Complete growing guides including how to plant a birch tree, how to prune, how to grow, when to prune, and when to plant birch trees.
Birch trees are attractive ornamentals that can add beauty to any landscape. They are also easy to grow as long as you choose the right species for your locations.
Birch Tree Facts
Botanical Name: Betula nigra
Common Name(s): Red Birch, Yellow Birch, Weeping Birch
Height: 40-70 feet
Bloom Time: Early spring
Soil Conditions: Moist soil
Sun: Full to partial sun
Fact: The word birch is derived from a word meaning “bright,” “to shine.
Source: Lawlor, Elizabeth P., and Pat Archer. Discover nature in winter things to know and things to do. Mechanicsburg, Pa: Stackpole Books, 1998. Print.
Fact: The most typical representation of a female soul is a linden tree, while oak or birch trees usually represent male.
Source: Seeing the swarming dead: Of mushrooms, trees, and bees. New York: New York, 2008. Print.
Fact: The birch is the tree of new beginnings, birth and springtime, and a symbol of young love.
Source: Gifford, Jane. The wisdom of trees. New York: Sterling Pub., 2006. Print.
When to Plant a Birch Tree
Your USDA planting zone will largely determine what species of birch will thrive and when the birch should be planted.
Choose Your Tree
Your latitude (USDA planting zone) will largely determine which of the several genus Betula species you will plant. In zones 2 through 5, you will likely plant the paper birch, B. papyrifera.
Mature paper birch trees, which grow to be up to 40 feet tall, have white outer bark with black horizontal stripes called lenticels; the bark peels easily to show the inner bark, which is reddish-orange. Paper birch leaves are dark green, and in autumn, they turn golden. This is the most common variety, and the one most people picture when they think of birch trees.
In USDA zones 5 through 9, a better choice is the river birch, B. nigra. It is a large tree, 40 to 70 feet tall at maturity, with cinnamon-brown bark. Its leaves are medium green and turn brilliant yellow in the fall.
When to Plant Your Tree
Your planting zone will also determine when to plant a birch tree. In most northern latitudes–zone 7 and northward–spring is the best time to plant most trees so that they have the entire summer to develop well-established root systems before winter dormancy.
If you live in or south of zone 8, you can plant your tree in the fall.
In zones 5 through 7, some trees can be planted in the fall; in these zones, a birch tree can survive fall planting, but spring is still best.
If you are located in Zone 4 and north, it’s best not even to attempt to plant a tree in the fall; it likely won’t have time to become established before the cold of winter sets in.
How to Plant a Birch Tree
Birch trees find favor among homeowners because of their beautiful leaves and unusual trunks. They add foliage and color to a landscape throughout the seasons. Learning how to plant a birch tree is easy.
Choose a Site
The first step is to choose a site. Birch trees need direct sunlight on their leaves and cool temperatures for the trunk and roots. You will find the north and east sides of a home or building provides an adequate mix of sun and shade. Assure that you have no other plant encroaching on a new birch tree’s space. The tree needs time to establish itself before adding complementary plants around it.
Planting the Tree
Measure the root ball of the tree. Imagine it being square, and measure generously. The hole will also need to be square, and measure twice as wide as the root ball.
Keep the top and bottom of the hole the same width, so it forms a square. Avoid the traditional cone shape used with some trees; this does not provide the birch enough room to establish a healthy root system.
Dig the hole one foot deeper than the root ball.
It will take two people to position and plant the tree. Lower the tree gently into the hole. Have one person stand away from the tree and ensure that it is standing straight. Then, while the helper holds the tree straight, you can fill the hole back up.
Add several scoops of dirt then pack it down with your hands. Repeat this process until the hole is filled, the dirt is level at the top, and the tree is standing straight on its own.
As you fill in the hole, have the garden hose running gently into it; this will help settle the soil. Also, gently shake the tree occasionally so that soil fills in any air pockets. When the hole is filled, use your hands to firm the soil around the base of the tree.
Then, make a shallow basin around it to hold water, and add a 1 to 2 inch layer of mulch. Finally, add a bit of organic fruit tree fertilizer and your tree is now ready to start growing in its new home.
Some people like to add stakes to ensure the tree remains straight. It also helps a young tree stay upright through bad weather. The easiest and most efficient way to stake the tree is to buy pre-made supplies from a garden supply shop.
You can make your own with rope and some type of padding. If you do not pad the staking materials, they will cut into the trunk and damage or kill the tree.
When to Prune a Birch Tree
There are several different reasons to prune a tree, and when to prune a birch tree depends on why you are doing the pruning.
When you plant a new tree, prune away any dead or damaged branches, any crossed branches, or any that leave the trunk at an angle of less than 45º. In most regions, you will do this in spring, as that is generally the best time to plant trees.
Prune To Guide Growth and Shape The Tree
Pruning to train and shape a tree’s growth should be done in winter when the tree is dormant, and the absence of leaves allows you a clear view of the shape and arrangement of the branches.
When deciding how to shape your tree, consider why you planted it, to begin with. Is it intended to screen out an unwanted view? Do you want to be able to walk and sit under it? Or do you want a flower bed with filtered sunlight at its base?
If you want a thick tree to screen a view, make cuts just above an outward-facing bud; these are called heading cuts. Heading cuts encourage branching.
If you want to be able to walk under the tree, use a process called “limbing up.” Over a span of several years, gradually remove the lower branches of the tree using thinning cuts.
A thinning cut removes a branch just above its collar, the swelled region at its base on the branch from which it originates. If you want filtered sunlight beneath the tree, use thinning cuts along the entire height of the tree.
Always remove any branches that cross other branches or emerge at less than a 45º angle from their base branch.
Prune to Remove Damage or Unwanted Spreading
Any time a tree is damaged, such as after a storm, broken or damaged branches should be removed as soon as possible at any time of year. Use a thinning-type cut just above the branch collar. Also, any branches that overhang a house or are near an overhead utility line should be removed for safety.
Don’t Prune At All
If you have a mature tree with large branches that are near your house or overhead utility lines, don’t prune them yourself. In that situation, it’s best to hire a professional arborist who has the specialized training and equipment to do the job safely.
How to Prune a Birch Tree
Birch trees are well known for their tall narrow trunks, papery bark, and delicate foliage. The birch tree is grown throughout Canada and the continental United States. Pruning birch trees limits insect infestations and promotes longer life. The following are some useful tips on how to prune a birch tree.
When to Prune
Birch trees should be pruned during the dormant months of late winter to early spring. It’s advised to avoid pruning birches from May to August as this is when insect borers are active in their flight.
What to Look for Before Pruning
Assess the overall shape of the birch tree. Look for damaged, barren, or diseased branches. Branches with V-shaped connections are also prone to weakness and breakage. It’s imperative to evaluate how the removal of the branch will increase the penetration of light that may get into the soil. Too much light into the soil at the root can change the level of moisture, leaving the birch tree susceptible to disease and infestation. Also, remove any lower branches that may prove to be a safety hazard or which overhang a sidewalk.
How to Prune
Smaller branches that are dead or diseased should be removed with hand pruning shears, cutting ¼ inch above a healthy lower branch. When removing larger branches, angle away from the tree using a pruning saw or loppers. Pruning cuts should be flush against the branch and approximately ¼ – ½ inch from the surface of the trunk. Pruning wounds should be allowed to callus naturally so as not to interfere with the natural resins and sap of the birch tree.