Thursday, 4 April 2019

Willow - still time to coppice it

Yes, it's that time of year again: last chance to coppice or pollard your domestic willows, before they start growing again.

What's the difference, between pollarding and coppicing? Only a matter of height, that's all. Coppicing is generally done at ankle height, where you chop all the stems off right down low, all at the same time. This causes the plant to throw up a whole heap of nice clean new shoots, all at the same time, so they grow all together, long, thin and straight.

Perfect if you want to grow your own fencing, weaving, or burning material, as long as you have sufficient number of plants to do them on a 7-year cycle, ie cutting just one section of them each year (a different section, of course).

Pollarding is exactly the same thing but higher: these days, we mostly see it done on street trees, the ones that are savagely cut back by the council every year or two, until they are just a trunk with a bunch of knobbles on the top. That's pollarding, and it's done to keep them down to a manageable size.

Back in the day, it was done for a different reason - to prevent the new shoots from being eaten by livestock. Trees would be pollarded at one height if there were cattle in the area: somewhat higher if there were horses, with their longer necks.

In one of "my" gardens I have two rather different pollarding jobs: both on willow trees, but very different in appearance.

The first one is a medium sized multi-stemmed tree (left), next to the lake, which gets so big that it obscures the view, so every second or third year I pollard it.

Here it is in the "before" state, and you can see that the end of each trunk has a fan or bunch of branches all sprouting from the same place - this shows where I have pollarded it in previous years.

Here's a close-up of what it looks like part-way through the job: you can see that there are stems of various sizes, some are spindly little pencil-thick things from last year, some are as thick as a thumb, they'll be two years old, and the fattest ones will be three years old.

It didn't get done last year, so it's been three years.

As you can see, all I do is snip/cut/lop/saw off every single twig or stem, as close as i can to the main trunk.

It can get a bit tricky to reach all the way round: please note the watery background, which tells you that this willow is half in, half out of the water. In order to reach the branches growing out over the water, I have to shin up the trunk, cling like a monkey and lean as far as I dare.

When my bravery runs out, I go and get one of my long-handled tools and do the rest from the bank: it's not quite as "good" as doing them by hand, as it's not possible to see what you are cutting, but willow does not seem to mind...

And this is the finished job, please note the long-handled saw leaning casually against the trunk.

To give you an idea of scale, it's 8' long.

And you can see here, just how much of it leans over the water!

The other willow, the far side of the lake, is quite different: it's a small one, just a little bit more than head height, and in summer, it forms one attachment point for the lakeside hammock, so it is vitally important to keep it in good condition!

This means that I pollard it every year, to keep it small and sturdy.

It may be a lot smaller, but the treatment is exactly the same: secateurs in hand, I snip  off as many of the branches as I can reach, using a lopper for the bigger ones.

I then wriggle round the back of it to snip off the rest, taking great care not to fall in the lake.

 Here's the finished article: you can see how strange and lumpy it looks, but that's what happens when you pollard regularly.

And no, that's not a missed twig sticking out the top - it's a completely different tree, way, way in the background!

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