The white birch, also known as the paper birch and the canoe birch, is among the most utilized of all ornamental trees. White birch features a rounded shape when mature with a bark that makes it stand out in any season, especially in autumn when its leaves turn brilliant yellow. White birch exists across most of the American North, from Labrador westward to Alaska. Native Americans made extensive use of this tree and you can use it as well, but to enhance your landscape--not to construct canoes.
White birch is a medium-sized tree, with most in the wild growing to heights between 50 and 70 feet. The trunk is typically about 1 to 2 feet wide. The leaves of a white birch are ovate, around 2 to 4 inches long and 1 or 2 inches in width. The male and female flowers of birches, called catkins, exist on the same tree. On a white birch, the male catkins often grow in threes and are up to 4 inches long, with the female catkins half as long. The female catkins develop into a cylindrical cone about 1 1/2 inches long that disintegrate when ripe, spreading the seeds.
Look at a white birch after about four or five growing seasons and you will notice that its red-brown bark has turned to a chalky white. This is the most attractive aspect of a white birch. The white bark is papery in nature and you would be able to peel it off in strips if you desired. Refrain from doing so on living upright specimens and take the bark from downed white birches to inspect it. The older white birches have black patches, and if you were to strip away white birch bark, you would note the inner bark is a shade of orange.
Select a spot for your white birch that is in full sun, as this species cannot thrive in shady areas. In nature, white birch takes over in open areas after a fire. Put a white birch where the soil is moist, as birches require plenty of water to grow. While this can be problematic, since full sun usually causes dry conditions, try putting your white birch on the north or east side of your home, where afternoon shade can help keep the ground wet. Scout your property in the middle of a summer afternoon for such a location long before bringing your seedling home.
The National Forest Service website suggests it is always prudent to place mulch around a white birch as it grows since this will conserve any moisture in the ground near your birch. Employ such mulching agents as wood chips, leaf compost or shredded bark. Place it around the base of the tree at depths of 2 to 4 inches and in a ring with a 6-foot radius on mature specimens and 3 feet on new seedlings. Prevent such problems as competition from weeds, loss of heat from the ground around the tree and potential collisions between your lawnmower and your birch with adequate amounts of mulch.
Keep the ground around your white birch moist during the growing season. Avoid a schedule of multiple short waterings and opt for one long watering session weekly if there is a noticeable lack of rainfall that creates a dry scenario for the tree. Lay a water hose down near the tree where its flow will reach the roots of your white birch. Turn the hose on and let the water come out in a slow manner for as long as two hours, until you can take the dirt in the vicinity of the birch and form a ball with it in your hand. Reduce the amount of water you give your white birch by late August.