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Improving Hardwood Stands - Beech Management

I have spent many years in the woods and have made some observations that can be quite troubling to some landowners concerning their hardwood stands.  I am speaking of hardwood stands that are found in the higher elevations usually and consist of maple, yellow birch, and beech.  Other types of stands can be affected; especially if the stands contain a hardwood element in which beech is present.  Many of the observed problems usually resulted from past timber harvests.  The higher quality trees were cut and lower quality trees were left for the next crop.  

One major problem I see are the abundance of beech left after timber harvests.  All the good sugar maple and birch were harvested and the beech and other low quality trees were left as the residual stand.  In many instances the beech have the "Beech Bark disease".  This disease has two elements that affect the trees.  A scale insect feeds on the trees and this allows the introduction of a fungus that creates dead tissue under the bark.  The stressed trees respond by triggering root sprouts that have the same genetic qualities and may be susceptible to more problems.  There is no cure for this disease and many of the beech will die or become suppressed under the canopy of other trees.  Other practices can also trigger root sprouting. Firewood harvesting and thinning operations can also have an adverse effect.  Beech suckers have a good survival rate and can inhibit other desired regeneration such as maple and birch.  It can also make it difficult to travel through these stands where travel may be important.  An example of this would be removing the beech from a sugar bush. The sprouting will make walking more difficult and may interfere with tubing used to collect the sap.  Dead or damaged beech can also become a potential hazard.  This article will explain how to manage stands that are dominated by beech, or have beech in the stand that are undesirable.

Beech do have some value and use. 

1.  Beech are important for wildlife.  They usually have a "bumper crop" every seven years.

2.  Beech are a good source for firewood.

3.  Beech can be used for butcher blocks, veneer, turned products, flooring, pulp, and railroad ties.

4.  In northern Maine, beech are mainly used for firewood and pulp.

5.  The beech may be part of the landowners objectives for their forest.

There are methods to manage and control beech.  There are four steps that are usually involved.

1.  Within each management unit, identify your objectives. 

2.  In each stand, evaluate all feasible treatments.

3.  Assess how other ground layer vegetation will respond.

4.  Apply treatment and monitor the response.

There are two management options.  The weak links for beech are the roots, the bark, and the foliage.  One option is mechanical control and that includes girdling the trees or cutting down the trees. The other option is chemical control. Applying chemicals to the stumps, basal bark treatment, or mist-blowing the chemical onto the leaves.  Factors that may come into play include:

1.  The extent of the control.

2.  The desired level of control.

3.  The costs associated for each control.

4.  The environmental and ecological cost involved with control.

5.  The cost for failure and the need for another treatment.

The first scenario is for larger tree dominated stands.  These stands have limited recent harvests or disturbances.  Most of the trees would be firewood size or larger.  Root suckers may or may not be present.  Removing the beech will promote beech regeneration.  The best most effective method would be selective chemical control.  Chemicals that can be used include Round-up, Glypro, Ranger Pro (glyphosate), Garlon 4 Ultra, and there are more. 

1.  Cut the Tree and Stump Treatment:  used for maximum control, mortality of stems up to fifty feet, and most cost effective.

- Cut the tree

- Apply glyphosate to the cut surface as per label.

- 100% effective on the adult tree and 90% effective on the root sprouts.

2.  Hack and Squirt Method:  90% effective and often used when leaving healthy beech.

- Hatchet or chainsaw full circumference of the tree.

- Apply chemical to the tree where is was girdled.

The second scenario is a stand that has predominantly sapling size trees.  These stands have a history of harvesting or disturbance. Beech are two to six inches in diameter.  There are fewer than fifty trees per acre.  Postpone treatment if possible to allow natural mortality or growth into larger size classes.  It is used to allow the establishment of desired regeneration.  You may have a stand of maple and want to eliminate the beech and allow maple to regenerate before a harvest takes place.


A. Selective Mechanical Method:  This method is organic.  Labor is the primary cost.


1. Girdle the stems of the trees to be killed.  You have no control of root suckers.


2. Brush saw or chainsaw removal.


- Most effective with closed canopy (reduces sucker response).

- Used to treat smaller areas.

- Every tree is treated.

- You have no control of root suckers.

- Can benefit established seedlings like maple by allowing them to grow. 

B.  Selective Chemical Treatment

- Basal bark treatment has a 95% kill rate.

- Hack and squirt treatment has a high kill rate.

- Treats every stem but there is limited control of suckers.

- Cut stumps treated with glyphosate on the larger stems.  May require follow-up treatment.

If you have more than 500 stems per acre with few large trees in the stand, you would need to use a foliar treatment**.  This usually involves a mistblower to spray the leaves.


- This can be done from late summer to first frost.

- 85% mortality of beech up to twenty feet.

- It will kill the entire layer including desirable species also.

- You use 1 to 2 quarts of glyphosate to 125 gallons of water making it very dilute.

**You could also try to use a brush saw and cut all the beech leaving the desired regeneration.  Released trees should outgrow the new regeneration that will reappear.


1.  Profile your situation.

2.  Set management targets for percentage of mortality, duration of control, and pattern of control.

3.  Plan for the next understory.

4.  Select the treatment to be used.

5.  Read and follow the pesticide labels.  Take proper precautions when using chemical control or using equipment.

6.  Organic methods are best under a closed canopy.

7.  Monitor the effectiveness.

Some beech do not seem to be affected by the beech bark disease.  They may have genetic qualities that keep them healthy and more resistant to the scale insect or fungus.  Some stands will be heavily affected by the disease but you will often see some healthy trees unaffected.  If possible, these trees should be allowed to grow.  It is thought that the offspring will inherit the same genetic qualities that allowed the larger trees to prosper.  Over time, a new generation of beech will be established and hopefully, "Beech Bark disease" resistant.

My next article will discuss rehabilitating other types of forests in Maine and proper harvesting methods to avoid the high-grading of your forest.  

I would like to give partial credit to Dr Ralph Nyland (University of New York) for some of the information used in this article. His webinar was very informative and useful in the writing of this article.

​Maine Forestry

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