It’s hard to resist the distinctive peeling bark, dappled shade and constantly rippling leaves that make birch trees so easily recognized. Winter or summer, the brilliant white or coral-colored light pink bark stands out in the landscape. Birch is a vigorous, fast-growing, medium-sized tree which can be grown as either a single trunk or multi-stemmed “clump” tree and features salmon-cream to brownish bark which is constantly peeling to reveal a creamy white inner bark, which gradually turns pale pink.
Easily grown average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade, native River birch is perhaps the most hardy and heat tolerant of the birches, so it survives much better in southern Ohio than white birch varieties. Since River Birch refers moist, acidic, fertile soils including semi-aquatic conditions, it does particularly well in wet soils along ponds, streams or in low spots. Native River Birch grows naturally in floodplains, swampy bottomlands and along seasonal creeks.
‘Cully’ Birch, often sold as “Heritage” Birch, is one of the most disease-free birches. Most species of birch do not adapt well to the hot summers of 5-9 (We’re in Zone 6) and can be short-lived. Birches weakened by heat and humidity are vulnerable to the bronze birch borer. “Heritage” River birches are Missouri natives that are naturally adapted to this area and are extremely resistant to birch borer.
We often see Birch clumps planted at the corners of homes, which is usually a bad idea. Birches mature to a rounded shape typically 40-70’ tall, and as much as 50’ wide. Ideally these trees should be located away from buildings (they can be quite messy), preferably where they get some shade for at least part of the day.
Birch leaves turn yellow and fall if the tree gets too dry. Extreme dryness causes dieback, resulting in a shower of dead twigs which can be a real nuisance. Unless you are willing to give your birch tree a weekly deep-root soaking during drought, you need to plant the tree in a spot that is naturally moist year-round.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in outdoor living spaces. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.