I am always on the lookout for novel ways to feed our animals on our very limited property. Last spring I planted a perimeter hedge of mulberry seedlings ordered from the Missouri Department of Conservation. Mulberry is a native plant here, very tough, takes cutting well, and makes a great, high protein feed. All the seedlings struck well and happily grew through the summer, with a few lawnmower and weed-eater mishaps.
I cut them all back to about 1″ of stem early this spring, just as the first buds were swelling. While it was sad to see my beautiful line of trees disappear in one fell swoop, there is a method to my madness. This method, known as coppicing, encourages the trees to put out multiple shoots, creating a bush rather than a tree. I need these stems for the next stage of the fedge – pleaching.
Pleaching is simply bending a stem or branch horizontal to the ground. Since a tree’s natural tendency is to grow straight up from the ground, the branch will send out shoots from each place a leaf grows, creating a line of new “trunks”. Pleaching on saplings, like my mulberries, is done simply by bending the supple branch over and staking it to the ground. I’m hoping I will be able to use the tree next to it, scarring both where they meet and eventually grafting them together. Older trees that cannot be bent can be pleached by cutting the opposite side of the trunk about 2/3 of the way through and pushing it down. The remaining bark will feed the tree and it will sprout from dormant buds just like the sapling. Like coppicing, pleaching is a very old technique used extensively on Medieval hedgerows.
My plan is to continue pleaching several generations of sprouts until I have a dense intertwined skeleton. Once that is finished, I’ll start pruning rather than pleaching and use the prunings for rabbit and goat feed.
Well….that’s the plan.