The best New Zealand trees to use for firewood by region
From pohutukawa in the lower North Island, to eucalyptus in Central Otago, here’s the list of the best firewood trees in your region.
Words: Nadene Hall
Sheryn Clothier – TreeCropper editor, Tirau
When I was planning my property an elderly gentleman said to me that if I was planting fruit trees, I wouldn’t need to plant firewood trees.
I took his advice and since then have planted about 150 fruit, nut and fodder trees. Each of my trees has multiple purposes, and firewood is simply the end use of them all.
I have been on my property four years now, and this winter I have enough kindling and small wood from our own supply of prunings. Grape prunings have taken the place of pine cones for a fire starter.
As we have an open fire, no doubt this winter I will be learning which wood sparks and which burns well with the bark still on, but I am also looking forward to discovering the different smells of burning cherry, or apple, or hickory (hazelnut). Of course, you can always throw on some citrus rind or rosemary to give a more powerful scent if you prefer.
Ben Gaia – Tree Crops Association, West Coast
A lot of people like Eucalyptus nitens but I find it usually grows too fast so it blows down easily. Both it and Eucalyptus ovata, the swamp gum, grow in quite moist soil (but not West Coast pakihi) and tolerate a -8°C frost, and while their firewood is good, the timber isn’t, and E. nitens doesn’t coppice all that reliably.
My advice is to grow different eucalyptus.
Eucalyptus viminalis and Eucalyptus fastigata both grow nearly as fast, coppice well, get fewer pest attacks, and if you get the odd straight one you can grow it for 30 years and get valuable durable timber.
But best of all I think is Eucalyptus botrioides, but where the first four are frost-tolerant, E. botrioides is a coastal tree and prefers good drainage. All gums must be fed and weeded or they will die.
WELLINGTON – HOROWHENUA
Wendy Evans – Wellington/Horowhenua Tree Crops Association
It’s a toss-up between tree lucerne (Chamaecytisus palmensis, tagasaste) and pohutukawa. Both are great multi-use trees and yield dense hot firewood.
Tree lucerne is quick growing and provides much-needed wind shelter and the trimmings can be fed to stock or make great compost. The spring growth brings kereru and, being a legume, the roots are nitrogen-fixing. When cut for firewood, even finger-thickness branches are worth keeping for the firewood pile.
The wood of the pohutukawa is tough and springy and makes fantastic axe or hammer handles. Any pieces not suitable for woodworking are fantastic firewood, and the rest makes great mulch. Oh, and pohutukawa honey is the best.
AUCKLAND – NORTH
John & Colleen Brown – Tree Crops Association, Northern region
We can’t agree on which firewood we like to use in our wood stove but we can definitely agree on what we wouldn’t plant again: gums! They should all have a sign around their trunks when planted that says ‘I must be harvested before I turn 5’.
The ones we planted have become an embarrassment as they grew like triffids before we got around to harvesting them and now they are too big to fell safely. Here are our favourites:
John: Acacia melanoxylon
Advantages: mostly splits easily, nitrogen-fixing properties, good leaf litter properties, coppices well, hot firewood.
Disadvantages: Borer will attack barked areas when stored creating dusty/dirty firewood, too many suckers after harvesting can be a problem.
Colleen: Poplars (Tasman, Yunnanensis)
Advantages: propagated from poles for free, very even, straight, quick growth, easy to fell, split and stack, coppicing allows harvest every three years, dries quickly and borer doesn’t seem to attack the stored wood, very easy to mulch the branchlets, foliage good as stock food.
Disadvantages: very greedy rooT system, firewood not as hot as some, but quick heat.
Peter Syms – NZ Tree Crops Association, Nelson
Plump kereru browse its lush foliage on a frosty winter’s day, hanging heavily in the branches. Busy bees and bellbirds flit between its flowers in the summer. It’s nitrogen-fixing, with fast growth, and excellent shelter.
So what is this multipurpose gem, originally from the Canary Islands and now naturalised in NZ since the early 1900s? Tagasaste (Chamaecytisus palmensis, also known as tree lucerne). .
We cut big branches of tagasaste in late winter and early spring as nourishing fodder for ewes during lambing. The sheep eat all the leaves and small twigs and chew off the tender bark. What’s left is great firewood, dense and full of energy.
Bruce Parker – NZ Tree Crops Association, Coastal Otago
The most popular firewood species planted in the deep south in recent years is Eucalyptus nitens as it coppices, can be cut in about eight years, has long straight trunks with little slash, and burns hot.
Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) is another good choice. This tree self-sows, establishes and grows quickly, and copes with drought, frost, cold, wet and acidic conditions. It has a pleasant perfume, is not palatable to stock, and makes a special honey. Manuka is not a tall tree so it’s easy to fell and it is not difficult to cut the slash from the firewood.
It is best split when green. The sap is very thin and if weathered outside for a season the wood is ready for burning.
Manuka has a flaky bark which makes excellent kindling. The wood burns very hot – and the leaves very hot – creating long lasting embers and little ash.
Kanuka (Kunzea ericoides) is similar but taller and grows in clay. However both of these trees take many years to be mature for cutting.
Ian Stewart – NZ Tree Crops Association, Central Otago
Our lifestyle block is above the valley between Queenstown and Arrowtown, near Coronet Peak, so we get cold winters, warm summers and around 600mm annual rainfall.
Twenty years ago we planted 30 Eucalyptus nitens, dividing them between the flat and the hill above. Those on the flat were killed by frost the first winter but those on the hill have provided excellent firewood and the older trees have self-seeded. They coppice well and this is strongly recommended unless you have access to a large chainsaw and a log splitter.
The pictures show our last original tree, recently felled. The metre stick is against the trunk, 4m from ground level. The tallest self-seeded sapling is 4.5m at two years of age.
Do not plant any eucalypts within 30 metres of food plants, eg your vege gardens, as their roots go a long way.