• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies living kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education experiences global resources the cider press projects digital market permies.com all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Nicole Alderman
  • raven ranson
stewards:
  • paul wheaton
  • Jocelyn Campbell
  • Julia Winter
garden masters:
  • Anne Miller
  • Pearl Sutton
  • thomas rubino
  • Bill Crim
  • Kim Goodwin
  • Joylynn Hardesty
gardeners:
  • Amit Enventres
  • Mike Jay
  • Dan Boone

Sitka Alder - any thoughts?  RSS feed

 
gardener
Posts: 825
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
292
bike books forest garden fungi homestead hugelkultur kids trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hello all,

I'm trying to develop a list of PNW (west coast portion) plants that are nitrogen fixing, either die back naturally each year or can take being chopped and dropped on a regular cycle. The plants also need to be ones that I can readily purchase and ideally grow myself. Plus if they are quick to establish on disturbed sites that is a big bonus. Also, the plants have to be native since this list is for state funded restoration work. The ultimate goal is to build soil quickly to support higher value trees (from the perspective of my funding sources) that will in turn support key wildlife species such as salmon.

Got a list going but I have been struggling to find a native shrub that fits the bill. Tried looking at ceanothus but the ones native to my area are fairly fire dependent for seed germination making them hard to order. Another option is a variety of soapberry that is native to my area but it prefers higher elevation than most of my sites. Also soapberry is not often grown by the nurseries in my area.

So that has led me to Sitka alder which sounds very promising. Relatively fast growing up to around 20ft, grows as a shrub, is available in bulk from the WA State Conservation District Association, fixes nitrogen and is known to re-sprout from the stump after fires. Sounds great but I'm having trouble finding any info about it in regards to how often it can be chopped and dropped and what people's experience has been growing it. I did a search here on permies and found a little info but most of it was older and just listing it as a possible plant to grow.

I'm also considering it as a support plant for my future fruit trees. In this situation I would chop and drop it fairly regularly and essentially use it as a living mulch source. Considered red alder for this role but I like the idea of growing a shrub more for this specific use.

Do any of you have any experience or thoughts on Sitka alder? Beyond soil building what have you used it for?
 
master steward
Posts: 5180
Location: Pacific Northwest
1480
cat duck fiber arts forest garden homestead hugelkultur kids cooking wood heat
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I've never encountered sitka alder (that I know of), but I do have red alder. I've tried copising some of the red alder I have growing, but somewhere around 1/2 of them don't survive the copsing. Maybe Sitka alder's can handle it better? My husband has been pretty heavily pruning a red alder, and the tree seems to be doing fine. So, it might be that heavy pruning could work for chop and drop as well as nitrogen fixing?

Hopefully my reply will BUMP this up, and someone who knows about sitka alders might see it!

Have you thought of nitrogen-fixing groundcovers? Do we have any that are native here? I have in my lawn some trefoils and clover, but the trefoils are not native, and I'm assuming that the clover isn't, too. What about vetch? It looks like some might be native to north America, though I don't know if there are any native to our area of the US...


 
Daron Williams
gardener
Posts: 825
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
292
bike books forest garden fungi homestead hugelkultur kids trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Nicole Alderman wrote:I've never encountered sitka alder (that I know of), but I do have red alder. I've tried copising some of the red alder I have growing, but somewhere around 1/2 of them don't survive the copsing. Maybe Sitka alder's can handle it better? My husband has been pretty heavily pruning a red alder, and the tree seems to be doing fine. So, it might be that heavy pruning could work for chop and drop as well as nitrogen fixing?

Hopefully my reply will BUMP this up, and someone who knows about sitka alders might see it!

Have you thought of nitrogen-fixing groundcovers? Do we have any that are native here? I have in my lawn some trefoils and clover, but the trefoils are not native, and I'm assuming that the clover isn't, too. What about vetch? It looks like some might be native to north America, though I don't know if there are any native to our area of the US...



Thanks Nicole! Ya, Sitka is interesting to me since in naturally grows as a shrub. It grows in a range of habits but is often found in avalanche shoots. Since it can take that type of regular disturbance and I read it will regrow from the stump after a fire I thought it might be a good Pacific northwest native support plant.

I'm really interested in learning more about it. Thinking about trying it out in a test area next year to see how well it grows. If it grows well then I will setup a coppice test area and try coppicing some after the 1st year, some at 2 years and some at 3 years. Be great to have a native woody support species to add to my list.

Speaking of the list I have been trying to find one or more native plants that fix nitrogen for each of the main forest layers. Lupins (at least 5 native species of lupins that might work) have been my main herbaceous plant. Testing out 3 species of lupine at one of my restoration sites and I have been collecting wild seed to try at my place.

For ground cover there is a native clover called spring bank clover. Tends to grow in wet areas and near tidal areas. Often found with silverweed. Spring bank clover used to be a major food source for native people's in this area since it produces a large amount of edible roots. Been interested in trying it out at my place once I get my ponds setup in a few years.

There is also a native vetch called black vetch that I may try. So for the herbaceous layer I could use black vetch, spring bank clover, and 1 or more types of lupine. But I also like to have woody support plants which is where Sitka alder could fit.

I thought about trying red alder but since it struggles to survive being coppiced I'm not sure if it would fit for my needs. Plus for my restoration sites the funders prefer conifers and get nervous that red alder will outcompete them. I thought Sitka alder could be a good alternative since it tends to max out at around 20 ft and if it could be coppiced all the better for soil building.

Nicole - how old were your red alder when you coppiced them? Some things I have read said they do better if they are younger than 7 years but I have no first hand experience coppicing red alder.

Thanks!
 
gardener
Posts: 2278
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
265
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I think that sitka alder (alnus veridis or green alder) is likely an excellent choice for your project.  This is the local alder up here as well.  You will have to do some experimentation on coppicing as I haven't found any info on it myself.  That said, when the local ditch growth is smashed to bits by the highways crew with a brush hog attachment on an excavator, the alders grow back along with the willows, birches, poplars, and cottonwoods.    As far as chop and drop of branches, you have found a great shrub for your system, so long as you have good rooted specimens to start with.  It's natural function is to provide nitrogen; this is partly done by the bacterial association on the roots, but is also done by it's heavy leaf and twig drop.  I'm sure this could be enhanced and utilized to your advantage with proper pruning at a young age to encourage bushiness.   It is likely easier to kill than willow, but it may be better to not heavily coppice it anyway, as the ongoing nitrogen support might be worth keeping it as shrub nitrogen support amongst the higher value trees.  
 
Daron Williams
gardener
Posts: 825
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
292
bike books forest garden fungi homestead hugelkultur kids trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Roberto pokachinni wrote:I think that sitka alder (alnus veridis or green alder) is likely an excellent choice for your project.  This is the local alder up here as well.  You will have to do some experimentation on coppicing as I haven't found any info on it myself.  That said, when the local ditch growth is smashed to bits by the highways crew with a brush hog attachment on an excavator, the alders grow back along with the willows, birches, poplars, and cottonwoods.    As far as chop and drop of branches, you have found a great shrub for your system, so long as you have good rooted specimens to start with.  It's natural function is to provide nitrogen; this is partly done by the bacterial association on the roots, but is also done by it's heavy leaf and twig drop.  I'm sure this could be enhanced and utilized to your advantage with proper pruning at a young age to encourage bushiness.   It is likely easier to kill than willow, but it may be better to not heavily coppice it anyway, as the ongoing nitrogen support might be worth keeping it as shrub nitrogen support amongst the higher value trees.  



Thank you for your thoughts and observations. That is good to know that it regrows after being cut by the highway crews. Since it tends to grow in sites with repeat disturbance I'm hopeful it will handle being chopped and dropped and potentially coppiced on a regular cycle.

But as you mentioned since it is a shrub it might just be better to cut it back but not all the way down to a stump. I guess since it naturally grows as a shrub this is an advantage over say red alder where the goal through coppicing is to promote a more scrubby growth pattern.

Just wish I could find some permaculture sites that are using Sitka alder so I could see how they use it. Well unless some info turns up indicating that it is not a good fit more my sites I'm going to give it a try a bit over a year from now. Already got my projects for this fall n winter lined up but I want to try this out the following year.

I'm thinking that Sitka alder combined with bigleaf maple could function as great chop and drop support plants in the Pacific Northwest. Chopping and dropping both together could result in great soil building.
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2278
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
265
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I know the Bullock Brothers on Orcas Island were using alders in their food forest.  I'm not sure, but it's probably red alders.  You might want to try to contact them.  They are super amazing people who have a lot of experience and experimentation with local plants from what I could gather in my day on their farm/garden/site. 

One thing that you could do is a half hack chop, instead of an outright coppice.  You cut the stem half or more of the way through, careful to leave a sapwood path to the roots, and then tip the tree onto it's side, with the trunk pushed down near the ground.  Pin it there, if you can, and add soil on top.  The branches then go vertical--multiplying your single into many.  This is a great way to do living hugulkulture/ living hedges/create swale type structures.  I think that it would also produce rapid biomass, and encourage root growth, and leaf growth.  This sort of thing happens in avalanche shutes all the time.   
 
Roberto pokachinni
gardener
Posts: 2278
Location: Fraser River Headwaters, Zone3, Lat: 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
265
bike books food preservation forest garden fungi hugelkultur solar trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
There is probably some ecologically minded forest people at Evergreen State College who you may be able to contact, since you are right in Olympia.
 
Nicole Alderman
master steward
Posts: 5180
Location: Pacific Northwest
1480
cat duck fiber arts forest garden homestead hugelkultur kids cooking wood heat
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Nicole - how old were your red alder when you coppiced them? Some things I have read said they do better if they are younger than 7 years but I have no first hand experience coppicing red alder. 



I don't know exactly how old my alders were that I coppiced, as they came with the property. But, they're trunks weren't more than maybe 2.5 inches in diameter and they weren't more than 8 feet tall at the time. I'm thinking they were only maybe 5 years old. I'm pretty sure I cut them with my Felco hand pruners, so they couldn't have been that big....Come to think of it, that might have been part of the problem when I coppiced them, as I was more intent on just getting the things cut without having to try and grab a saw (and worrying my toddler getting the saw) that I probably cut some that were too big for a clean cut with the Felcos...

I also have to admit that I really didn't know what I was doing when I coppiced them. I was harvesting them for wattle fences and cut them about a foot from the ground. You might have better luck with coppicing them that I did!

Pretty sure that the red alder won't outcompete the conifers. Most native conifers like growing up with alders around them, as that's kind of the natural progression. Douglas firs might not do as well, as they need a bit more sun than hemlocks and cedars (I have Western Red Cedar and Western Hemlock growing amongst my alder groves). What conifers are you growing?
 
Daron Williams
gardener
Posts: 825
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
292
bike books forest garden fungi homestead hugelkultur kids trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Interesting idea about doing the half cut. When I lived in England I saw some farmers doing that to make hedgerows. It would be a quick way to establish hedges.

I was thinking about the Bullock brothers - I have always been impressed by their work. Good to know that they used alder at their site.

I actually graduated from Evergreen's environmental studies masters program about a year and a half ago. I can try reaching out to the people I know there. They have a great farm on the campus and use permaculture techniques. I will have to ask about alder.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1984
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
62
forest garden trees urban
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Not specific to this tree, but whar about pollarding instead of coppicing?
I have some box elder and mulberry I do this too and they seem to thrive.
The mulberry produces more and more useful wood.
I like that the trunk remains,getting thicker over time,handy as plant or fence support.
 
Daron Williams
gardener
Posts: 825
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
292
bike books forest garden fungi homestead hugelkultur kids trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Nicole Alderman wrote:

I don't know exactly how old my alders were that I coppiced, as they came with the property. But, they're trunks weren't more than maybe 2.5 inches in diameter and they weren't more than 8 feet tall at the time. I'm thinking they were only maybe 5 years old. I'm pretty sure I cut them with my Felco hand pruners, so they couldn't have been that big....Come to think of it, that might have been part of the problem when I coppiced them, as I was more intent on just getting the things cut without having to try and grab a saw (and worrying my toddler getting the saw) that I probably cut some that were too big for a clean cut with the Felcos...

I also have to admit that I really didn't know what I was doing when I coppiced them. I was harvesting them for wattle fences and cut them about a foot from the ground. You might have better luck with coppicing them that I did!

Pretty sure that the red alder won't outcompete the conifers. Most native conifers like growing up with alders around them, as that's kind of the natural progression. Douglas firs might not do as well, as they need a bit more sun than hemlocks and cedars (I have Western Red Cedar and Western Hemlock growing amongst my alder groves). What conifers are you growing?



Thanks for the info! I'm always interested in hearing about people's experience with red alder. Seems kinda so so in regards to coppicing it.

I agree that most would be fine but funders get nervous and many consider red alder to be a weed tree. For my restoration sites I tend to use a mix but often due to the degraded and sun exposed nature of my sites I plant Douglas fir, and shore pine. Often I will include Sitka spruce and grand fir if the site is a bit moist. Tend to avoid red cedar and western hemlock due to these two struggling at degraded sites but they often come in on their own once a canopy forms.

Douglas fir, shore pine and Sitka spruce both prefer the open sun but grand fir does fine under red alder. I'm trying to slowly shift more towards fast growing hardwoods such as the alders and maples with shade tolerant conifers planted with them. I think this better fits what I see happening naturally but I'm generally under a lot of pressure to prioritize conifers over the hardwoods.

But I'm slowly making progress with bringing in some permaculture practices to the restoration community. Overtime I plan on including more and more hardwoods, lupins, and other support species with conifers mixed in. Likely going to rely more on grand fir in the future and potentially red cedar in my restoration sites as I include more fast growing hardwoods. If I can get shade quickly established then red cedar can do well.
 
Daron Williams
gardener
Posts: 825
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
292
bike books forest garden fungi homestead hugelkultur kids trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

William Bronson wrote: Not specific to this tree, but whar about pollarding instead of coppicing?
I have some box elder and mulberry I do this too and they seem to thrive.
The mulberry produces more and more useful wood.
I like that the trunk remains,getting thicker over time,handy as plant or fence support.



I don't know - I'm familiar with pollarding but I don't know if trees that don't coppice well would do better as pollards. Wonder if pollarding above the lowest branches would help... anyone have any thoughts or experience with this?
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!