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Birch Culture

Outstanding Features

  • Colorful bark ranging from pure white of paper birch to light mahogany of river birch.
  • Pendulous catkins offer interest in early spring.
  • Brilliant yellow fall foliage.
  • Small to medium sized trees, many with rapid growth rate.
  • Upright growth habit but some cultivars with weeping or pendulous branches.

Landscape Use

  • Smaller cultivars useful as specimen trees for small properties.
  • Birches do not cast dense shade, therefore they can be combined with a number of understory shrubs and herbaceous plants.
  • Easy to grow in clumps of 3 or 4 trees, giving the appearance of multi-stemmed trees and provide pleasing alternative to single stemmed trees in landscapes.
  • Very good winter effects when planted with an evergreen background; shrubs with bright colored stems such as red-stemmed dogwood contrast well with white bark species of birch.

Cultural Requirements

  • Best planted in spring since some are slow to establish.
  • Prune only to correct problems but delay pruning until leaves are fully expanded; pruning in late winter and early spring results in profuse "bleeding" of sap from pruning wounds.
  • Plant only in soils which are deep, rich, moist and slightly acid. Good drainage is essential.
  • Plant in full sun.
  • Avoid hot, dry urban planting locations.

Key Pests


  • Birch leaf miner
  • Bronze birch borer

Birches are susceptible to numerous other pests and diseases which are less common.

Common Cultural Problems

Chlorosis - Planting in high pH soils can result in yellowing or chlorosis of leaves. Plant in soils with pH of 6.5 or less. For established trees with chlorosis, apply sulfur to lower pH or use acidifying fertilizers.

Selected Species and Cultivars

Betula nigra - River Birch: Best grown as multi-stemmed specimen; reddish brown bark; 40-70' tall; best suited for moisture retentive soils. 'Heritage' is a cultivar with large, leathery leaves and off-white bark. This native species is more resistant to bronze birch borer than other species.

Betula papyrifera - Paper, Canoe or White Birch: Pure white bark; 50-70' tall, rounded form to canopy at maturity; attractive as multi-stemmed specimen though single stem habit is also appealing; not well suited to urban environments due to low tolerance to air pollution. However, it is a native species and is less susceptible to bronze birch borer than is European birch.

Betula platyphylla var. japonica - Asian White Birch: Pure white bark; 40-50' tall; fast growing with pyramidal habit; has shown some resistance to bronze birch borer.

Generally, birch species with non-white bark are less susceptible to bronze birch borer and birch leaf miner. These species should be considered on sites where borer and leaf miner have been serious problems.

Written by: Ron Kujawski
Revised: 08/2011