As you look at your nut orchard and are selecting which trees will be grafted, you may encounter situations where you’d like to graft but perhaps the tree is too tall. While you could graft the ends of major branches to an improved cultivar, maintaining the grafts will require repeated trips up a ladder. Perhaps you don’t have enough scion material for your needs or to share with friends. March is a great month to coppice, a technique which can assist you in these situations.
Coppicing is the practice of cutting a tree off at ground level and allowing it to resprout. This practice is only for trees that have NOT been grafted as coppicing will remove the graft union. It works best on trees that are 10 inches in diameter or less, although sprouts will often appear at the base of much larger trees that have been cut off, sometimes several years later. Never underestimate the energy reserves stored in the roots! In winter, much of the tree’s energy is in the roots, stored from the prior year, and ready to fuel a flush of new growth when weather permits. If the tree bears great nuts, the new shoots that arise from the root will produce great scion material in the coming growing season, ready for harvest next February. If the tree doesn’t bear remarkable nuts, the new shoots will be ready to graft next spring or, at the very latest, the second year, with scion material from a better cultivar. Perhaps the greatest challenge at that time will be that the shoots are so vigorous that they won’t lend themselves easily to the 3 flap (sometimes called a four flap or banana) graft. It’s an issue that can be addressed with alternative grafts. It will also be important to support the new graft so that it isn’t broken out by a summer storm. Finally, you will eventually need to remove all of the extra sprouts so that you have a single, dominant stem.
Coppicing may also allow you to salvage a tree that has been damaged by summer storms. While recovery from summer breakage may not be as vigorous or quick, it is more likely to provide a viable alternative than simply trimming a snapped tree at a higher level on the stem or, worse, doing nothing at all.