Northwest Illinois Forestry AssociationWoodland owners sharing ideas on forest productivity


For trees that are hopelessly deformed, a severe form of corrective pruning called coppicing is used.  Whereas, normal pruning removes side branches or competing leaders, to coppice is to cut the tree completely off close to the ground. This is best done during the dormant period (winter) when the tree has stored most of its sugars (energy) in its roots.

Several sprouts will grow up from the stump in the spring. If this coppiced tree was two or more inches in diameter, then the resulting sprouts usually grow four to eight feet high in their first growing season, depending upon precipitation. These sprouts should be revisited in the next two or three years to select the best sprout and remove the rest.

Coppicing is very effective with oaks and most other hardwoods; it does not work for conifers like pine or spruce. Also, if hardwoods are too old, this procedure is not as effective. It is best used on hardwoods between two and six inches in diameter.  These sizes assure that the tree has established a sufficient root system to support replacing its stem and that it is young and vigorous enough to withstand this shock.

Another purpose of coppicing, although less frequently used, is to shock a stunted tree into a new surge of growth. Some oak trees struggle in the understory; they are only two inches in diameter and yet 30 years old because of the lack of sunlight. If the canopy is thinned (opened up) so that more sunlight reaches the understory and these suppressed understory trees are coppiced, they may respond by re-growing their stems and establishing a faster growth pace.

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