Betula birch

Graceful and elegant hardy deciduous trees with attractive white, brown or pinkish bark. Best known for the species B. pendula (Silver Birch), which has a distinctive white trunk and cascading branches.

Family: Betulaceae
Botanical Name: Betula
Common Names: Birch, bed wen, birk tree

Foliage: Deciduous, toothed, diamond-shaped small green leaves. Generally good autumn colour before leaf fall. The trunk and branches may have white, pink or peeling brown/red bark.

Blossom: Yellowish green male and female catkins, usually opening before the leaves.

Flowering Period: Spring.

Soil: Moist but well-drained soil (chalk, clay, sand or loam). Acid, alkaline or neutral pH.

Conditions: Full sun or partial shade. Can be planted in any aspect.

Habit: Tall, columnar or weeping.

Type: Medium to large-sized tree.

Origin: North America, Asia and Europe.

Hardiness: Fully hardy in the UK.

Planting and Growing Betula

Plant field-grown trees from November to March. Container-grown trees can be planted at any reasonable time. Thrives in a wide range of soil types, including poor soils.

Grow in an open sunny site or semishade. The roots spread over a wide area so plant birches away from walls, fences and hedges.

Good for Woodland Gardens. Weeping forms of B. pendula make ideal lawn specimens.

Taking Care of Betula

Water well until established. Birches are shallow-rooted so do not underplant.

Pruning Betula

Needs little or no pruning except to remove dead and damaged wood or congested/crossing shoots, in late summer or early autumn. May be subject to bleed if pruned at any other time. Ensure a central leader is maintained until desired height is reached.

Pests and Diseases

Susceptible to attack by birch borers, leaf-mining sawflies and aphids. Can be affected by honey fungus, tree rust, leaf spot and powdery mildews.

Propagating Betula

Sow seed of species outdoors in early spring. Bud or graft cultivars on to seedling stocks, in early spring or summer.

Varieties of Betula

Betula albosinensis septentrionalis (Chinese red birch) is a medium-sized, conical tree with orange-brown or red flaking bark. Height to (25m). Variety 'Red Panda' has a rich red bark with a rich cinnamon colour. Height to 33ft (10m).

Betula ermanii (Erman's Birch) is a tall tree forming a broad cone up to 65ft (20m) tall or higher. Pinkish white bark.

Betula mandshurica (Japanese White Birch) is one of the most attractive species, the bark being pure white on the main trunk.

Betula nigra (river birch) is a robust species from America with dark brown, almost black, shaggy bark. Height 33ft (10m).

Betula papyrifera (paper birch) is a tall tree with light, open crown. White shredded peeling bark. Large, ovate leaves with superb golden autumn colour. Height up to 65ft (20m).

Betula pendula (Silver birch, common birch) forms a graceful tree with loosely pendulous branches and white peeling bark. Succeeds on poor sandy or chalky soils. Height up to 35ft. Varieties include:

  • 'Dalecarlica' (Swedish Birch) has lovely finely cut foliage carried on weeping stems and a white bark.
  • 'Fastlgiata' is a columnar-shaped small tree.
  • 'Purpurea' has attractive purple leaves and branches.
  • 'Silver Shadow' popular birch that has dazzling white bark.
  • 'Tristis' is tall and narrow with pendent branches.
  • 'Youngii' is an attractive compact weeping form.

Betula populifolia (Grey birch, White birch) is a narrowly conical tree with reddish brown bark becoming white or grey. The glossy dark green leaves turn yellow in autumn.

Betula utilis (Himalayan birch) is an attractive tree with a spreading habit and variable flaking bark, cream-white or cinnamon-brown. Height up to 50ft (15m). Variety 'jacquemontii' is a vigorous deciduous, narrowly columnar tree with white bark. Long catkins in spring. Golden yellow autumn colour. Height to about 33ft (10m).