Pleacher Skills

The woods are scattered throughout Leafhopper Farm. There is not any one great stand, or forest here, but many tall trees do grace the property, mostly down by the stream, but there are many small stands around the landscape. I’ve been looking at the trees for a few years now. Many are limbed up perfectly to harvest for timber. I hope that one day, we might build a greenhouse, barn, and small home from that wood. In the mean time, there are also a lot of young trees, cherry, cascara, and alder, who are ready for another plan I’ve had in mind for a while.


Finally, this last Sunday, my friend and neighbor Melinda came by to help with a work day, and brought her sharp eye for hedgerow planning. We’ve been talking about laying down some trees to start a few fences for a while now, and Sunday, we took our sharpened hatchet, hand saw, and chainsaw to the woods.


After dropping about 10 trees, I finally got the hang of it. This kind of hedge setting is known as pleachering. Hunters may know it as hinge cutting, a way to encourage more low cover for deer, while removing the young saplings from vertical blocks to a good sight line with a rifle or bow. We’re pleachering these trees to create a new, living fence for the farm.

Most of the trees pleachered were young bitter cherries, known for their cooperation with this kind of cutting. Alder are also good at recovering from cuts, but this older tree is going to be a bit of a push. We saw it was compromised at the bend, which will lead to the tree rotting and cracking. To try to save the upper shoots of this tree, we did a pleacher cut to encourage regrowth in the upper branches, above the rot spot.


DSC00866Hopefully this Alder will rebound, letting its upper branched root in at their new ground point. I’ll be helping out, by adding more berm material around the young shoots. This gives soil and moisture to the laying trucks, encouraging root and new stem growth. Why is that a good thing you ask? Well, the new roots will ground the tree and encourage more growth, making a thick lower hedge row off the crisscrossed trunks.


This row runs east west across the land at the top of the “T”, and shoots south (moving to the left in this picture) creating a buffer of wilder space to the permanent fence line down below. The logs and old pallets you see will be moved down along the fence to add support, and compostable wood material to add to the berm base I’ll be building up along the trunks.


The goats will have to stay off this fence for a few years, allowing the new growth to set. I’ll be continuing to monitor the growth, weaving it together to continue the forming of a fence line. Once the young branches are big enough, I’ll sneak in some other young plantings, like honey locust, and river birch to thicken and diversify the living fence.


Hedgerows are such a lovely way to create boarders without all the ugly wire and t-posts. It encourages more biodiversity and habitat for the wild species living with us. We’ll also be  able to more easily harvest the cherries now, using them for jams next summer.

These days in the woods, working with the wild things, rather than trying to plant everything from seed, gives me a real sense of accomplishment on the land. We’re also keeping some old techniques alive with our practice. The wood lot arts are disappearing, and more stands of trees are being left to fend for themselves, which they can do just fine, but if we’re able to manage some of it, for the improvement of the land we steward, that’s a win win for the steward and the land.


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