Saturday, February 26, 2022

Release cutting


The ever-lovely and versatile Mrs ERJ and I had a date yesterday. That girl is as pretty as a picture and as handy as a Swiss Army knife.

I had been fretting about getting into "the woods" on our property and doing some "release cutting".

Source of image

There are stories to be told when looking at the growth-rings of a tree. The story this one tells is of a terrible drought about age 6 then slow growth ages 10-through-29. It also shows some trauma at the 2 O'clock position about age 20 and then rapid growth fifteen years or so.

A typical spruce tree in my part of Michigan would show eight years of slow growth as it competes with sod and tall weeds. Then, at about five feet of height growth it over-tops the goldenrod and ironweed and takes off. and it will bound upward in height two-to-three feet of vertical growth a year until the canopy closes. At that point, it is competing with other trees and its growth slows down.

Locally species like elm, aspen and sugar maple canopy over more quickly. Their seeds are small they come up thicker than hair on a dog's back. They very quickly run out of room to grow and each tree is mutually suppressed by competition with its neighbor. The majority of the photosynthesis output maintains life but there is not much left over for growth. On a dry, upland site I have seen elm saplings that were barely over an inch in diameter that were 15 years old.

The point of a "release cutting" is to knock back the trees that that are slowing the growth of the trees you value most.

Hierarchy of value

Everybody is likely to have a different hierarchy of things they value in a tree. It is good to have a list in your head before you go out into your plantation and start cutting trees willy-nilly.

I like a windbreak upwind of the house but far enough away to not be a fire-hazard.

I like a few chevron or eyebrow formations of evergreens scattered around the property to serve as cover for wildlife and places for me to hunt on wintry days.

I like trees that produce edible nuts. Most edible nuts are oily and have a shelf-life that can measure in years. Good trees to have in times of pestilence and famine.

I like trees that produce acorns. Acorns are bitter because they are rich in tannin but the Native Americans leached the tannin out of coarsely ground acorns and used the resulting acorn-meal to make porridge or ash-cakes. Koreans and others have done something similar.

I like trees that produce apples and pears and plums (human consumption)

I like some clones of mulberries because of the incredibly long period in the summer they ripen fruit. These clones are superb for wildlife and I enjoy a good, mulberry pie.

I like trees that produce abundant numbers of fence posts with wood that is durable in contact with the soil. Aspen can make a lot of fence posts but they rot at the base very quickly.

Mrs ERJ likes trees with brilliant fall color. 

I like trees, shrubs and vines that retain "mast" throughout the winter for wildlife.

I like niche-players that can grow in difficult situations.

Fairly far down the list are trees that produce fine timber and even farther down the list are trees whose sole virtue is the production of firewood. 

Yesterday's date

The trees we were releasing were primarily oak that were being shaded by clumps of aspen/poplar and Black Walnuts being suppressed by EAB damaged ash trees.

I trimmed side branches off of some of the oak stems so the timber will have fewer knots. It will not benefit me from the timber standpoint but I enjoy walking through trees more when I do not get my face scrubbed with branches.

We didn't get finished but we made a fine start on the project.

Bonus pictures

This slope is not very fertile. The top soil isn't very deep and it was grazed for decades with the grazing animals moving the nutrients to higher elevation and erosion moving top soil to lower elevations.

Zeus photo-bombing a picture of an apple tree that was partially girdled by rabbits. This is the only tree in the planting that was girdled. Maybe it was delicious?


  1. ERJ, with all of the Winter Fall due to some rather harsh windstorms and a snow storm at The Ranch, I am interested to see what has opened up and will move in. In our case we have less choice of the trees in question - pine, oak, madrone, cedar - but some of the older ones have now either fallen or are dying from insects.

  2. I have ACRES that need that.
    Land was logged about 80 years ago or so? I have massive garbage pine trees (not good lumber) toppling annually in wind storms, medium hardwoods that are fairly thick (elm, ash, dogwood, redbud) and 40-50 foot, and small oaks and maples.
    Trying to get some alt species established as I carve out more land. Darned stumps are the worst? Land is littered with little ankle-breakers you can't see in the leaf litter.

  3. I was always told that locust wood is best for fence posts. Some also claim that it fixes nitrogen into the soil.

    1. Black Locust makes FANTASTIC fence posts. Also burns well. It is a significant "honey plant" in Hungary and Eastern Europe. Locust fixing nitrogen is generally accepted as being a fact.

      It is thorny. Most selections do not have good timber form. Wood cells contain crystals of silica and saw edges suffer.

      Black Locust is one of my niche players.

  4. ERJ please keep in mind this is your fault. You opened the line of discussion even though you were just being punny. Over the last several years I have noticed the tendency of "they don't make em like they used to make em" to now include underwear. They "name brands" now use a lesser weight fabric. What I have noticed is one or two out of every package has the waistband barely attached to the main fabric. It seems as if the failure point is where you grip the shorts to pull them up. Every one of the failures occurs where your right hand grips to pull them up. That being said the wife bought me a set from a different maker for Christmas.Once you get past the day glow colors( screaming lemon yellow, tonka truck blue, etc.)the most important part is no waistband separation.