What to plant under a Birch tree?

Birch trees have the most beautiful bark.You can create a mini forrest with Birches by doing the classic Edna Walling method of throwing a bunch of potatoes and planting a Birch wherever your spuds land. What a view.

Only problem is, nothing grows under an established Birch.

Case 1 – I once had a client and friend in Ascot Vale, she had some lovely established birches, but would always curse them. I thought we could persevere but my friend was right. So instead we planted Azaleas in nice big pots on a pebble mulch. This filled in the space quite nicely. It was a front garden which could only be seen from inside the house, the trees and the elevated Azaleas worked a treat.

Case 2 – I planted a garden in Northcote about 3 years ago. It had an established Birch tree in the front garden. I decided we could use native Lomandra grasses and Correas to fill out underneath. Well, 3 years later I have conceded defeat. Correas are an excellent Australian native, the ideal plant for dry shade. And, Lomandras, well these are what I call car park plants. Tough evergreen grasses. The birch won the day, so rather than work against it, we worked with it. I reshaped the garden beds to mirror the curve of the front deck, and added blue metal to compliment the bluestone ballast that is already a feature of the garden. This covers the main drip line of the tree, and further out from there we have a mix of Correas with other dry shade plants.

Case 3 – my place. In my new found home many moons ago, and as a devotee of Edna Walling, I planted 3 birches. Perfect tree for height in a small space. Now, I have 2 lovely fastigate birches (that’s a very narrow form), and, one Betula pendula under which nothing, and I mean nothing will grow. So my solution is to create a raised round garden bed with steel edging to reflect the rest of the gardens shape. It will be clear of the tree, like an oversized pot almost, then I can fill it with lots of colour to contrast with that lovely white trunk.

Birch bark in Coburg

Silver Birch(Betula Pendula) are by far Melbourne’s most popular tree. They are easy to grow and if properly looked after they will grow quickly for the first few years, with growth of up to 6ft per year. Silver Birch are very attractive in all seasons with soft green lacy foliage creating dappled shade in the summer. In the autumn the foliage turns gold and in winter you have a brilliant white trunk with red hanging branches.

Ultimately Birches don’t get too large when compared with Elms, Oaks, Ash or Liquidambar, nor are their roots overly aggressive. They are quite shallow and generally don’t go for the pipes. Silver Birch can be used as a specimen or they can be planted in a clump of 3-5 trees. The advantage of clump planting is that multiple white trunks have a far bigger impact than a single tree trunk, and when birches are clumped close together the competition between the trees stops them from becoming too large.

Clump several Birches together for a more striking effect.

Silver Birches are not an expensive tree and they lend themselves to mass planting. Use as an avenue or screen along a fence, and plant Birch trees 2-3 metres apart. Ultimately they are a long lived tree that doesn’t grow too big. They allow gardens and lawns to flourish beneath them and they allow plenty of dappled shade in through the summer, and all of the winter sun as they are deciduous.

The secret of growing good fast growing Silver Birch is to select young healthy trees that haven’t been in pots for years, plant them with no root disturbance and have at least 4ft of grass free, mulched or cultivated garden bed around each tree. This should be well drained; mound up the bed of soil if the soil is poorly drained. Keep the area around the Birch free of grass and use plenty of water in the middle of summer. Fertilise often with small doses of complete fertiliser.

Many trees and shrubs go in and out of fashion, but the Silver Birch is not a fashion item. It is an elegant tree that adds a touch of class and beauty to any landscape. The presence of Silver Birch in the garden does not date the garden.

4 Common Trees With White Bark

Whether planning a major landscaping renovation, or looking to plant a new tree in your yard, there is no better way to make a striking contrast than with a white bark tree species. White bark trees are simply stunning, and offer a wide range of benefits like most trees do. Not only do they add beauty to your landscaping with their brilliant white trunks, they provide ample shade, noise reduction, snow fencing, and energy efficiency benefits for both homes and buildings.

There are several white bark tree species to choose from, many of which are well-suited for the U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones in Indiana (5a, 6a, & 6b). Some of the most common trees with white bark that property owners admire include the Ghost Gum, Sycamore, White Poplar, and Quaking Aspen.

Continue reading to learn some interesting and relevant facts about these four stunning tree species.

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Ghost Gum

The Ghost Gum tree may sound like it has an eerie name, but don’t let that scare you off. Native tree of Australia, these trees are beautiful in the spring, summer, and fall seasons. In addition to its unique white bark, the Ghost Gum grows to amazing heights. Typically, it can reach between 40 and 60 feet in height with a canopy that is 20 to 25 feet in width. These trees grow best in USDA Hardiness Zones 9 to 11, so they are not a good choice for Indiana climate.


Sycamore trees are classic additions to any landscaping since they are beautiful and unique, as well as, tall, strong, and sturdy. Although they have stunning white bark, it does peel off in patches during certain times of the year. They grow best in Hardiness zones 4b through 9a, so long as they are planted in well-drained soil and full sun. Sycamores can grow tall, between 50 to 70 feet in width and 75 to 90 feet in height.

White Poplar

White Poplar trees are “popular” choices for landscaping because they are beautiful and they grow fast. They have a single, upright trunk that is white in color. Toward the end of the tree’s lifespan, the bark begins to darken and develop ridges, rendering it a new kind of beauty. White Poplars can grow tall and wide too, reaching 60 to 100 feet in height and 40 to 50 feet wide. They are recommended for USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 9, making Indiana a perfect home.

Quaking Aspen

Quaking Aspens are unique because they have magnificent white trunks, but also because they can grow in most soil types and even tolerate minor flooding conditions. These trees are medium in size, and generally grows to an average of 50 feet in height, with a 25 foot canopy. Just like the White Poplars, their trunks get darker in color as they age, and begin to develop small, thick ridges. Quaking Aspens are recommended for USDA Hardiness Zones 1 through 10.

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Noblesville Tree Service 317-537-9770

Call 317-537-9770 for Noblesville tree service and tree removal advice you can trust. We are highly trained and experienced tree care technicians that offer a wide range of residential and commercial tree services at the most competitive prices in town. We offer everything from routine tree services to major tree work, and more. And don’t forget about our tree service coupons! Call 317-537-9770 to request a free estimate, today.


Birch, any of about 40 species of short-lived ornamental and timber trees and shrubs constituting the genus Betula (family Betulaceae), distributed throughout cool regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Ivory birch (family Euphorbiaceae) and West Indian birch (family Burseraceae) are not true birches. The name bog birch is applied to a species of buckthorn, as well as to B. glandulosa.

European white birch (Betula pendula).G. Lord/Shostal Associates

A birch has smooth, resinous, varicoloured or white bark, marked by horizontal pores (lenticels), which usually peels horizontally in thin sheets, especially on young trees. On older trunks the thick, deeply furrowed bark breaks into irregular plates. Short, slender branches rise to a narrow pyramidal crown on a young tree; they become horizontal, often pendulous, on an older tree. The egg-shaped or triangular, usually pointed leaves have toothed margins; they are alternately arranged on the branchlets. They are usually bright green, turning yellow in autumn. The drooping male catkins flower before the leaves emerge; smaller, upright female catkins on the same tree develop in conelike clusters, which disintegrate at maturity, releasing tiny, one-seeded, winged nutlets.

  • Bark of the paper birch (Betula papyrifera).E.H. Ketchledge
  • Sweet birch (Betula lenta).Walter Chandoha

Gray birch, paper birch, river birch, sweet birch, yellow birch, and white birch are the best known; white birch is usually called silver birch in England, but the latter name is also sometimes given to paper birch and to yellow birch. The Japanese monarch birch (B. maximowicziana) is a valuable timber tree of Japan, especially in the plywood industry. Usually 30 metres (100 feet) high, with flaking gray or orange-gray bark, it has heart-shaped leaves about 15 centimetres (6 inches) long and is a hardy ornamental. The similar Japanese cherry birch (B. grossa) also produces useful timber.

  • Paper birch (Betula papyrifera), with white trunks, and sugar maple (Acer saccharum) trees.© John Anderson/iStock.com
  • Drawing of a white birch.Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Water birch (B. occidentalis; B. fontinalis of some authorities), a shrubby tree native to moist sites along the western coast of North America, has nonpeeling, dark-red bark; it grows in clusters, with all stems rising from a common root system. It is sometimes called red birch, black birch, or mountain birch. Swamp birch (B. pumila), a similar but smaller shrub, is found on boggy sites; it may be erect or trailing and matted. Bog birch (B. glandulosa) of North America, also called tundra dwarf birch or resin birch, and dwarf birch, or dwarf Arctic birch (B. nana), native to most far northern areas of the world, are small alpine and tundra shrubs commonly known as ground birch. Both species have almost circular leaves, are food sources for birds and grazing animals, and may be planted as ornamentals. Several Chinese birches and the Japanese white birch (B. platyphylla japonica) are sometimes used ornamentally. A few natural hybrids between trees and shrubs of the genus Betula are cultivated as ornamentals in Europe and North America.

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Pale- to red-brown birchwood is used for flooring, furniture, cabinetry, interior finishing, vehicle parts, plywood, pulp, and turnery. The thin, water-impervious bark provided roofing, canoes, and shoes for North American Indians and early settlers. Birch oil and birch beer made from sap are obtained from the trees. Woodsmen rely on the ability of yellow and paper birch bark to burn even when wet.

Birches were among the first trees to become established after the glaciers receded. Hardy, quick growing, and relatively immune to disease and insect attack, they are valuable in reforestation, erosion control, and as protective cover, or nurse trees, for development of more permanent plants. Most require moist, sandy, and loamy soil; they are usually propagated by seeding or grafting. Many ornamental varieties are cultivated for their leaf colour, leaf shape, or growth habit.

Best birch trees for your garden

The UK’s native silver birch, Betula pendula is among the most frequently requested trees at nurseries. Why? It’s a key woodland pioneer species but as a choice for our gardens, it’s really about the bark. That wonderfully tactile, peeling white bark.


Most nurserymen will go on to name the second most popular tree as Betula utilis var. jacquemontii, (see above) whose bark is the whitest of all in the Betula genus. But with more than 60 known species, and numerous cultivars now widely available, Betula is anything but a one-dimensional blonde.



Betula utilis var. jacquemontii

(pictured above)
One of the whitest barked birches, this is, not surprisingly, one of the most popular. Planted en masse, it is difficult to beat for drama, however, a single multi-stemmed tree in a smaller garden can also look dramatic. 9-12m. USDA 4a-7b.


Betula utilis var. jacquemontii ‘Grayswood Ghost’

This is one of the starkest whites of all the B. utilis var. jacquemontii cultivars. Forms a medium-sized tree and has very glossy leaves. 9-15m. AGM. USDA hardiness rating 4a-7b.


Betula papyrifera

Also known as a paper birch or canoe birch, this is a very robust, fast-growing white-barked species. Provides rich, golden autumn colour. Has a spreading crown. 12-18m. USDA 4a-6b.


Betula pubescens

Also known as a downy birch, this pale-barked species is similar in appearance to the silver birch, but is faster growing. It’s also very tolerant of inhospitable growing conditions. 14-20m. USDA 2a-9b.


Betula utilis subsp. jacquemontii ‘Doorenbos’

A slender, fast-growing tree whose outstanding bark has orange-hued glints just below the pure-white, peeling surface. It forms a moderately spreading crown. 9-15m.


B. ermanii ‘Grayswood Hill’

A particularly lovely birch with peeling, creamy-white bark and elongated lenticels. Dark, glossy green leaves turn a good butter-yellow in autumn. Medium sized with a slender habit. 9-12m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 6a-9b.



Betula albosinensis ‘China Rose’

This Chinese red birch is an extremely elegant, very feminine, ginger-toned cultivar with dainty lenticel freckles and delicate foliage. With its lightly spreading crown, it’s a real show stopper. 9-15m. AGM.


Betula utilis ‘Forest Blush’

A rare and extremely handsome cultivar of B. utilis. The bark, which takes two to three years to fully develop, is a lovely pale colour with hints of warm orange and rosy red that appear to almost glow. 9-15m. AGM.


Betula ermanii

A good alternative to the stark whites, ermanii has freely peeling bark with creamy, pink-orange tones. Has a stately habit, long catkins in late spring and golden autumn leaf colour. Extremely hardy. 12-18m. AGM. USDA 6a-9b.


Betula papyrifera ‘Belle Vue’

This robust cultivar of B. papyrifera has a freely peeling bark that is more coarse and pink-brown in colour than the species. The golden yellow autumn foliage is long lasting and it has a lightly spreading crown. 12-18m.


Betual alleghaniensis

North American species with rough texture and unexpected metallic sheen, particularly effective in winter sun. Slender and conical in shape, with good yellow autumn foliage. Also known as yellow birch. 9-15m. USDA 2a-9b.


Betula dahurica

A highly unusual tree with fabulous, rough textured flaking bark; a real eye-catcher. When young the bark is smoother, but develops with age. Has a medium-spreading crown and excellent autumn leaf colour. 12-18m.


Betula utilis ‘Nepalese Orange’

Cultivated by Stone Lane Gardens, this highly ornamental Himalayan birch has rich orange bark and prominent lenticels in horizontal bands. The smooth bark peels freely in sheets. Slender with a lightly spreading crown. 9-15m.


Less showy than its white cousins, but shares the same vigour. The papery, peeling bark has a ring-like pattern of lenticels. Forms a medium-spreading crown and has rich, yellow-orange autumn leaf colour. 12-18m.


Betula albosinensis

Ideal for woodland or copse planting, producing trees in a myriad subtle shades of reddish orange, light brown, yellow and pink. Has a lightly spreading crown. 9-15m. USDA 3a-8b.


Betula utilis ‘Bhutan Sienna’

Cultivated for its superb, smooth, reddish-brown bark, slender growth and lightly spreading crown, this Himalayan birch is especially captivating when the scrolls of bark are illuminated by low winter sun. 9-15m.



Betula utilis ‘Sichuan Red’

A highly ornamental cultivar with polished mahogany bark and slender growth habit. Looks magnificent when the peeling translucent scrolls of bark are illuminated by the low winter sun. 9-15m.


Betula utilis ‘Mount Luoji’

The rich, glossy, dark chocolate-brown bark peels freely into spectacular, fine sheets of copper orange. Medium-sized and slender, with a lightly spreading crown, this tree is ideal for broadscale, naturalistic plantings. 9-15m.


Betula ermanii ‘Mount Zao’

A striking cultivar selected at Stone Lane Gardens with dark-purple and orange peeling bark and prominent bands of lenticels. Has an extensive spreading crown and mid-green leaves that turn dark yellow in autumn. 12-18m.


Betula utilis ‘Park Wood’

With arguably the darkest bark of all, this Himalayan birch looks as if it’s sculpted from smooth, dark chocolate. Bands of fine, white lenticels contrast beautifully. Forms a medium-sized tree, with a light canopy. 9-12m. AGM.


Betula albosinensis ‘Bowling Green’

This unusual Chinese birch has glossy, dark honey-coloured bark that peels off in spectacular long strips. Easy, hardy and fast-growing, it forms a medium-sized tree. 25m.

How to grow

Birches are generally exceptionally hardy and relatively easy to grow in sun to light dappled shade, on most soils, dry or damp. B. alleghaniensis, B. dahurica and B. nigra are excellent choices for damp (but not waterlogged) soils, but site away from frost pockets and provide shelter from cold winds.

B. papyrifera and B. pubescens are notably vigorous and robust, performing well on inhospitable sites. Planting in full sun may encourage production of betulin (the chalky white ‘bloom’ that gives birch barks its unique appearance), though this is speculative. Cultivars valued for their bark colour can be gently pressure-washed to remove algae and lichen.

B. albosinensis and its cultivars, although ultimately sizable trees, are slow growing enough to be treated as small-to-medium sized trees for most practical purposes.

Buying guide

Many of the characteristics of birch don’t show themselves in saplings, so you need to be very careful when choosing your tree. If you’re looking for precise, true-to-type features, then it is best to select from mature trees that already show that trait. However, if your budget doesn’t stretch to a mature tree, or if you’re looking for a rare cultivar, which may only be available as a sapling, then you need to buy from a reputable nurseryman and confirm the trees were propagated from cuttings (which will ensure they are genetically identical to the mother tree).

For broadscale planting of woodlands, buying saplings in bulk is likely to be the most practical option. Approach a reputable grower and enquire about propagation history, bearing in mind that in this case trees with a degree of genetic variation may be preferable, as they will give more natural graduations in tone.

You should, however, be aware that every tree will develop its own unique character over time, influenced by many factors. This is especially true of birches; it is part of their charm and should be embraced.

If you are buying specimen trees, remember price depends not just on size but also on the way in which the root system is supplied. Expect to see the following options (listed by increasing quality and value): bare root (soil shaken from roots when harvested), rootball (supplied with soil around roots), plastic-container grown, bagged (grown, or stabilised in bags for at least four months) or grown in Air-Pots (containers designed to promote fibrous roots). Your budget will no doubt guide your choice.

Birches lend themselves well to cultivation as both standards (single-stem specimens) and multi-stem, with different forms conveying distinctive moods in a planting scheme.


Where to see and buy

  • Barcham Trees
  • Bluebell Nurseries
  • Junker’s Nursery – mail order or by appointment only
  • Majestic Trees – For an excellent range of cultivars in well-established sizes (3m plus).
  • Pan-Global Plants
  • Stone Lane Gardens – Unquestionably the best place to appreciate the exquisite bark variations of this genus.

Silver birches are among the best trees for small gardens since they never produce too dense a canopy and their root systems are unlikely to shift foundations. That said, always make sure they are planted at least 10 feet from the house. In winter you will find the delicate tracery of their branches against a winter sky, and the crisp whiteness of the bark a real bonus.
The neighbours round here must think I’m bonkers, since every winter I scrub the bark of my silver birches as high as I can reach to remove green algal growth, and then wipe them down with a dishcloth.
But it really pays of. The creamy white bark shines, and it is wonderful to stroke. If you’ve never been a tree hugger, you should start now – you don’t know what you’re missing.
When it comes to varieties, I’m not much of a fan of Young’s weeping birch (Betula pendula ‘Youngii’) since it always seems to me to be a bit deformed. I’d plump instead for Betula utilis jacquemontii, or a relatively new variety of Betula albosinensis ‘Fascination’, whose bark is a creamy white, revealing a shade of amber as it peels and on its younger branches.
Planted now as bare root specimens or from containers, the plants will soon grow away and establish themselves, but the smaller they are, the more rapidly they will settle in. Always remember that, the larger the tree, the more it will resent the upheaval – a bit like humans really.
If you have the space, plant birches in threes and space the trees about a metre apart. Tat way you get three trunks and one head of branches – three times the pleasure when it comes to that bright bark. And it won’t be long before they come into leaf and fill the air with that delicate green tracery.
Pruning? They don’t need much. Just cut of any unwanted lower branches between November and January. If you cut them of in spring and summer the cuts will bleed. Other than that they are not remotely tricky and will cheer up your view no end. Don’t miss Alan’s gardening column today and every day in the Daily Express. For more information on his range of gardening products, visit www.alantitchmarsh.com.

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