OLR Diaries – the wonder of the woodland in winter

In winter the woodland is relatively dormant. The fallen leaves are slowly rotting down and their litter provides a mulch (or soil cover) that naturally suppresses herbaceous plant growth that would otherwise compete with the trees in the growth season for nutrients and water. This soil cover also keeps in the moisture whilst providing a rich soup of decomposing material that gradually feeds the soil and thereby the plants… amazing!

This is the time of year to get out your tools, check that they are sharp and set to…. if you’re anticipating being out alone for a while, don’t forget to follow a lone working policy – simply, tell someone where you are going to be and what time you expect to return (not forgetting to let them know later when you’ve got your feet up by the fireside but they might still be worrying about how you’re doing with all those sharp tools in the dark!!)

Quality tools make light work! This month I’ve been pruning using Tabor Tree secateurs and Fiskar loppers to lightly shape the newly established apple trees, more on pruning fruit trees in another blog but the main job has been tackling some of the bigger hazel stools, coppicing them using the Silky Super Accel pruning saw to provide wood for Outdoor Learning Resources new range of ‘Tree Chunks’ products as well as many other uses. These Japanese steel Silky saws are just the tool for coppicing, slicing through the green wood very easily on the pull cut and leaving a lovely smooth finish. The important thing to remember when coppicing is to always leave the tree (parent plant) in good condition. Sustainability and continuing production on a rotational cycle is your aim and that can’t be done if disease and poor growth is a result of your coppicing methods.

1. Making a ‘step’ cut helps to ensure that you are able to leave the parent plant in good condition
2. Finishing off the cut to leave a smooth surface that will resist water / disease ingress
3. work around the tree until all the stems are cut to the same level

Coppicing is an ancient method of removing useful wood and thereby encouraging fresh new growth from the plant. Cutting should only be carried out between late November and early March to avoid compromising the health of the parent plant. Even if you’ve only got a few trees that could be coppiced (willow, hazel, chestnut, birch are all suitable) try to set up a rotation so that you have a supply of recently cut green wood every year. It is recommended that all the branches are removed at the same time, leaving a ‘stool’ of smooth stumps as close to the ground as possible except if you have a reason to leave a ‘leg’. Pollarding is a form of coppicing that leaves a ‘leg’ of 1.5 – 2m above which the plant is coppiced. This enabled the grazing of sheep or woodland pigs to run underneath the regrowing branches. If deer roam in the woodland, lay some of the brash (offcuts of twiggy branches) over the stool to protect the new growth in spring from hungry mouths, they will find plenty to eat elsewhere!

Finally, trim up the cut stems using an axe or a billhook. The new Hultafors Swedish made axes that we are now stocking are a dream for this type of job, they come in a range of weights and sizes but all of them make light work of trimming up (snedding) splitting or shaping green wood branches.