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Plant your own firewood

By Grant McKechnie
Rodney Rural Lifestyle Magazine
May 2008

There was a time when the words tea tree and firewood went hand in hand. This century, however, manuka and kanuka have better things to do than go up the chimney in smoke.

In nature, tea tree has traditionally given shelter to the slower growing trees which formed our native forests.

These days, we’re replicating the process with native revegetation plantings, and kanuka and manuka are once again playing a key role as “nurse” species.

So what can we use for firewood instead? Fortunately, there’s a good range of introduced trees which grow faster than tea tree and have burning properties which are as good, and sometimes, better.  Those I’ve listed are all tough, fast and pretty adaptable to a range of sites.


New shoots sprout from the stump of a coppiced eucalypt. One tree can provide three or four crops of firewood.
As an added bonus, some will coppice – ie, regrow again when cut to knee height, giving three or four crops of firewood before you need to replant. Growth from the coppice is faster than it is from the original seedling, because the root system is vigorous and well established.

Of the species listed below, gums reach harvestable size in about five years, when they could be 10m tall, with trunks 20cm in diameter at chest height. The other species will take seven to nine years.

On a lifestyle block or farm, a firewood lot can double as shelter, especially if you plant more than one row, and cut selectively.

Here’s some species you can use:


  • Eucalypts’ fast growth rate makes them ideal for firewood. This Eucalyptus nitens is nine years old and approximately 16m tall.
    Eucalypts – very fast-growing firewood which burns hot and long. Eucalyptus nitens, E. botryoides and E. ovata, are all good coppicing varieties, and will grow in a variety of soils, from dry to wet.
  • Acacia (wattle) – very hot and very long burning. Acacia melanoxylon (blackwood) is readily available and will usually coppice. Grows in dry to damp soils.
  • Casuarina – (sheoke), hot and long burning. Grows in dry to damp soils.
  • Cypress – Cupressus lusitanica  (Mexican cypress), a great shelter or timber tree, but also makes good hot burning firewood. It needs a reasonably well-drained site and is non-coppicing.
  • Poplar – not as hot or as long burning as the others listed here, but light to handle and worthwhile as fire-starters, or for earlier in the season, when you don’t need as much heat. Great coppicers, and excellent for damp or wet spots.
  • Alders – similar to the poplars for growth, habitat and performance.
  • Pines – medium hot and short burning.

Now’s a good time to plant. First, plan how many rows/layers to plant, and at what spacing. In-row spacing should be 2m, while between row spacing varies.  For two or three rows, you will be okay with 1m between rows, but for more than three rows, you need 2m between rows to give plants space, otherwise, you’ll end up with spindly growth.

On a long stretch, two layers can be enough, because you can selectively cut your 10 – 20 trees each year. It’s best to stagger the planting, so that row two is offset from row one, and so on.

After cutting, the gums, alders and poplars will produce anything up to a dozen new shoots. Select the two strongest shoots and rip the others off.

©2010 Grant McKechnie


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