Birch trees are widely incorporated into landscapes because of their elegant form, delicate foliage and attractive bark. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, several varieties exist and each are distinctive in their growth habits, bark color and susceptibility to disease and insect damage. Choosing the hardiest birch tree for your region and location, and giving it a good start by planting a sapling correctly will help prevent future growth problems.
Hardiness and Lifespan
Different birch tree varieties grow well in different climates. For instance, yellow birches grow well around the Great Lakes and the Northeastern part of the country while river and red birches are southern natives that enjoy growing along the Mississippi River. White barked trees, such as paper birches, do better in cooler climates found in places like North Dakota and Minnesota. A healthy birch tree will survive up to 50 years, although many trees added to landscapes generally survive only 20 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture states.
Not all birch trees look alike. Gray birches that grow in the Northeast have white, nonpeeling bark. Crimson frost has white peeling bark with crimson tones. Heritage birches are native to USDA Hardiness Zone 6 and have salmon-toned bark that peels. Yellow birches that are Great Lakes and Northern region natives have yellowish-orange bark that peels and turns reddish-brown as it ages. Most birches grow up to 50 feet tall and have yellow fall leaves.
Birches grow best in moist soil that remains cool during the day and in sites where the leaves will be exposed to full-sun throughout the day. In home landscapes, birches thrive on the east and north sides of structures, which help to keep the soil cool. More heat-tolerant varieties thrive along the south or west side of a building. Spots that are shaded in the mid to late afternoon by other trees or tall plants are where birch trees begin to grow. But these trees have shallow roots and tall branches which interfere if planted too closely to sidewalks and under utility wires. Soil that is loose and that drains well is ideal for birches.
Birch trees' shallow root systems remain protected in undisturbed forests and other rural areas, but in home landscapes mulching is needed to protect the roots and the trunk from lawnmower and weed trimmer damage. As they grow, birches prefer to recieve anywhere from 8 to 18 inches of water each week. Storm damage that occurs between May and August could attract female bronze birch borers, which are known to be attracted to fresh wood wounds.