Of the Betulaceae family, the birch is an ornamental tree that can be used to renew the greenery in certain areas where it is clearly lacking. With over 40 existing species, it only needs soil moisture to grow and can even bloom under the snow. By itself, in a clump or in a line, birch lends itself to several kinds of planting. Some insects and diseases are harmful to birch, but they can be treated effectively.

The birch, a beautiful ornamental tree with abundant foliage ranging from green to yellow and red depending on the season, is known though four species. First, Betula humilis and Betula nana are two kinds of shrubs, while Betula pubescens and Betula pendula are large trees. Birch trees will grow anywhere, regardless of whether the soil is poor, calcareous, siliceous or acidic. In their regions of origin, whether it be North America, Asia or northern Europe, birch trees have a longevity that can easily exceed 90 years whereas in most European countries, they rarely reach 30. With a height of up to 25 m and a diameter of 50 cm on average, this majestic tree brightens up gardens and lawns. Beyond its ornamental nature, birch was useful as treatment and its trunk was used to make canoes.

Planting birch

Whether the seedlings are prepared at home or purchased in the trade, planting birch is very simple. Using a spade, dig a little over 50 cm in the ground. Then, remove the tree from its pot. If necessary, plunge the rootball in a bucket of water until all the air bubbles escape.  The tree must then be placed in the centre of the hole, which will be closed by packing soil firmly around the tree’s base before watering thoroughly. One should however be careful not to set the birch tree near a building, as it is a tree that greatly grows and thickens, along with its roots that expand just as quickly.  Much appreciated, the planting of birch clumps serves a decorative purpose. To do this, all you need is a spade for digging, fertilizer, a watering can, a tub full of water, garden stakes and straps. In a hole dug several days before, with a depth exceeding 80 cm and about 1 m in diameter, place the fertilizer at the bottom and then cover it with a little soil. Three birch seedlings, sufficiently soaked in a tub of water, are placed side by side in the hole. Each clump will be slightly tilted towards the hole’s edges, while its position will be maintained by attaching it to a garden stake. The hole then needs to be closed, with special care to thoroughly pack down the soil. Around the three-seedling set, a ring-shaped design will be arranged with the earth surplus and filled with water that will slowly seep into the ground. A clump growth can also be obtained from a single tree. Simply cut it at an approximate height of 70 cm. The new growth will give three to four young trees that will grow in clumps. Another planting technique consists of planting young birch in a straight line, spacing them out by 2 to 3 m. The result is a beautiful hedge with alternating yellow, orange and white tree trunks. Provided that the appropriate container is used, Betula nana, a dwarf species of birch, is well-suited to indoor cultivation. Before it is planted, birch can be propagated by seedlings, cuttings, grafting and many other techniques used on other trees.

Pruning and gardening tips

Birch does not require any particular maintenance, except for pruning which takes place in autumn and winter when the tree’s growth is stagnant.  Appropriate mulching should be provided, in order to prevent a lack of moisture and the emergence of weeds. At a young age, birch needs to be constantly watered during the dry season. In spite of being cold-resistant, birch is not immune to insects like aphids and thrips or diseases such as powdery mildew. If the affected birch, after being successfully sprayed with soapy water or a mixture of olive oil and water, is rid of aphids, it is best to remove all the leaves that have been damaged by thrips and wash the tree’s foliage with an abundant water jet. Furthermore, the birch leaves should be sprayed with a solution of 9 liters of water per 1 liter of skim milk to ward off mildew. Betula lenta, Betula alleghaniensis and Betula jacquemontii are among other species of birch that are particularly resistant to disease.

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Published in Large trees by Alexander on 04 Jul 2011