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Managing aspen and birch forests

Quick facts

  • Aspen can be grown for pulpwood, sawtimber and veneer. Birch can be used for pulpwood, lumber, fuelwood, dowels and novelty items.
  • Aspen grows best in moist soils that are rich in lime and have high silt-plus-clay content.
  • Harvest age depends on the type of wood you are growing, such as pulpwood or sawtimber.
  • Aspen root suckers regenerate best when the stand is completely clear-cut.
  • Regenerate paper birch by clear-cutting or the two-cut shelterwood system.
  • Common pests include forest tent caterpillar, gypsy moth, hypoxylon canker and white rot.
Stand of bigtooth aspen trees
Bigtooth aspen

Quaking and bigtooth aspen (popple) are principally grown for pulpwood that’s used to manufacture paper and particleboard. They are also used for sawtimber and veneer. Paper (white) birch is in less demand than aspen, but can be used for pulpwood, lumber, fuelwood, dowels and novelty items. 

Aspen stands are important for ruffed grouse, white-tailed deer and moose.

Growing conditions

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Regenerating aspen

Aspen tree saplings in foreground, older trees in back of photo

Aspen stands managed for pulpwood should generally be harvested at ages 45 to 55. If you grow stands primarily for sawtimber, they should generally be harvested between ages 55 and 65. You may need to harvest stands earlier if disease incidence is more than 30 percent.

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Regenerating paper birch

Paper birch tree, forest in background

Paper birch also doesn’t tolerate shade. It’s usually regenerated by clear-cutting, but recently woodland managers have had success with the shelterwood method. 

While small birch trees produce vigorous stump sprouts when cut, trees large enough to be sold don’t sprout well and sprouts are normally low-quality.

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Stand of aspen trees growing in woods

Intermediate treatments

Once an aspen stand has regenerated, trees grow rapidly. A densely stocked stand naturally thins, so you don’t need artificial thinning to produce pulpwood. Plus, it may increase losses from Hypoxylon canker and rot (PDF).

Dense stands also promote natural pruning. Artificially thinned stands may produce more sawtimber and veneer than unthinned stands.

However, only thin to grow these products when disease incidence is low and the anticipated height of the trees at 50 years old is 70 feet or taller. It may be appropriate to do one thinning at about age 30 that leaves approximately 240 trees per acre. Take great care to avoid wounding residual aspen trees, because decay and discoloration can enter trees through those wounds.

Pest management

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Mel Baughman, emeritus Extension forester

Reviewed in 2019

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