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How Do I Properly Care for a Birch Tree?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 March 2014
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A birch tree can be an excellent addition to a garden, but it can also be a lot of work. Birches are delicate, and they require special care to thrive in the garden. For gardeners who are thinking of planting a birch tree, some thought should go into the selection and planting process, while gardeners with existing birches can take steps to keep them healthier. In either case, the average lifespan for a single tree is around 40-50 years, which is something to keep in mind.

There are a number of different kinds of birch tree, which grow in different environments. When planting a birch, a gardener should confirm that his or her zone is appropriate for birches, and choose a tree which does well in the natural environment. Looking for thriving birch trees and planting the same kind is often the best way to get a healthy tree.

Birches like their lower trunks and roots in the shade, and their crowns in the sun. This makes site selection critical, as the trees need a spot which gets some shade in the afternoon, but not too much. It is also important to have loose, well-drained, moist soil, because birches have shallow root systems which can be challenged by compact, heavy soil. The soil may need to be amended with mulch, sand, and compost to make it suitable for a birch tree, and gardeners should take the time to do this.

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Once a birch tree is planted, it should be kept mulched, to protect the shallow roots. Gardeners can periodically add mycorrhizal fungi and compost to the soil to keep it rich and promote even growth. It is also a good idea to order soil testing to check for missing nutrients. Iron deficiency is a common problem with birch trees which can be addressed with chelated iron tablets.

One of the most critical requirements for a birch tree is a regular watering schedule. A slow, deep watering once a week should be used to ensure that the tree gets enough water, with watering tapering off at the end of the summer to allow the tree to get ready for winter. Pruning should be done in the fall, when the tree is dormant, and no more than 25% of the tree should be pruned at any time.

A birch tree is also very vulnerable to insect pests, especially if it has white bark. The birch leafminer and bronze birch borer are too notorious pests which can kill or seriously injure birch trees. Insecticides can be used to control these pests, and it's a good idea to select hardy birch cultivars in an area where insect pests are common.

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