The birch tree comes in many types, with two commonly planted trees being the paper birch and the river birch. Paper birches have stark white skin and river birches reddish-brown skin. Both trees have the flaky, thin bark characteristic of a birch; both benefit from regular pruning to remove unhealthy wood and shape the tree. While gardeners prune most trees in the late winter to early spring, birch trees weep a sticky sap if pruned at this time. Hold off on birch tree trimming until late spring or summer to avoid creating a sticky mess.
Check the branches of your birch tree looking for signs of dead, diseased or damaged growth. Diseased or damaged growth may be discolored, bent, broken or bearing cankers or growths that make it easy to tell apart from healthy wood. Dead wood feels hollow and does not move in the wind. Removing unhealthy and dead growth keeps your birch tree healthy and should be done whenever you notice dead wood.
Mix a 1-to-10 solution of bleach and water in a bucket. Place your pruning tools in the bucket. Clip off dead or unhealthy growth at its base, using lopping shears for branches thicker than 1 inch and anvil pruners for thinner growth. To cut large limbs, use a hand saw. Immerse your pruners in the bleach solution after every cut to disinfect them before moving on to the next cut.
Remove branches that compress other branches, since they will cause damage if left on the tree.
Cut off low-growing or downward-growing branches. Trim back the tips of long branches to maintain a compact size if you wish.
Clip off suckers that grow out of past pruning cuts or from the birch trunk. These detract from your tree's appearance and sap energy from the tree.