While out walking today and noticing all the many dry, struggling, and demised Birch (Betula) trees out in the landscapes, I felt compelled to try and offer some quick facts on Birch trees to hopefully help people enjoy those beautiful, graceful, white barked trees in their landscape for many, many years!
I personally find that The Sunset Western Garden Book is a must have guide to refer to before I plant anything that I am not familiar- The Western Garden Book recommends regular watering and well drained soil for Birch trees.
Additionally, an interesting note to point out is that a tree or plants name can often give a hint to it’s preferences, such as the Birch tree, who has several ‘common names’ depending upon the variety, such as Water Birch, River Birch and Canoe Birch- all names which clearly suggest water, rather than drought resistance.
While Birch trees have a shallow root system and prefer to be planted in an area where their roots will be shaded, it is not generally recommended to plant them in a lawn as they not only steal water away from the lawn, but their surface roots can, and often do, run rampant, taking over a healthy lawn as well as lawn watering does not typically provide the deep watering that trees generally prefer.
In trying to accommodate the fluctuating water needs in the garden, Utopic Gardens typically installs a valve solely for trees, with adjustable ‘Bubbler’ emitters, to allow for not only monitoring the watering schedule but to differentiate the watering requirements of trees from landscaped areas.
An excellent position for a birch tree in the landscape would be either on the East or North side of the home, where it can receive afternoon shade from the building, rather than hot afternoon heat that can dry and heat up the soil around its roots. Also take into account, while looking for the perfect position for your Birch tree, any existing overhangs and overhead power lines, which may hamper future growth and require drastic and unsightly pruning, ruining the trees graceful appearance and opening wounds, to invite pests, to which some Birch trees are susceptible. Lastly, Birch trees are not the best selection for planting over a patio or along a driveway, as they all are susceptible to Aphids that drip sticky honeydew.
In summery, the Birch tree is sure to provide you with up to 40-50 years of easy, graceful beauty and wonderful yellow autumn color, if planted in well drained soil, with shaded roots and given regular watering.