Desuckering Alders and Pollarding Willows

At this time of year, I have to remove all the suckering growth from the alders and the willows that ring the ponds and line the ditches.  The suckers grow from the base of each of the alders …

… in the Priory gardens but they also grow from the stumps of felled trees.  These stumps are too close to the banks of the ponds to be removed by a stump grinder and even if I used a chemical stump killer (which I wouldn’t) it would be dodgy to use it so close to the water’s edge (there are fish in the ponds).  So the stumps remain and I cut off all their re-growth once or twice a year.  Some have, with this repeated removal, given up the ghost and I suspect the rest will too, in time.  Might be a long time but then I’m a very patient, anxious gardener.

Last year, I decided to leave some sucker growth uncut to see how it would develop.  And some of it I pruned; taking out weak spindly growth and pollarding the bigger, stronger stems.  One of my first posts was about this (see ‘Suckerin’ Succotash’).

This alder was one such that I pollarded last year (took off all the top and side growth leaving the central stems).  And the stems that I left have all matured a little and are a tad thicker than in March 2011.

I decided to do the same this year; a quick going over with the secateurs and just a framework of stems is left.

I rather like these ‘cages’ and so have repeated the process with several other alder and willow stumps on this, the far north-east corner of the east pond.

This is another one that I pollarded last year.

A few minutes work and the stems are cleaned back to the central leaders.  If they end up looking a little too odd, a little too weird I can easily remove them.

This willow has probably been the most succesful.  You can see clearly where I cut it back to last year and where the new growth has sprouted from.

A few minutes work (of faster-than-the-eye-can-follow and all-a-blur secateur work) and it’s reduced to a clutch of pollarded stems.

I will continue to pollard these stems each year and they will, in time, begin to swell and gnarl.  I do like the ‘cages’ these pollarded trees produce.  But what to use them for?  What to put in them?  In last years post, I thought that they might be used to imprison passing villagers.  Not to harm them, you understand  – just to give me someone to chat to.  It also occurred to me that they might be perfect for the fattening of children – for the pot.  Problem is:

a) I doubt this is legal

b) It is certainly immoral

c) There isn’t the demand anymore

d) Fat children are two a penny.

e) I don’t live in ‘Hansel and Gretel’ land.

And then it hit me.  The Priory Ghost!  (See ‘A Christmas Eve Ghost Story‘).  That’ll teach ‘im.  Running about the gardens and scaring people.  Ha!  Get out of that, pal!

18 thoughts on “Desuckering Alders and Pollarding Willows

  1. You’re going to imprison a ghost. In a pollarded tree. Of course you are…

    The pollarded trees look lovely, not odd at all, but then I don’t look at them and think up things/people I can imprison within them… Can I suggest you offer tea and cake to people in return for chatting to you and saving you from what is clearly becoming a serious mental health problem, not to mention a probable prison sentence? Just a thought…

    Tree suckers always remind me of the lime tree in our back garden when I was a kid. It was brilliant for climbing – until my Dad pruned the wrong branch off…


  2. Immorality does get in the way of a lot of good plans, doesn’t it? Hope the ghost stays put, at any rate. You might want to nick his gloves, though–they look like they could be useful.

    Pollarding is kind of a hard thing for an American to get used to–we just don’t have the tradition of it over here in the same way. Some people do top their trees, but all of my regional gardening books get pretty harrumphy about it. The first time I saw an allee of pleached lime trees (when I was about 30) I was completely horrified. On the other hand, I accidentally pollarded the big sand cherry last summer, and it ended up looking kind of cool…


    • Stacy, I tell you those gloves are BRILLIANT! We have a builders’ merchants here in the UK called B&Q – not too great in most respects (they sell rubbish plants for example) but those gloves are five pounds a pair and SO good. Makes me very happy indeed to wear them!

      Pollarding is a weird thing – I do it at the Priory, in that tucked away part of the garden, as an experiment really and (so far) have liked the results. I should love one day to plant a pleached avenue in the gardens as I think it would work marvellously (shhhh, I need to convince the Priory owner of this and he’s not convinced. He reads this blog you know, so we must whisper). Not so very long ago I saw, and studied in great detail, a line of pleached limes in Brussels. I just think they are amazing, love them and am surprised they are not highly considered in the US of A.



  3. Sometimes I wonder if you have born like this, or you had a bad accident during your childhood or might be all that time spend alone in a cold garden? I bet I’ll never know. Anyway of fat children is full the World (the developed part of it at least), so it wouldn’t be a good idea anyway. I don’t think your willow look odd like that, in Italy they use to mark the field boundaries with plants like that, then they used the cuttings, softened by a long time on water, to tie grapevines. In fact I’m used to see them cut like that, my willow hedge has been cut this way for ages, now I leave it grow, but sometimes I need to tidy the plants and they look a little rigid after that.


  4. We planted alders in our last garden (where trees tend to grow no higher that large shrubs) but they suckered everywhere! Never again unless I get a country estate….This of course is unlikely and the next garden is more likely to be a window box….


    • I don’t think anyone ever planted alders at the Priory, Janet – I suspect they travelled down the riverbank and did their own colonising. They can be handsome trees but no I wouldn’t recommend them.



  5. Could you cage my neighbour’s cats please? It seems I not only have to clean up after them because they use my garden as a litter tray and deposit a variety of small creatures, in various stages of mutilation on my doorstep but I now have to clean up cat sick which is what greeted me this morning.

    Apologies to anyone eating whilst reading this. Sorry! On a brighter note I do love the effect of the pollarding especially on those willows and those bullrushes are beautiful.


    • True Sara, though I rather enjoy my annual trip up into Margaret’s wood to cut bean poles. I’ve also coppicd three or four hazels at the Priory in the hope that in a few years time they’ll provide me with poles too.


  6. Clearly the Priory owners have absolutely no idea that there’s not enough work for you to do…too much time on your hands, constantly up to mischief ! But…I’m liking your style and me thinks that you’ve possibly hit on a Dragons Den idea…I think caged children could be the way forward…Off to approach Mothercare with your idea & will report back!


  7. Its a shame you cant lock people up in the cages! It would give a new dimension to the garden 🙂

    They do have quite an architectural quality to them, so a thumbs up from me for keeping the suckers on the stumps. Why were these particular trees felled originally?


    • Hi Gaz, I had somee alders felled around the west pond because they had started to grow in amongst a semi-circle of half a dozen weeping willows. But these alders and willows on the east pond were felled before my time and I’m unsure why – probaby because there were simply just too many trees here.



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