Plant Systems

Managing a Coppiced Eucalypt Forest

In Australia we really need to get back to our European roots of coppiced forest systems.

As Darren Doherty states, we push out the stump after we cut the tree, when the eucalypts coppice beautifully.

Ben Law, author of The Woodland Way, also talks about the various products that come from a coppiced forest in England.

In my travels to Morocco, I have seen quite clearly the value of coppicing, where there are eucalyptus trees coppiced about every five years for firewood, simple structures and formwork props for construction, just to name a few uses.

Eucalyptus oil that we all know so well comes from a coppice system. In my childhood my father cut and distilled eucalyptus oil in a four year coppice rotation — the same as his father and his father did, so you can see how perpetual this system is.

So it is in my opinion we really need to examine this behaviour, and hopefully this article can help you get a better understanding of the value of coppicing and maintaining the structure and services of a forest while having a continuous harvest of varying products, instead of one harvest every 30+ years and clear-felling the lot, only to replant.

Of course there is the argument that coppiced trees are of a lesser quality, due to the un-proportioned root mass, making the tree grow too fast and having less density in the wood, but as any carpenter in Australia would admit, the pine from plantations we use for our home constructions is rubbish.

Note site history: My father cut mill logs off this site some 40+ years ago and my uncle cut mine props off this site some 25+ years ago. Nearly all the trees that you can see in this picture have been coppiced.

As you can see above, this coppice system still resembles a functioning
forest with a mix of species of varying ages, including habitat trees.

A tree which I felled and milled 6 months ago, the stump sprouting,
the cycle of coppice begins again.

Six year old regrowth from a coppiced tree, recently pruned to a single stem.

15 year old coppiced tree, the original tree has been removed for harvest.

Coppiced regrowth before pruning

After pruning to single stem.
Once the main tree is removed this stem will rocket away!

I like to describe pruning as being like steering traffic — you’re just directing energy flows, choosing what to keep and favour.

Editor’s Note: Ever-practical David Spicer will be running a 2-day Portable Saw-Milling course starting May 4, 2013 (with an optional 1-day Chainsaw Certification add-on), and will also be co-teaching (with Danial Lawton) a 2-day Rural Skills and Sharp Hand Tools course on October 14 and December 16.

David Spicer

David Spicer’s approach to design and education is based upon a proven emphasis on practicality, having over 18 years experience in Permaculture education working and teaching with Bill Mollison at the Permaculture Institute (Tasmania) and Geoff Lawton, the managing director of the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia and Zaytuna Farm. He is renowned for his ability to explain concepts and ideas simply, conveying the basics. David previously worked as farm manager of the renowned Tagari Farm and Zaytuna Farm in northern New South Wales. He has taught and worked extensively within Australia and internationally on various projects, covering six Australian states, Morocco, Jordan, New Caledonia and Palestine covering a broad array of different climate zones. David is a valued member of the team headed up by Geoff Lawton. He has the distinction of being Registered Teacher #5 with the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. David currently serves as Lead Consultant and Educator for


  1. Interesting article.

    You may want to disclaim that epicormic regrowth of Eucalyptus (any tree really) has a higher risk of failure and therefore must be managed accordingly.

    Fine in a forest sense of agroforestry, not recommended for a backyard.

    Nice photo of your scarf, did you cut your holding wood?

  2. Gday SOP In my expeirence and I’m not a forester but as stated in article above, I have been working in eucalypt forests for a while and see that eucalyptus clearly coppice from the pics above and from a family history of coppicing with eucalyptus oil production.

    Yes, of course any tree might fail from a whole lot of reasons but conifers don’t coppice, which is what our state forestry plant and cut and replant.

    As for my falling skills, I would not be still in the land of the living if I cut my holding wood/god wood/hinge wood, if you look you can see the break, but maybe difficult from that angle of photo taken


  3. David,

    You’re much better than I. Your levels and back cut height are impeccable. What saw?

    My bread and butter is dealing with lopped Eucalyptus and I felt it must be said that once a tree is lopped and regrowth is allowed that the management practices are different. I’d hate to see someone read your article and think it was a good idea for a tree with a high target value nearby.

    My feelings are in the ether now so hopefully someone can double take on it.

  4. Absolutly mangment is different, a coppiced tree has a much greater tendentcy to break away from the stump so thats something to consider, diffently in the urban enviroment

    the chainsaw, is a lttle stihl 023, my bigger saw is out of action at the monment which made it interesting to falling, having to do the back cut from both sides

    I’m hoping to do a youtube video of falling soon, because I’ve certainly made mistakes when falling tree’s and would like other people to learn from them

  5. Eucalyptus species vary in their ability to coppice which may be causing some of the disagreement here. I recommend the excellent book Firewood Crops ( volumes one and two, which list efficient firewood trees of the world including their ability to coppice. Some eucalypts coppice once or twice and then die, others never coppice, still others can coppice for five cuttings to indefinitely.

  6. G’day Dave, the caption for that second last photo could perhaps read ‘coppiced regrowth of the coppiced coppice’.

    Thinning of regrowth forest is the other big discussion that needs to be had. There’s lots of room under the ‘Private Native Forestry Agreement’ to legally thin regrowth forest, giving crowns more room to spread, leading to bigger stems and often more diversity in the under storey (It’s very easy to obtain a 15 year permit by the way, therefore avoiding potentially large fines). By doing so, we can create a far more valuable stand for future generations on a number of levels (compared with the stagnant, moribund crap you see in so many places). If you’ve got gullies, this thinning material can be used to repair those at the same time.

    I agree that the European foresters can offer valuable knowledge, but remember too that our past foresters have been pretty amazing in their own right. Many of the ‘old growth’ forests which the hardcore activists want set aside as National Park have in fact been expertly managed on a long term selective logging rotation. Unfortunately, forestry has been painted in a very bad light by environmental groups over the past couple of decades, and interest in this important profession has dwindled greatly. It’s ironic, because as David Holmgren writes, in Australia a well managed, selectively logged native forest, with the supporting biodiversity that contains, can be the most sustainable form of timber production.

    Great coppice resource Eric. Good to remember that coppicing longevity can differ between climate zones though. As an example, Geoff told me that he favours exotic tropical leguminous shrubs and trees at PRI because in his experience, many of the native Acacias don’t coppice. The same species he was talking about coppice multiple times in the more temperate zones (hence we have the luxury of utilising less controversial species as our support species in S.E Australia).

    I find that locally adapted Eucalypts in temperate Oz generally coppice multiple times (which is the case for the spp Dave’s cutting down as the caption in the first paragraph suggests)

    The great thing about leaving some unmanaged coppice is the multiple stems you can harvest of 100-150mm diameter off a single tree. This means no splitting is required for good sized firewood (a tip from the ever personal energy saving Rick Coleman).

    All the best,

  7. Thanks for the link Eric, interesting read. for me the article was to highlight the value of coppice forestry and it’s great we have people like Dave Jacke coming out to OZ to teach about this subject.
    I am, as Bill Mollison plainly puts it, a ‘bastard from the bush’, writing from my own experience of working in eucalyptus forest

  8. Gday Cam, thanks for the input and the second last photo should read coppice regrowth of the coppiced coppice [ nice one]

    I totally agree about old growth forest have been all ready logged, just having a go about our system of state forestry in regards to conifir platations and why we have moved away from coppicing of eucalypts to a true monoculture in forestry.

    which the way I uderstand it is based on sawmill machinery and needing uniformed logs, hence why I love portable sawmills

    its seems the artical is having the desired effect get people to talk about coppice forestry

  9. Gday again old age forgetful mind.

    note: as Cam mentioned about private native forest agreement on all our portable sawmill courses at Edenfarms Taree.
    we have Noel Peicy from private native forest department NSW, talk for a sesion on applying for a private native forest permit which as Cam said,runs for 15 years no fee’s very simple process
    of course there are rules and regulation,but from a sustainable or regenerative mind sett are common sense

    keeping a certain amout of basel area [ volume of trees per hectre]

    a certain amount habitat tree’s per hectre and a certain number of replacment tree’s per hectre, [all depending on forest type]

    no harvesting of gullies or water ways

    pretty simple stuff


  10. Nice one Dave, hope you get plenty of takers, cause from a permaculture point of view, management of forests is one area that hasn’t gotten anywhere near the airtime it deserves, other than “forget about it and call it your zone five”

    A quick quote from David Holmgren:

    “In a low energy future, the wealth of nations will be measured by the quantity and quality of their forests.

    Timber will once again replace steel, concrete, aluminium, plastics, and other composite materials as fossil fuel energy decreases. This will only be possible if we grow these forests at least a generation in advance.

    Few realise that it will be the capacity of forests to store carbon as structural timber and fuel which may allow humanity to be sustained by renewable resources in a low energy future.”

    The current lock up mentality certainly doesn’t address the quality aspect in the first paragraph, nor biodiversity in many cases according to research (particularly unmanaged regrowth forest)

  11. I’d watch that video, David. I often watch falling videos on Youtube, as much as I hate to see logged old-growth, one must appreciate the skill it takes to get them down. And any tree, for that matter.

    Here are two urban trees that I’ve taken photos last week (since your post made them relevant). Unfortunately they aren’t Eucalypt (Lophostomen and Corymbia) but the principle is the same. If I had known that torn epicormic photos would be relevant, I would have taken pictures of the hundreds I’ve seen.

    Again, my posts are just to make sure that someone doesn’t mis-manage a Eucalypt in the wrong spot. Be careful and consider all and any ramifications, people.

  12. And, sorry for that, the second link didn’t cut-and-paste correctly.

    This one is the Corymbia, lopped I’m guessing about 9 years earlier. One side, approx 12m tall let go over a raised garden bed and several other trees. The side on the right is over a fence and will now be removed.

  13. Cheers for the photos SOP,I’ll get to the movie shortly.
    no worries about your commets, to me thats what this site is about, we are all still learning, well its a never ending journey

    I’m glad that this artical has high lighted coppicing and brought it to peoples attenion


  14. Several ironbarks coppice well. There’s potential to use coppiced ironbark stems as inground durable posts.

    Sweet chestnut coppice can provide an enormous range of products depending on how the stool is managed. I’m not aware of any detailed studies on similar approaches with Australian species. There’s a sugar gum plantation in Western Victoria that has been managed as a coppice for some time. And some ironbark/box country was managed as coppice.

    A very useful piece of work in Australia would be to determine some best practice coppicing approaches for various species and products. For example, I was looking at some coppiced bluegum in a farm plantation a few weeks ago. Some of the stems had been cut. High proportion of sapwood at that stem diameter which affects the potential uses.

  15. David, I am a tree historian trying to save urban examples of historic American Ash which is too EAB damaged but still alive by utilizing Coppice method. By “Singling” one stump shoot to produce strong single trunk, I hope to avoid growing unsafe multiple leader version. Any tips on assisting its growth to produce a stronger or more normal attachment? Would eliminating rest of stump give better chance for shoot producing new layers of protective Phloem & bark on backside attachment? Neighboring shoots might keep enough phloem alive to graft or guide live layer around singled shoots unprotected side. I realize that trees emergency shoots can be utilized as hardwood cutting to produce new clone trees. But getting the historic trees root system to regrow new trunk & crown w/Coppice continues to connect future generations back to Jens Jensen’s era more than new tree option grown from same historic organism, which I am doing as well. Stumps will be cut as low as possible to minimize available phloem to EAB, which hopefully helps strengthen attachment as well. Thanks DS!.

  16. Hello, I am delighted to have come across your blog article. I planted a crop of eucalyptus trees 18 years ago for firewood (sugar gum mainly). I am ready to harvest my first lot any time now. I am currently looking into best practices; for example, best time of year for regrowth purposes and I am looking into production of eucalyptus oil. I would very much appreciate the opportunity to glean from your experience. I eagerly await your response.

    Cheers Brian

  17. I was told by a blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) researcher that they will coppice. So if a blackwood gets harvested and shows feature – which makes the wood a lot more valuable – it can be left to reshoot and make some more valuable timber.

    We have some blackwoods shooting from roots on our block. They can be vegetatively propagated from root cuttings which again facilitates growing trees with valuable feature.

  18. Any opinion about coppicing a silver dollar eucalyptus at 6 feet above ground to start a new trunk? This is to solve the problem of a top-heavy tree that was once topped. We would like to retain the trunk because we hang a hammock from it.

    1. Is there a problem with the union where it had previously been cut? Or is the union poor and you figure the weight of the tree may cause it to fail? If you commit to the followup management and not turn your back on it, it’s possible. I wouldn’t like to be lying under poorly-attached epicormic shoots though.

  19. Run a E. Grandis and E. Robusta plantation in Colonia, Uruguay. 400 trees x Ha. (5 x 5 meters). We mill for lumber. Coppicing is very important to us, we allow the best branch to grow into the next generation tree – 12 years down the road.
    Would appreciate learning how to assure the maximun possible coppicing success, presently we loose 30% and have to re-plant the lost trees.
    Thank you !!
    PD: We are presently milling, and so far we find that growing E. Grandis for lumber is 6 times more profitable than soybeans !! [email protected]

  20. Hello everyone. I thought I’d join the discussion as I am currently planning out a managed coppiced forest, four years on from the last reply to this blog.

    Im planting predominantly eucalypts that are local to the Gippsland plains region, and some acacias.
    Ive chosen forest redgum, white stringybark, yellowbox, mannagum, applebox, and narrow leaved peppermint, alongside australian blackwood (melanoxylon) and late black wattle (mearnsii, used in a coppice in tannin production, for the bark).

    All of these species coppice well from my resesrch, and as for the eucalypts, the reasoning lies in their formation of a lignotuber.
    Lignotubers form a sort of tap root that swells out the base of the tree, which is covered in new shoots upon felling. This is a defence mechanism to prevent the tree dying during fires, which is part of why Im planning to coppice during late summer time, as thats when fires would rip through, with my reasoning being that they are adapted to regrow from damage at that time.

    The two black wattle species Ive planted will serve as early years windbreaks but also work to produce foliage for mulch.
    I want to attempt to produce a forest humis ground layer by layering cut foliage on the ground as mulch, as people are doing in particularly Syntropic, but generally permaculture agroforestry systems.

    Tough eucalypt bark and leaves dont break down well from general experience and from looking at plantations, but I believe thats due to a lack of nitrogen available for the breakdown of the organic matter.
    I plan to supplement this by using black wattle leaves as almost 50% of the litter, as they are high in nitrogen. They also fix nitrogen through their roots.

    It stands to reason that in natural forests, wattle numbers were high while eucalypts dominated the highest strata of the forest canopy, while wattle foliage dropped from the smaller trees surrounding them.

    I believe, as a result, that dense, unbroken down, dry fuel on the floor is a product of a lack of wattles supplementing nitrogen both through their roots and litter, which is particularly apparent in monoculture plantation forestry.

    Ill write an update on the project one day, itll take around 3 years until the first cut of the wattles and applebox for mulching and quick rotation coppice, and 5 years before my first coppice on any other eucalypt.
    I am projecting that by year 8 Ill have a relatively established stratification of the varying heights of coppice (with timber trees forming the upper canopy) then around year 15 I’ll probably harvest some house poles from the tereticornis (forest redgum) that form the majority of the gums.

    As a note on felling; research indicates that cutting around 150mm from the base of the tree will produce the most rapid and efficient sprouting of the lignotuber, quite close to the ground as I guess they were best triggered when trees were burned to a sheer stump.

    Thanks for the good article, very inspiring and nice to see others working with European forestry methods.

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