Coppiced Trees and Shrubs in Your Garden

Chestnut coppice, sweet chestnut, coppicing

Coppiced Trees and Shrubs in Your Garden is a read-alone blog. But you may like to have a read of some of the related articles in Plews Potting Shed. The links are at the end.

Managed woodland is one of four sub-sections to woodland habitats in temperate climates. These Woodland habitats will be: –

  • Natural or unmanaged woodland
  • Managed woodland
  • Woodland edge
  • Hedgerows

Managed woodland has been an important part of rural life and economy for hundreds of years. And the concept of sustainable forest and woodland management has been recognised internationally for over twenty years. This sustainable management ensures good practices and greater benefits to the landowner and public both today and for the future.

The objectives may vary, for example: –

  • timber production
  • sporting uses
  • wood fuel
  • wildlife conservation
  • public recreation

The methods or practices for managing the woodland will be determined by these objectives.

Which is all very laudable, but you may be asking the question: And how does that relate to my garden?

Let us consider coppicing.


Managed Woodland – Coppicing

Coppicing is where trees are coppiced, ie pruned, near the base of their main trunk. This encourages new growth of multiple trunks. It also allows more light to reach the woodland floor, enabling a wider selection of species to thrive. The coppiced wood is used for fencing, furniture, fuel.

Only deciduous trees are coppiced and pollarded. Generally speaking, conifers do not re-shoot when hard pruned so are not suitable for this technique.

a stand of coppiced sweet chestnut, castaneas sativa, managed woodland

It is possible to see traces of previously coppiced woodland when you’re out walking in the country. See those Beech trees and Sweet Chestnut trees,  with many trunks coming from one base? They were coppiced in the past, they both naturally have a single trunk, not many.

You should be able to find rows of coppiced Beeches which mark old boundaries. This was a practical way to utilise the wood as a marker where a fence was not necessary and generate a useful product. Coppicing was also known at cutting the underwood. John Evelyn refers to the practise in “Sylva, or a Discourse on Trees” in the 1660s.

Managed correctly, coppicing can prolong the life of trees. There’s a lime tree at Westonbirt Arboretum which may be 2000 years old.


But why would you want coppiced trees and shrubs in your garden?

Coppicing is a system which would work well in your garden as part of: –

  • a small managed woodland
  • a winter garden or winter border
  • forest gardening
  • a wildlife friendly habitat
  • an ornamental planting scheme
  • a grow your own garden
  • a boundary
  • restoration of mature shrubs

Whether yours is a large country garden or a small town garden, coppiced trees and shrubs can add to your enjoyment. They enable smaller gardens to enjoy many of the benefits that trees bring. Even courtyard gardens can join in as it is possible to grow coppiced trees and shrubs in large pots and raised beds.

Larger gardens obviously have more scope to offer when designing. For example, they have the space to include a managed woodland habitat and a designated winter garden.

There are many design options that coppicing will work with and some are multi-tasking. From the above list, a winter border could be a separate area or the winter interest planting included as part of the overall planting design.

Planting idea for a winter border

A dark green Yew hedge planted in front with groups of brightly coloured Cornus is winter pleasure. Add Hellebores and Snowdrops to add another layer of interest without detracting from the vibrant stems.

cornus siberica, red winter stems, winter garden, dogwood, deciduous shrub

You don’t have or don’t have room for a clipped Yew hedge? The Cornus will still look effective placed against a brick wall or fence. Remember to choose colours which will contrast with the backdrop.


Coppiced Trees and Shrubs – Grow your Own Gardens

If practicality and a productive garden are important, then coppiced trees and shrubs should be integral to the garden design. I will be writing about Forest Gardening and Permaculture in further blogs. For more help with coppicing and edible gardens in your own garden, do get in touch about Plews Gardening Courses.

Coppicing will provide you with cut wood. Depending on the tree or shrub, these give you: –

  • firewood,
  • supports for tall herbaceous perennials and flowering bulbs like dahlias,
  • a framework for runner beans, peas and other climbing vegetables in the kitchen garden,
  • juvenile foliage for flower arranging,
  • timber for garden fencing and trellis,
  • nuts for eating,
  • wind shelter for tender plants,
  • bee forage – you need pollinating insects,
  • hoops to protect young plants from rabbits and light frost

hazel , coppiced wood, corylus avellana

Coppiced Trees and Shrubs in Your Garden – which Species?

There are quite a few – you may be surprised! Some are native species and some are introduced non-natives. Although we’re discussing coppicing here, many of these trees and shrubs are also suited to pollarding. Some are suitable for decorative purposes, such as encouraging large, showy leaves on the Catalpa. Others have a more practical appeal.

Native species

  • Ash, Fraxinus excelsior
  • Beech, Fagus sylvatica
  • Birch, Betula
  • Dogwood, Cornus sanguinea
  • Hazel, Corylus avellana
  • Hornbeam, Carpinus betulus
  • Lime, Tilia cordata
  • Oak, Quercus
  • Willow, Salix

Eucalyptus, juvenile foliage, coppiced eucalyptus, managed woodland, decorative bark

Naturalised and introduced non-native species

  • Catalpa bignoides
  • Dogwood, Cornus species
  • Eucalyptus species
  • Paulownia tomentosa
  • Sweet chestnut, Castanea sativa
  • Sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus


Coppiced Trees and Shrubs in Your Garden – inheriting, restoring, buying

Inheriting a garden full of mature shrubs can be a mixed blessing. First establish what is healthy enough or in the right place for you to keep. Devise a plan. Remove unwanted and sick shrubs. The rest will need a plan of restorative pruning. Remember not all shrubs can be successfully hard pruned or coppiced. And even those which can may take a while to recover. (A Plews Garden Consultancy visit and report can help you with all this).

If you’re planning a lot of new shrubs and trees for coppicing, purchasing bare-root plants is more cost effective. These are available over the winter months. Allow them to grow a strong root system before beginning your coppicing.

coppiced eucalyptus, managed woodland, decorative bark, trade nursery

Choosing container grown plants for coppicing means you may find a specimen which has already been started for you. Cornus is easily found as a semi-coppiced container grown plant. Birch and Eucalyptus are available, but they won’t be cheap as large trees will have taken some years to develop the coppiced stool.


Maintaining Coppiced Trees and Shrubs in Your Garden

Once established, coppiced trees and shrubs are easy maintenance. An annual pruning is the main task, and this is easily done with the tools most gardeners have in their shed. Loppers generally cut a bigger diameter of stem than secateurs. A pruning saw is essential for clean cuts on larger stems.

Coppiced woodland is managed according to the use the wood and timber is going to be put to. In your garden, you can be more flexible. When you prune depends on why you’re coppicing. For decorative stems of dogwood and willow, prune in late March. If you’re growing ash for firewood, then coppice in the winter.

Cut to about 5-8cm from the ground, just above a bud. This will create the coppice stool from which the new shoots will grow. You may want to cut all the stems off if you only have one specimen and it takes more than a few months to grow shoots. In which case, take out a third of the shoots each year.

cornus alba 'Kesselringii' stooled, coppicing, black stems, coppiced shrub, winter gardens

Although this whistle-stop tour about coppicing is from a garden perspective, coppiced trees and shrubs are an excellent productive addition to your allotment.

Do have a look through the links in the blog and suggestions below for more ideas and tips. Or contact us for the personal approach to your gardening needs with Gardening Lessons, Garden Consultancy and Garden Design. For landscaping go straight to Plews Garden Landscaping, our sibling company.


National Tree Week UK began in 1975 and is an annual celebration of our trees at the end of November / beginning December. It is timed for this point in the year as this coincides with the beginning of the bare root tree season. In 2017 National Tree Week UK runs from November 25th – December 3rd.


Related Gardening articles you may enjoy from our Award Winning Blog

Introduction to Woodland Habitats in Your Garden
Celebrating Trees for National Tree Week
Creating Small Wildlife Habitats in Your Garden

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