Poplar trees include cottonwoods, aspens and balsam poplars. They are among the fastest growing trees but have a relatively short life. Poplars grow in a wide variety of climates and are spread across the United States. Poplars are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves each autumn and renew them in spring. European varieties were often used by the Romans as shade trees around public places, which lead to their common name. There is mixed opinion on the value of poplar wood as a fireplace and wood stove wood.
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Poplar wood is soft, burns quickly and does not give off much heat. These are characteristics of a poor choice of wood to use when better wood such as oak or other hard woods are available. It does cut and split easily, with little sparks when seasoned. Forestry specialist Donald Dickmann of Michigan State University recommends planting a poplar stand when creating a wood lot for fireplace wood from scratch.
The advantages of poplar outweigh its disadvantages. The fast growing tree is available for cutting and drying in half the time of other, better woods. Within 10 years the trees are ready for use. They also self-propagate, saving the wood lot manager the chore of having to constantly replant. If the trees do need replanting, they are among the easiest to re-root from cuttings. Sticking a twig deeply into the ground virtually guarantees a new tree.
Planting a Woodlot
Planting over a number of successive years allows trees to mature and be cut while other trees are still in various stages of growth. A single, well-managed small poplar woodlot can easily supply enough firewood to last a family each year for many years. The supply of wood is sufficient to overcome the problem of a poorer burning wood. When you have enough wood to continue to burn, the British thermal units, or BTU, will add up, and the home will stay warm.
Drying the poplar wood properly is a critical key to maximising its potential as firewood. The wood should be cut, split and stored off the ground in a weatherproof location with good air circulation for at least a year before using. This allows the internal moisture to drop to approximately 20 per cent, which is best for providing the maximum heat with the fewest problems. A simple addition of an electric fan blowing over the wood reduces the drying time by several months.
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