Birch Trees 101

Birch trees are recognizable to most for their beautiful bark, which makes them beautiful even in winter. Birch trees are highly desirable trees in the home landscape but these trees, perhaps more than any other, have cultural needs that must be addressed in order for them to thrive.

Birches are successful when planted in cool, moist soil when they are not planted in optimal sites. They tend to be attacked by birch leaf miners and bronze birch borers. When homeowners plant these trees without considering their needs, they tend to die within just a few years instead of their usual life-span of up to 50 years.

When thinking of birch trees, people think of the Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), which is quick growing and short-lived. They are medium-sized trees with their peeling, paper-like bark. They often snap in bad weather. These trees are true northerners that will not tolerate heat or drought of any type. Susceptible to birch leaf miner and bronze birch borer. Hardy in zones 2-6, height can be up to 70 feet.

River Birch (Betula nigra) is hardy in zones 4-9 and can grow up to 70 feet. They are often multi-stemmed trees, with attractive exfoliating bark. River birches are tolerant of wet soil, so they are great for low spots and rain gardens in your yard.

Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) has orangish bark that peels and changes colors at it ages. It is resistant to birch leaf miner and less susceptible to bronze birch borer, but not immune.

Whitespire Birch (Betula platyphylla japonica) features white, non-peeling bark and is considered more heat-tolerant than other white birch trees. However, it is still susceptible to birch leaf miner and bronze birch borer.