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Managing bottomland hardwood forests

Quick facts

  • Hardwood products include lumber, veneer and firewood. 
  • Ash, cottonwood and silver maple are the most commercially desirable species.
  • Bottomland hardwood species can regenerate from their light, wind-disseminated seeds. Some species also may stump sprout. 
  • If natural regeneration is not adequate, consider planting within two years after harvest. 
  • Thin and weed undesirable trees so the most desirable trees have room to grow.
  • Common insect pests are the forest tent caterpillar and cankerworms.
  • Major diseases include Dutch elm disease, ash yellows and cytospora canker.
Stand of leafless black ash trees in Chippewa National Forest
Black ash

Elm, ash, cottonwood, silver maple and associated hardwoods are primarily used for lumber, veneer and firewood. In some areas, cottonwood is also used for pulpwood. 

You can find many wildlife species, especially birds, in a mature bottomland hardwood forest. Mature and overmature stands provide cavities essential to many wildlife species, including woodpeckers, wood ducks, barred owls and raccoons. You will also find white-tailed deer and beaver in this forest type.

Growing conditions

Species composition of bottomland hardwoods varies depending on the site, which may include American elm, green ash, black ash, eastern cottonwood, silver maple and black willow. Ash, cottonwood and silver maple are the most commercially desirable species.

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Regenerating bottomland hardwoods

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Intermediate treatments

In very dense stands, it is recommended that you thin and weed undesirable trees so the most desirable trees have room to grow. 

Do the first commercial thinning — meaning, cut and sell some trees — when codominant trees average 8 to 10 inches diameter at breast height (DBH). Codominant trees extend their crown into the canopy, receiving full light from above but little from the sides.

To sustain fast growth, you’ll need two or three more thinnings every seven to 15 years. Also, remove diseased trees and those of low vigor or poor form. 

At final harvest, most stands should have 120 to 130 square feet of basal area (roughly 50 high-quality trees) per acre of commercial species. Basal area measures stand density using the sum of trees’ cross-sectional areas at 4.5 feet from the ground (known as breast height).

Pest management

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Mel Baughman, emeritus Extension forester

Reviewed in 2019

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