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Steve Nix

The Heat Resistant River Birch

By July 26, 2009

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River birch - 100 Top Trees

In Dr. Mike Dirr's book Hardy Trees and Shrubs, Dr. Dirr suggests you plant a river birch for both beauty and hardiness. River birch is "perhaps the most heat resistant of all trees in North America" says Dr. Dirr and "this particular birch is even more spectacular without the leaves."

Betula nigra will weather the heat of summer just fine and grows from Massachusetts to Florida, west to Minnesota and Kansas. The tree can get leaf spot during extremely wet weather and will drop their leaves during severe drought. However, these conditions are completely survivable and should not influence your decision to plant an otherwise, perfect tree.

Photo by Steve Nix, Licensed to About.com


April 25, 2008 at 5:17 pm
(1) Ruth says:

I can’t believe you’re recommending a river birch. We just moved from Florida to Tennessee and have one river birch in our front yard. It is the messiest tree I’ve ever seen. Doesn’t matter..winter, summer, spring and fall, there’s always either tassels, small branche or big brances falling off this tree. Someone please come take it out of our yard!!!!!

July 19, 2008 at 3:40 pm
(2) Christy says:

I have several river birch trees in my yard and the Japanese Beetles love them!

March 26, 2009 at 10:47 pm
(3) cert, arb, IL says:

river birch is one thing to look at its another thing to live with………. if its far enough away from the front door or the pool its a nice enough tree, otherwise ~ yep its a year long mess.

May 15, 2009 at 10:07 pm
(4) Granger says:

I’ve lived with one of these for 12 years. Oodles of sticks and branches down all of the time, tassles that clog the gutters, and dropping leaves whenever it gets thirsty. Fast growing, good looking, heat resistant, and a royal pain to own!

June 9, 2009 at 3:33 pm
(5) Bob says:

I’m an engineer and I had one of my landscape architects design my landscape plan for our new home I built in 1990. He designed for two large river birch trees to be located in the front of my house as bookends next to the main walk to the front of the house. The trees are about 19 years old now and when I planted my materials I purchased large stock so we could enjoy the plant material quicker. I must say I hate the two trees very much. They are very dirty trees. Everytime it is windy branches fall and there all over. The branches are small and thin so they brake easily. Also, the seeds fall making a mess, covering the walks, driveway, and grassed areas, They get so think they kills the grass so you have to rake the seeds up. In addition, the seeds cover the mulch beds making the beds look messy. River birch also become stressed when it becomes a little dry and drops many of it’s leaves during the summer. I would never recommend river birch trees to anyone unless the trees are located in an area where no walks, driveways or areas where you wnat a nice lawn.

June 12, 2009 at 12:26 pm
(6) Shane Steely says:

I agree with all of those above. I’m currently getting quotes to pull out the 20 year old River birch by the front walk. It’s absolutely the messiest tree I’ve ever encountered. Leaves drop througout the summer (looks like “fall” by the front door) and the twigs, OH THE TWIGS! The slightest breeze and limbs/twigs break off. Do yourself a favor and do not plant one of these, at least not near anything you care to keep looking clean/nice.

July 25, 2009 at 10:08 pm
(7) Eric Long says:

We have enjoyed our river birch at the corner of our stone cottage since acquiring our central Ohio home three years ago. It drops a few of its thin branches on windier days or during a storm, but no more than the large sugar maples in the yard.
The medium-size, ovate leaves provide nice shade and the multiple trunks have an interesting shaggy and colorful exterior. By dropping leaves in dry weather, it acts as an indicator species, reminding the lawn caretakers (usually me) to water a bit until regular rainfall returns. I would highly recommend this tree to anyone who likes diversity and natural beauty as part of their lawn.

September 20, 2009 at 8:05 pm
(8) Sheila says:

Glad to read that Eric’s river birch in Ohio is doing so well. For the rest of us, the perpetual need to pick up after these extremely messy trees is a huge hassle. I work hard to make our yard look as beautiful as possible and we live in a rather nice neighborhood. No matter how many times per day I pick up sticks and branches, there are still sticks to pick up. In the spring, the messy little flowers and other droppings are also unpleasant to deal with. The only ‘beautiful’ part of the tree are the multiple trunks and the bark. My husband and I want to remove this nuisance from our yard, but will than have no large tree at the front (west side) of our home. It was planted in 1991 so is much too large for us to remove by ourselves. When/if we remove it, we will be extremely careful about the type of tree we plant in it’s place. Shane’s comment is absolutely right: OH THE TWIGS!!!

April 11, 2010 at 8:25 pm
(9) Beth says:

We had 5 ~ count ‘em 5 large river birch trees in our yard that must have been planted by the original owner some 30 yrs ago. We finally got a quote we could live with to tear the massive trees out about 3 weeks ago. What a pain they have been for years. Everything the previous posts say are true. I can’t wait to grow grass again and did not dread a huge clean up from the wind storm we just had.

May 5, 2010 at 4:49 pm
(10) Sylvia Givens says:

At last,someone tells the truth about River Birches. I thought they were so beautiful, so when I built my house I couldn’t wait to get two set out by my front door.How I wish I had known what I know now.They are still beautiful but not worth the hassle of twigs,twigs,twigs.

July 4, 2010 at 8:11 pm
(11) Lee says:

I have a river birch as the anchor tree in one of our back yard gardens. From a distance, they are beautiful and interesting trees. But, after having one for (20) or so years, I would recommend that they are one of the trees that should have been left in the forrest.

July 19, 2010 at 7:30 am
(12) Cindy in Indy says:

I planted a river birch in a small back yard 25 years ago. It is now HUGE and the only messier tree is a sycamore, which I have also had. Both are gorgeous trees, but neither should be in a yard. I just had an estimate to have the river birch thinned and braced (again) for $1300. That property is now a rental and my annual clean up (the tenants ignore the yard) is a headache. I need to find out how much it would cost to get it out of there.

I found this article to see how much longer the tree might live. Too long it seems.

April 30, 2011 at 12:16 pm
(13) Kitty says:

River birches are beautiful from the ground up, and a nightmare below. DITTO to all of the negative comments! I just had one of our many large river birches removed from near our back patio. If only one day goes by without sweeping and picking up, it looks like a bad storm has come through and trashed the patio and yard. They are also planted near our front walkway, which requires daily sweeping almost year round. Those are the next to go!

I am a free-form nature lover and not a perfectionist when it comes to my garden. HOWEVER, if you don’t want little branches tripping up you and your guests or little seeds and leaves and trash tracked into your home, KEEP THEM FAR AWAY FROM YOUR HOME. :-)

May 31, 2011 at 11:29 am
(14) Pat says:

I read many comments complaining about the twigs and the mess from the river birch but no comments about the trees root system. I had a landscaper put a Heritage River Birch next to my patio for shade. My biggest problem with them is the root system. It is outrageous. I tried planting hostas around the tree and could hardly dig in the ground around the tree. I am very concerned because not only is it near our patio but we have a septic system near the patio as well.
Does anyone have any information on this trees nefarious root system.

June 22, 2011 at 12:22 pm
(15) Bonnie says:

I have 2 river birches in my front yard, they are 3 years old, no twigs falling yet but the yellowing leaves are a continuous messy nightmare. I have a hose full blast on the base of the tree right now. Florida panhandle is in a drought and these birches need so much water to not loose their leaves. They’re pretty, but a lot of work to maintain a clean yard. Too much work really.

June 29, 2011 at 2:02 pm
(16) Cindy says:

Fourteen years ago, we had a Heritage Birch tree planted about 8-10 feet from the house and right next to our deck. As it has matured over the last few years, it has become a constant litter problem. There is a daily drop of twigs. In the spring and early summer, our deck is barraged with seeds. They track into the house and even with daily sweeping it is almost impossible to use the deck for those 2 months. For the remainder of the summer, I am pulling out seedlings that are coming up EVERYWHERE. Our rain gutters constantly fill up with all the litter it sheds. The roots are pushing up under the deck. It has to be one of the messiest trees I’ve ever experienced! I really hate to take out a nice looking tree but it’s a full time job cleaning up after it. Would a major pruning help reduce the mess? …or just be an added expense to the inevitable removal of the tree?

July 8, 2011 at 8:48 pm
(17) Tabitha says:

We live in a townhouse and have a river birch in our very small front yard–it was planted in 1980 and is HUGE. It’s about 10-15 feet away from the house, but we are worried it is becoming a liability…we live in Virginia and last winter, after a huge snow storm the limbs were all hanging down so low (almost touching the ground) that I was sure something was going to snap and fall on our cars or roof. The tree is beautiful, appears to be healthy (is of course messy) and we have been trying to decide whether or not we should cut it down. We thought about pruning it, but a similar one in our neighborhood was pruned (maybe “topped”?) and it just looks terrible. Any thoughts out there?

March 16, 2012 at 1:36 pm
(18) Robin M. says:

I have two River Birtch trees in my back yard and drops of water is dripping from the trees, the trees are 12 years old. Anybody know why they are doing this?

March 28, 2012 at 6:03 pm
(19) Georgiafromgeorgia says:

So glad I found this site and your comments. My sister in Alabama is planning her backyard from scratch and loves the look of the river birch. I had some three houses ago but had forgotten all the negative aspects until the posts here reminded me. What should she plant instead, I wonder? Her patio and backyard face west so she will need something that will give shade for those lovely evenings outside.

April 22, 2012 at 4:40 pm
(20) dot van dyke says:

I agree with all the negative comments above! I regret that
I will have mine cut down. It adds much Southerm Charm on
my Patio and I have a few things hanging from the limbs…I
truly have to blow off my Patio off 3 times a day if I want it clean and
always 30 minutes before my guests arrive for a Summer cook out.
Please don;t plant them ANYWHERE close to your home. They belong
on River banks not in yards.

May 13, 2012 at 3:42 pm
(21) Bill Don says:

I love the look of these trees. But here in Eastern Massachusetts our experience has been for the last 12 years that they are extremely high maintenance.

All of the previous posters were correct — leaves and twigs dropping all year round.

Looking forward to getting rid of them.


June 3, 2012 at 9:40 am
(22) CentralFlorida says:

My River Birch naturally enhances my entire front yard as an island of nature. Some people prefer their yard have the look of a golf course. It amazes me when they go to the park to get away from their homes. I live in my own island park within many homes. There is no maintenance for my yard. I don’t own a lawn mower. After more than 20 years, I have saved more than 500 hours of lawn maintenance, and all the expenses of the lawn mower, not to mention the carbon foot print. Imagine if all homeowners did the same.

June 13, 2012 at 1:28 pm
(23) River Birch - Not Recommended!! says:

Our house was built in a northern Twin Cities neighborhood back in 1994. In 1996 we had landscape designer from a local nursery draw up a landscape design for our new yard. The designer suggested River Birch for 5 of the trees we had planted. Two River Birch were planted in the front yard (one 10 feet from the corner of the garage, next to the driveway and the other on the opposite side of the house 12 feet away from corner of the house). Another River Birch was planted on the far back corner of the backyard. We had no idea how high maintenance these trees would become. We were constantly trimming off branches as the trees began to get bigger and bigger thru the years. Some of the branches get long and and loaded with leaves and hang down from the weight. The 2 River Birch in the front yard should have never been designed to be planted that close to the garage and house. Also the tree roots have surfaced thru the years and are all over the yard ruining our lawn. During extended dry periods my neighbors variety of Maple trees would look nice and green, but not my River Birch!! The River Birch would be loaded with a bunch of yellow leaves and shed leaves all over my green lawn (people would ask me if my trees were dieing). Extra watering didn’t help much either. We are constantly picking up the dead twigs and branches. The tassels are loaded with 100′s of seeds that make a mess all over when they fall off the trees (which have clogged up our gutters and drains also). Me and my wife are both disabled now and we made a decision several years ago to cut down these nuisance trees and finally made good on that decision when we cut down our first River Birch next to the garage on May 27, 2012. The River Birch on the other side of the house is next to go, hopefully in the next few weeks!! Good-riddens!!

Don’t waste your time and money with this horrible high maintencance tree!!

July 8, 2012 at 9:55 am
(24) Elaine says:

Just what I needed to know, thanks. I fell in love with a River Birch at the local nursery but my yard is very small and I’m a “senior.” I had just planted a live oak but was thinking about removing it and putting in the river birch. My neighbor has a river birch and it is so beautiful. But with all the maintenance etc., I think I’ll keep my live oak and just enjoy my neighbor’s river birch from a distance.

July 9, 2012 at 9:52 am
(25) Illinois says:

The tree and trunk is beautiful. Love the light airy branches. The river birch leaves a mess! It is worth the work. DON”T plant one by a pool….

October 13, 2012 at 10:24 am
(26) Shannon says:

I have four river birch trees that are about 10 -14 years old and I love them. Three of them are planted in my huge back yard and are away from the house. They look so gorgeous in the summer and I love to watch them “dance” when it is windy. Those three don’t lose leaves until fall; they do lose branches sometimes but that doesn’t bother me. The fourth one is beside my drive way… it is 14 years old. It does lose lots of leaves when it is hot …it is on the west side, and it loses more branches than the ones in the back….but it is worth the work. It is HUGE and so gorgeous…love the bark. In the winter, the tree without leaves looks like a sculpture… I sometimes up light it … majestic. I am not one that cares that there are leaves down for a while on the driveway or yard…. I like the natural look of the leaves. I am so gald I have these trees. I have had the oldest one trimmed with an umbrella cut once.. it just got more beautiful.

June 11, 2013 at 8:45 am
(27) Isabel Cutler says:

Don’t plant this tree in your formal landscaping unless you want to spend the rest of spring and summer picking out seedlings.

My river birch produces pounds of seed, many of which germinate. Not only do the seed make a mess, but you have all these potential trees to deal with.

It is also a short lived tree – so if you must have one or more plant it off in the woods or some wild area of your property.

June 11, 2013 at 5:08 pm
(28) Elyse says:

I have two river birches the previous owner planted. They are now 15 years old and started seeding this year. Each tree can produce 15-17 million seeds. My yard is 3 inch deep with seeds. My flower beds are choked. The broken branches fall continuously gumming up the lawn mower no matter how much I clean up prior to mowing. They are topping 30 feet and can grow up to 70 feet in their lifetime. Never plant these near anything. Leave them in the forest preserves. I hate the trees and wish I had the money to get rid of them.

June 24, 2013 at 7:41 am
(29) sandviking says:

I love operating the chain saw on my River Birches. Even those branches 20′ up greet me at the ground with their branches.

June 24, 2013 at 2:45 pm
(30) chris says:

I am shocked to hear all these complaints. Maybe its a climate thing… I have had river birch at both my homes in North Carolina for the last 15 years. They are no more maintenance then any other trees and they are so much hardier. We have had droughts and extremely wet seasons, high heat and humidty and quite a few freezes and they survive it all! Bonus they are sooo pretty!

July 19, 2013 at 2:01 pm
(31) Robo says:

Well I love my river birch and it was underwater (bay water) for about a day I guess (no way to tell as we were evacuated due to Hurricane Sandy). Sandy was at the end of October of 2012 and it is now July, 2013 and the tree has patches of leaves mostly sprouting from the trunk but some on larger branches. Does anyone know anything about such damage and will the tree recover? It is about 20 feet tall. We live on a barrier island so the soil is sandy.

October 21, 2013 at 2:04 pm
(32) Lorenzo says:

My river birch is doing just fine in Northern NJ. It’s planted over pachysandra where my back yard meets a wooded area. Other than a few thin branches to pick up, it has not been messy at all. Much lower maintenance than the large American beeches and shag bark hickory that I have. We’ve had it for 12 years and like the light appearance and curling red bark.

February 25, 2014 at 5:50 pm
(33) michael says:

I’m looking to have my river burch cut down, which is about 14 years old. after 3.5 years of homeownership with this tree, I had enough. it’s leaves clog up my gutters, the branches are starting to hit the roof. when it clogs up the gutters, the water dumps on the side of the house causing my in ground lighting system to be tripped off. then the roots come up to ground looking for water and kills the grass. the landscaper idiot who planted it, planted it right in front of my office window. after any type of rain, stray branches are always in the front yard from this tree.

April 13, 2014 at 4:15 pm
(34) Av1atorUSMC says:

I am simply amazed! At 63 1/2, I look forward to a little daily exercise to increase my stamina, flexibility, and even my mental outlook. It sure beats going to a “fitness club” where the majority of you think you are getting back into your natural states of well being. Those of you that do not value the gifts from nature; live on a concrete pad and eat processed foods!

These trees may be “high maintenance” to some, but I relish the idea of having such a beautiful specimen of nature, and an attractant to birds that will come close to my patio and picture windows. I will not plant this tree so close that its cast offs will clog my spoutings and gutters, but at the same time, I actually think too many of you have too much time on your hands, and being miserable seems a vocation in which you complain far too much about the nature of things.

April 14, 2014 at 1:12 pm
(35) brenda says:

THANK YOU, Av1atorUSMC! Your defense of this lovely tree is spot-on. I have one right next to my house, about 30 yrs old, and I love it.

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