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How to Prune Weeping Birch Trees

By Kelly Shetsky ; Updated September 21, 2017

Weeping birch (Betula pendula 'Youngii') has white bark that peels off over time. There is no central leader or main trunk to the tree, and its stems hang down, which causes the weeping appearance. The branches and limbs grow up from the center of the tree, then bend over and grow toward the ground. A healthy weeping birch should live 40 to 50 years, but some die before they are 20 years old. Weeping birch is also susceptible to birch leafminer and bronze birch borer, serious insect pests that can cause widespread damage. Pruning a weeping birch will keep it healthy by removing diseased limbs and resulting in a better shape.

Prune weeping trees in the winter, before spring growing begins. Avoid pruning between May 1 and August 1 because that is the flight period of the bronze birch borer, which will infect open wounds in the bark.

Pull up all shoots or sprouts that appear in the ground around the bottom of the weeping birch tree. They will make the appearance messy because they grow straight up and don't weep.

Prune dead, damaged and diseased branches as soon as they are noticed. They do nothing to enhance the tree's appearance and may actually cause insect infestation to spread to other parts of the weeping birch.

Cut unwanted branches next to their collar, which is the thicker area where the branch meets the trunk of the tree. Avoid leaving a stump. Pruning close to the collar will encourage faster healing.

Be careful with larger limbs. Make a cut under the unwanted limb, going about 1/3 of the way into the branch. Follow with a cut on the upper side of the branch just a little forward from the previous cut, meeting the previous cut to cause the branch to fall away. With the bulk of the limb's weight removed, you can then finish the job by cutting off the remaining stub close to the collar.

Cut branches off that touch the ground. Use pruning shears to place the cut next to a bud if you want to shorten the limb. To completely remove it, prune it where it meets the tree trunk.

Remove branches that rub or cross each other as well as those that are not weeping. Again, make cuts next to the collar to optimize healing.

 

Things You Will Need

  • Gloves
  • Pruning shears
  • Pruning saw or chain saw

Tips

  • Protect yourself with gloves while pruning weeping birch.
  • Wear eye goggles when using a saw.
  • Use pruning shears on thinner, younger branches and a saw on those that are thicker in diameter. It's essential to get a clean cut without further damaging the bark.

Warnings

  • Don't prune more than 25 percent of a weeping birch's live canopy.
  • Don't use wound dressings because they will not repel borers or close wounds.
  • Weeping birch sap is sticky and can mar cars and other objects placed under the tree. If your weeping birch is near a parking area, prune so that branches don't hang over parked cars to avoid sap stains.

About the Author

 

Based in New York State, Kelly Shetsky started writing in 1999. She is a broadcast journalist-turned Director of Marketing and Public Relations and has experience researching, writing, producing and reporting. She writes for several websites, specializing in gardening, medical, health and fitness, entertainment and travel. Shetsky has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Marist College.