Birch trees provide interest for our landscapes. Their distinctive bark is attractive all year long and its lemon-yellow leaves dance in the autumn sun. Growing one or more of these trees can be a challenge in some areas because birches, although grown across a wide range of climate zones, are a diverse family of sometimes picky individuals. Add the birch borer pest and anyone wanting to use birches in their landscape should prepare for a few challenges before picking one up at the nursery.
Choose a location with cool, moist, shaded soil for the birch's shallow roots but one that has full sunshine for most of the day. Site your birch on the north-east side of a building or plant compatible shrubs for shade outside its drip line.
Plant the tree in the right soil; birches in their natural habitat grow in sandy or silty loam. Break up heavy clay or compacted soil by cultivating and adding sand, compost or peat moss to allow your birch tree to grow without cramping its toes.
Water your birch deeply and mulch it to keep it healthy. Supplement any rainfall to a depth of 8 to 18 inches in the soil per week. Apply 2 to 4 inches of wood chip or bark mulch in a 3- to 6-foot radius ring around the tree, depending on its age.
Fertilize only when needed to correct a deficiency, jump-start a new planting or maintain an old tree's health with a slow-release fertilizer. Apply fertilizers in late fall, after the tree has entered dormancy, or early spring.
Prune your birch only while dormant and practice vigilance against pests. Prune only to maintain shape and remove dead branches. Treat leaf miners with a foliar spray as early as possible. Start heavy watering at the first sign of birch borer; consult a university extension agent or forester before using available surface-applied or systemic pesticides.