The River Birch Tree

The river birch tree is named Betula Nigra, and it’s a magnificent tree for large areas such as parks or residential estates. It is not the best tree for walkways and drives because of the peeling bark and fallen branches which birches are known for, but which can make a mess of a flat, clean area. The tree loves wet, acidic soil and while it can stand periods of heavy rain and flooding, it doesn’t need those conditions to thrive. It also does well in dry soil.

River birch trees love warm weather, and of the twelve different birch varieties that grow from the arctic reaches down to the south, it is the only variety that grows naturally in the southern United States. The tree needs lots of sunshine and it doesn’t mind high temperatures. Dark green in the summertime, the birch turns shades of yellow and gold in the fall.

More and more river birch trees are being seen in urban areas--they are fast growing and each tree can grow from 40 to 70 feet tall. They withstand wind, snow and ice and people love the colored paper-thin bark which turns various hues of orange, peach and lavender. The only thing a river birch tree doesn’t like is shade.

In 2002, the River Birch “Heritage” variety was selected as Tree of the Year by the Society of Municipal Arborists. It is an all-purpose tree, easily transplantable, and very resistant to all kinds of pests, including the bronze birch borer. One thing to look out for is the acidity of your soil. The river birch can show signs of having an iron deficiency--yellowish, stunted leaves--if the soil is very alkaline and goes over a level of PH7. This can sometimes happen especially if you have recently have done a renovation and there has been much use of lime, cement, gravel or bricks. Should an iron deficiency be diagnosed, it is easy to treat with iron tablets.

Although as mentioned, the river birch tree can take extremes in wet and dry conditions, if a tree is still very young it would be best to water it during a drought. There are also products you can buy that are designed to maintain root moisture. It’s very important to mulch a river birch tree. Wood chips, organic mulch or leaf compost are all excellent selections.

The papery bark of the river birch tree makes it look appealing but it is also thin, and a tree could be damaged if care is not taken when using a lawn mower or other similar type of machinery around the tree. Even a very small wound can leave the tree open to disease. Pruning should not be done unless absolutely necessary, and then only during times when the tree is dormant.

A river birch tree or several can be a beautiful addition to any yard so don’t be afraid to plant one. As far as trees go, it needs very little care, and soon you will see more and more of them replacing other more fragile trees in urban environments.