Commonly referred to as “the oldest trees in Britain,” the birch is a tree species with distinctive white bark and beautiful leaves making them as prized shade and ornamental trees. The leaves can be used to produce pleasant teas and infused oils. Parts of the birch can also be used as tonics and detoxifiers. Birch sap is refreshing and clear. It tastes wonderful when reduced by simmering down into golden brown syrup.
Birch trees can be grown in nearly any part of the U.S. but prefer soils that are rich in nutrition. They need about a workdays worth of sun and a soil pH level between 5.0-6.5
The most important factor for a healthy birch tree is good soil. Types of soils determine how much nutrients and water the tree has access to and also how efficiently the tree can use those nutrients.
1) Plant after all dangers of frost have passed. Select a spot that will receive about 8 hours of sunlight a day and have the roots/soil in a cool, shaded place. Be sure that no other plants, trees, or weeds nearby that will deprive the birch of nutrients. It needs to establish before any other plant life can grow near it.
2) Dig a hole that is three times as wide as the root ball and just as deep.
3) Mycorrhizal fungi is highly recommended as a soil additive when backfilling the dirt into your planting sight. Keep the tree as straight as possible and begin to backfill the hole. Put several shovels of dirt in and gently pat down the soil with your hands. Then add a few more scoops repeating the procedure until the hole is filled and the tree stands upright on its own. Younger trees may need to be staked.
4) Water deeply once the tree is planted. The moisture needs to get to the roots at a depth of 10-16 inches. Put a slow release of water on a hose and leave next to the root system area for a couple hours to be sure the depth is reached.
5) Spread a three-foot layer of mulch around the base of the tree with wood chips, shredded bark or leaf compost. Mulch will help the soil retain moisture and keep competing weeds from growing nearby.
6) Staking young trees is recommended after planting in order to make sure that they remain upright while becoming established. Metal rods or strong wooden stakes are the best. Tie off the tree with planters tape about 2/3rds of the way up the trunk so it has flexible movement at the top.
*Stakes can typically be removed after a year of planting. A good way to determine if your tree ready to stand on its own is to shake the center, if the root ball has no movement then your tree is ready to stand on its own. Birch trees have shallow root systems and need time to properly establish.
Provide deep a watering for the birch tree weekly using a hose next to the base with a slow flow of water for 2 hours during growing season. You may need to increase to twice weekly during hot, dry summers. Proper mulching can assist with keeping the roots and soil moist. Reduce watering towards the end of August so your tree can winterize for its dormant stage.
Birches should be fertilized omce or twice a year, once in spring and again mid-summer. Most people believe that you can use basic fertilizers as used on your lawn but this is not the case with birch trees. Lawn fertilizers have a large portion of nitrogen, which may promote growth, but at the expense of other development areas. An abundance nitrogen can also burn out the soil over a period of time.
Fertilize in the late spring and early summer with a product that targets root growth. Use an acidified evergreen fertilizer such as 10-10-10 because birch trees do better in soil that is slightly acidic.
The best time to prune birch trees is late summer or early autumn. Pruning at the right time is essential because birch trees bleed out a heavy flow of sap that can attract insects to the wounds and can spread diseases. It is very important to sterilize your pruning tool after each single branch cut is made (a basic household rubbing alcohol is useful and easy to come by).
Start by removing side shoots and suckers first and then decide which branches to remove. Be conservative with your pruning and do not remove more than 25% of the tree canopy as this can weaken birch trees to a near fatal state (also, never top a birch). Cut back branches that are less than 2 inches wide as close to the trunk as possible.
The beauty of a birch makes it a great addition to have in your yard wherever you’re located. Few trees are more elegant than birches. They stand out in the fall season with beautiful white bark popping against the yellows, oranges and reds of autumn leaves, not to mention its own golden yellow fall foliage color. It provides stunning contrast when paired up with evergreen trees.