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How to Manage and ID Paper Birch

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How to Manage and ID Paper Birch

Introduction to Paper Birch:

Paper birchA native birch of northern areas that is often grown for its beautiful white bark and the yellow fall leaf color. The tree is best adapted to wet and moist sites. The tree will grow to 50 feet or more and spread about half that amount. Paper birch has excellent cold tolerance and will grow in USDA hardiness zone 2. It is rarely successful in zones warmer than USDA hardiness zone six. In landscapes it may be grown as a single stemmed tree or in a multi-stemmed clump.

Specifics to Paper Birch:

Scientific name: Betula papyrifera
Pronunciation: BET-yoo-luh pap-ih-RIFF-er-uh
Common name(s): Paper Birch, Canoe Birch
Family: Betulaceae
USDA hardiness zones: 3 through 6
Origin: native to North America
Uses: specimen
Availability: somewhat available, may have to go out of the region to find the tree

Comments from Experts on Paper Birch:

Dr. Mike Dirr from Hardy Trees and Shrubs: "A cool climate tree that deserves the name 'Lady of the North American Forest'...the leaves turn butter-yellow to golden in fall. The chalky white bark is outstanding in the winter landscape."

Description of Paper Birch:

Height: 45 to 60 feet
Spread: 20 to 35 feet
Crown uniformity: irregular outline or silhouette
Crown shape: oval
Crown density: moderate
Growth rate: medium
Texture: fine

Trunk and Branches of Paper Birch:

Trunk/bark/branches: grow mostly upright and will not droop; should be grown with a single leader; very showy trunk; no thorns
Pruning requirement: requires pruning to develop strong structure
Breakage: resistant
Current year twig color: brown; reddish
Current year twig thickness: thin
Wood specific gravity: 0.55

Foliage of Paper Birch:

Leaf arrangement: alternate
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: double serrate
Leaf shape: ovate
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: yellow
Fall characteristic: showy

Culture of Paper Birch:

Light requirement: tree grows both in part shade/part sun and in full sun
Soil tolerances: clay; loam; sand; slightly alkaline; acidic; occasionally wet; well-drained
Drought tolerance: moderate
Aerosol salt tolerance: moderate
Soil salt tolerance: good

Paper Birch In Depth:

Pests: Birch leaf miner is a common insect pest of birch. A small white worm eats out the middle of the leaf which turns brown. Severe attacks of birch leaf miner predispose trees to bronze birch borer infestation. The insect shows up in mid May but timing can vary from one year to the next, and will vary according to your location in the country. The first of two generations per year is the most damaging.
The most serious pest of landscape birches is bronze birch borer. Stressed trees are most susceptible to borer attacks. The insect bores in the sapwood, beginning in the top third of the tree, causing death of the tree crown. The tunnels are slightly raised and faintly rust colored. Emergence holes in the trunk are shaped like capital D’s. Keep the trees healthy by controlling other insects, fertilizing, and watering as needed. Chemical control is applied to the trunk and main branches. Timing of the first spray will vary from year to year depending on weather conditions. A commercial sprayer may be needed to apply the spray adequately.
Diseases: Several fungi cause canker diseases on birch. These diseases infect and kill sapwood causing sunken areas on the trunk and larger branches. There is no chemical control for canker diseases. Preventive measures include keeping the tree healthy and avoiding wounding. Regular fertilization will keep birches vigorous and more resistant to cankers. Water in dry weather to prevent water stress.
Dieback is characterized by a slow death of the branches. The tree crown accumulates dead branches. Injury caused by bronze birch borer is similar but far more prevalent. Prevent dieback by maintaining tree vigor with water and fertilizer. When the disease does occur prune out dead branches and increase tree vigor. Several fungi also cause leaf spots which, when severe, can cause defoliation.

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