely disfigured by maintenance ‘gardeners’, probably for no other reason than it was within their reach. A magnolia can not bloom if all of the stems from the previous year get pruned off by pollarding. This magnolia happened to bloom with a few distorted flowers only because the pollarding was so poorly done, that long stubs remain. These flowers are really nothing to look at within the context of all this unsightly disfigured stems. The long stubs can not be compartmentalized as the new growth develops in spring, so will remain as open and decaying wounds as the tree matures.

So, what is the point of this magnolias even being in the landscape? It contribute nothing. It can not bloom. It can not grow into a tree, but is unappealing as shrubbery. It will always be disfigured. The disfigurement will eventually compromise its health. It would be best if it were merely removed, or at least coppiced and allowed to regenerate. Even if it is a grafted tree, and gets coppiced below the graft, the resulting growth would be an improvement, and might actually bloom if the ‘gardeners’ do not ruing it again.P80307+P80307++

Pollarding And Coppicing Pruning Techniques

80221thumbJust about any other arborist will say that pollarding and coppicing are wrong. These techniques ruin trees so that they can never develop into their natural form. Although restorative pruning after pollarding or coppicing is possible, it is usually more trouble than it is worth. However, no one can deny that properly pollarded and coppiced trees can live much longer than they would naturally.

Pollarding and coppicing are extreme pruning. Coppicing is literally cutting a tree down to a stump just above the ground. Pollarding is almost as severe, but allows the main trunk and main limbs to remain. It does not end there of course. It must be repeated annually to maintain the coppiced stump or pollarded trunk and limbs. Secondary growth gets pruned off, back to the previous cuts.

After this process is repeated for a few years, coppiced stumps and pollarded limbs develop distended ‘knuckles’. Cutting back to but not below these knuckles facilitates compartmentalization (healing) of pruning wounds. Because the secondary growth is only a year old when cut annually, the wounds are relatively small, so they get grown over by new growth during the following season.

English style pollarding leaves one or two stubs of any desired length on each knuckle annually. These stubs are generally but not necessarily selected from stems that are aimed upward and outward. This technique elongates knuckles so that the trees are more gnarly and sculptural. Otherwise, all other stems must be pruned away cleanly. Stubs interfere with compartmentalization.

Pollarding and coppicing are done while trees are dormant in winter, and only to the few specie of trees that are conducive to it. These techniques were historically used to generate firewood, wiry willow stems for weaving baskets, straight fence stakes, or lush foliage for livestock and silkworms. Nowadays, they are done to keep big trees small, enhance the size and color of leaves, enhance the color of bark (on twiggy secondary growth), maintain juvenile foliage, or to prevent the bloom of allergenic flowers.