10 great trees for a mul­ti­pur­pose wood­lot

NZ Lifestyle Block - - The Good Life -

Ihave been a mem­ber of the NZ Tree Crops As­so­ci­a­tion for many years now. There are many great rea­sons to join, but the best is be­cause you get to meet ex­pe­ri­enced mem­bers who are a source of in­valu­able ad­vice, even if some of it is con­flict­ing!

These are the rec­om­men­da­tions I have taken on board re­gard­ing fire­wood.

1 The win­ner: oak

Oak trees, most va­ri­eties, but par­tic­u­larly Quer­cus rubra (red oak, lovely au­tumn colour), Q. el­lip­soidal­lis (north­ern pin oak, very hardy) and com­mon English oak ( Q. robur). They are unan­i­mously rated as the best fire­wood trees for NZ.

Euro­pean farm­ers have favoured oak for cen­turies for good rea­sons: • its tim­ber is strong; • ripened acorns of cer­tain va­ri­eties feed ducks and pigs, but note green acorns are a com­mon source of tox­i­c­ity in live­stock like cat­tle and sheep; • its leaves are good cat­tle food; • you can get them in­oc­u­lated with truf­fles to pro­duce a root crop (if con­di­tions are right); • they can be cop­piced and har­vested in­def­i­nitely • they re­sult in su­pe­rior fire­wood. In New Zealand an oak tree grows rel­a­tively quickly and can be ready for fire­wood in just 10 years. It splits well, burns very hot, smells fra­grant and doesn’t spark.

2 Euro­pean ash

Ash is hailed as the fire­wood of queens. Frax­i­nus ex­cel­sior is rapid­grow­ing, cold-hardy and likes moist sites. Its main at­tribute is its low mois­ture con­tent, burn­ing when al­most green which means it can be cut late in the sea­son if fire­wood sup­plies look in­ad­e­quate. It also splits well, doesn’t spark, burns hot and pro­duces very lit­tle smoke.

If cop­piced in late win­ter, the stump will stay dor­mant un­til the fol­low­ing spring. It may look dead but be pa­tient.

Ash wood is highly prized. It is the only

wood to con­sider if you want to make your own soft­ball bats or axe han­dles, ar­rows or hur­ley sticks (an an­cient Ir­ish hockey-type game) if you need them.

Ash ‘keys’ (its seed) can be pick­led and eaten, the leaves and bark are used in modern medicine, and all are good stock food.

3 Alder

As fire­woods go, alder only rates as good in­stead of ex­cel­lent. It has a straight grain that is easy to split and will dry quickly, but it is not as hot burn­ing as oak and ash and will give the oc­ca­sion­ally spark.

How­ever, it’s in­cluded in this list be­cause it is a ni­tro­gen-fix­ing tree that will sub­stan­tially en­hance the growth of oth­ers, and it is very wind hardy, mak­ing it worth mix­ing into the wind­ward side of your wood­lot.

It won’t cop­pice, but is very quick­grow­ing. Alder are wind-pol­li­nated, and the pollen makes great early spring food for bees to feed their ba­bies.

Al­nus cor­data, the Ital­ian alder, ex­cels in South Is­land cli­mates, A. rubra (red alder) has good au­tumn colour, and A. gluti­nosa (black alder) does well too. They like moist sites but can send seed down­stream to be­come a nui­sance if planted by run­ning wa­ter.

4 Maple

The su­gar maple ( Acer sac­cha­rum) is the USA’S favourite fire­wood. It burns as hot as oak, doesn’t spark and has lit­tle smoke, but it doesn’t have the straight grain which makes split­ting into kin­dling easy.

As a tree it is quite cold-hardy, but it needs fer­tile soils to grow quickly. It has beau­ti­ful au­tumn colour. If you are so in­clined and con­di­tions are right, you can al­ways tap the sap for maple syrup.

Wilted leaves are ap­par­ently toxic to horses.

5 Hick­ory

Hick­ory wood is heavy, dif­fi­cult to split and sparks a lit­tle, but it burns ex­ceed­ingly well, hot­ter even than oak and su­gar maple. It also emits a fra­grant smoke that is used to smoke food (al­though in my opin­ion, fruit woods are bet­ter).

In New Zealand only Carya lacin­iosa is fast enough grow­ing to con­sider in­clud­ing in a fire­wood lot. It likes moist, rich soil. If grown from seed, it will grow slowly for a cou­ple of years while it es­tab­lishes a deep root, then sud­denly put on good growth.

It has the largest of the hick­ory nuts, (hick­ory are in the same fam­ily as pecans and wal­nuts) which are sweet and quite ed­i­ble for hu­mans or an­i­mals.

The wood is good for fur­ni­ture, tool han­dles and – if you need them – drum­sticks.

6Fruit woods

Ap­ples, pears, plums, apri­cots, peaches and cher­ries all make good fire­wood. They are rea­son­ably dense, fairly easy to split and burn, throw few sparks and have fra­grant soft smoke.

Most are har­vestable size in 10 years, and while they are grow­ing, they are pro­vid­ing food for you and/or your stock.

All can be grown from seed. Stone­fruit will grow pretty much true to the par­ent so if you eat a nice fruit, pop the stone in the ground. With pipfruit, it’s a lot­tery. You re­ally won’t know how good it is un­til it fruits, but the bonus is if it’s no good, it’s fire­wood.

Ja­panese plums grow bigger and quicker than the English plums. Pears can get huge with age.

7 Aca­cia/wat­tles

Most aca­cia make good fire­wood. Black­wood ( Aca­cia melanoxy­lon) is the most com­mon in New Zealand and grows into a qual­ity tim­ber.

It is known for its ease to cop­pice, reshoot­ing af­ter cut­ting so well that some in the Waikato con­sider it a weed. How­ever, if man­aged prop­erly, with suck­ers reg­u­larly thinned, it can be a per­pet­ual source of good fire­wood.

A. del­bata, (sil­ver wat­tle) is an or­na­men­tal tree with bright yel­low flow­ers in win­ter. It is quick grow­ing but can blow over on windy sites.

A. mearn­sii (black wat­tle)is so fast­grow­ing it is con­sid­ered one of the worst in­va­sive species of the world. How­ever, it has a very ni­tro­gen-rich pollen with no nec­tar – I have heard these trees hum­ming in win­ter with bees – and all wat­tles are ni­tro­gen-fix­ing, con­vert­ing ni­tro­gen from the air into the soil for other plants to use.

8 Robinia

Robinia pseu­doa­ca­cia, also known as black lo­cust, is highly val­ued as a fire­wood. It burns slowly with lit­tle vis­i­ble flame or smoke, it has a heat out­put sim­i­lar to qual­ity coal, and makes good em­bers. The wood will burn when green, al­though it is bet­ter when dried.

Young, straight-grained wood rarely sparks, but knots and in­sect dam­age can cause it to spit coals.

The tim­ber is very hard and durable – you can peel off the bark to make your own posts.

It will cop­pice eas­ily, the flow­ers are ex­cel­lent bee food (it’s a ma­jor honey plant in the east­ern US) and the plant fixes ni­tro­gen into the soil.

It will grow in poor soils where its shal­low roots are good for ero­sion con­trol.

9 NZ na­tives

Na­tives don’t grow fast enough to con­sider plant­ing for fire­wood. How­ever, if you are (legally and sus­tain­ably) cut­ting some down, they are worth adding to your

fire­wood pile.

Na­tive beech is an ex­cel­lent fire­wood that burns hot and long and will – if you are caught in the bush and need it – burn while still green. It has su­pe­rior tim­ber value but takes about 20-30 years to grow to size.

Manuka and kanuka are both good fire­woods, burn­ing hot and long and slow but are best mixed with a fast-burn­ing wood. The trees don’t grow too big to han­dle but can take 15-20 years to reach a worth­while size.

Kauri and to­tara have a straight grain which makes easy split­ting into kin­dling. Note, kauri means “to burn sootily”.

Matai and kowhai are both good fire­wood, and maire burns so hot it will burn out fire­boxes.

10 Gums (with a pro­viso)

Gums are well-known in NZ as good fire­wood trees. There is a species for just about ev­ery cli­mate and if matched prop­erly, they grow fast and the re­sult­ing tim­ber, if dried prop­erly, burns hot and long.

But their speed of growth means they get pretty big, pretty quick and while this may sound like a good thing when you don’t have any fire­wood now, it is a mis­sion to deal with in 20 year’s time when you are try­ing to man­age a chain­saw and your walker.

My ad­vice? If you do plant gums, cut them at about five years old and don’t let them get away on you. Gums are not use­ful for much else and older trees can drop large branches dam­ag­ing fences and build­ings – they are known as ‘widow mak­ers’ in their na­tive Aus­tralia be­cause so many peo­ple die while tak­ing shel­ter un­der them dur­ing storms.

Warn­ing: their roots can ex­tend out up to 30m, up­set­ting drive­ways and drains, and suck­ing nutri­ents out of the ground to the detri­ment of grass or other trees.

English Oak

holm oak




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