Learn which plants thrive in your Hardiness Zone with our new interactive map!

How to Prune Birch Trees

By Kelly Shetsky ; Updated September 21, 2017

Landscapers covet birch trees because of their distinctive bark characteristics and shaped, delicate foliage. However, they can be difficult species because they are prone to insect infestation and may decline in health before reaching maturity.

Birch trees should live for 40 to 50 years, but some die before turning 20. They have a shallow root system and need moist soil to thrive. Pruning birch trees will limit insect damage and promote a longer life.

Prune birch trees during the dormant growing season (fall or winter). Do not prune them between May and August because it is the bronze birch borer's flight period, which will attack fresh wounds. Aim to trim off less than 25 percent of the tree's canopy.

Climb the ladder and look through the canopy for broken, diseased or dead branches. Follow the limbs inside the canopy to the point where they meet healthy wood.

Focus on branches that have V-shaped connections with other limbs. These are prone to weakness and cracking. Limbs with U-shaped joints are stronger.

Mark unwanted limbs with a fluorescent spray paint. Spray the paint at the collar, which is the flared-out section of bark at the base of the branches.

Use a pruning saw to cut unwanted limbs next to the collar. This is the spot where tissue is most likely to regrow. Make sure not to leave stumps.

Prune older branches every few years. This will allow the tree to rejuvenate itself and focus on new growth.


Things You Will Need

  • Ladder
  • Gloves
  • Landscaping spray paint
  • Pruning saw


  • Use a registered insecticide on pruning wounds if you must trim the birch during the summer months.
  • Pruning birch trees in the spring will causes asp to flow freely, which attracts migrating beetles.


  • Do not excessively prune birch trees. Heavy cutting will cause too much light to hit the soil, increasing the heat and reducing the moisture levels.
  • Do not use wound dressings when pruning because they don't repel borers or close wounds.

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.