Thursday, December 30, 2010
Coppicing the Privets
My grandparents had a beautiful 8 foot evergreen hedge of privets between their house and the neighboring yard. I noticed that the privet hedge grew profusely and had to be sheared frequently. Privet hedges are no longer popular. But, privets multiply rapidly in dense thickets and are now an invasive species.
Our mini-farm has thousands of wild privets. Left unattended they grow into a 15 foot multi-trunk tree. In early summer, wild privets are covered with bunches of white sweet smelling flowers. In the fall they bend low with loads of tiny blue berries. Wildlife, especially deer, love the berries and even the leaves. But, deer can’t reach the upper branches of the mature trees.
Coppicing is a medieval practice of periodically harvesting trees such as ash that grow back readily from their roots. The trees were cut on about 15 year intervals for firewood and charcoal production or when straight strong wood was needed. In America, redwood trees for lumber are coppiced, although on about a 150 year interval,
After clearing some privets on the banks of our pond, I cut the trunks into pieces for kindling. To our surprise, we discovered that seasoned privet burns like fatwood or resin soaked pine. Except, unlike pine, the privets leave a bed of hot coals. You can’t burn much privet at once, or the fire is too hot. But, short pieces make wonderful fire starters or mixed in with large pieces of oak make a beautiful blaze.
Therefore, we are now coppicing our privets. You usually don’t even need a chain saw. Heavy shears will do. And the privets grow back from the roots in only 4-5 years. Leaving the tops on the ground even helps to keep the deer out of our gardens. Privets are truly a renewable resource, a form of solar energy, plus wildlife friendly. I’m now experimenting with some free growth privet hedgerows on our property boundaries.