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wide shot of a group of silver birch trees
The silver birch is a classic small tree that has been grown in gardens for decades. It has a graceful outline of weeping branches coming from a white trunk. In autumn the leaves turn a clear, bright yellow.

What you need to know about silver birch trees

Name: silver birch (Betula pendula).

Height: eventually 8m+ with age.

Foliage: deciduous.

Climate: cold temperate, warm temperate.

Soil: prefers deep, well-drained soil.

Position: full sun but will tolerate light shade.

Flowering and fruiting: small cylindrical seed clusters.

Feeding: regular feeding with a balanced, controlled-release fertiliser.

Watering: silver birch requires reliable watering, especially in hot and dry periods.

Appearance and characteristics of silver birch

The silver birch is a deciduous tree with a straight central trunk and thin, weeping and pendulous side branches. The white trunk is a feature year-round, and the small triangular leaves turn a lovely buttery yellow in autumn before dropping.

close up of a silver birch branch with vibrant green foliage

Uses for silver birch

The graceful habit is one of the reasons the silver birch has been popular in gardens for decades. It is also popular because it is a tree that does not get too big and can fit into just about any garden. You can grow one on its own as a feature, but you can also grow them in a group of three or five to create a lovely grove effect. They can also be used as a screen—just remember that they will have no leaves over the winter months.

How to plant and grow a silver birch

  1. Winter is the ideal time to plant out your silver birch, but you can do it at other times of the year, too, provided it is not going to be too hot.
  2. Choose a spot that is going to be out of hot winds, as these can scorch the leaves. The silver birch is frost tolerant.
  3. Make sure the site is prepared well and lots of compost has been added to the soil.
  4. Fan the roots out gently across the hole and plant the tree so that the soil is at the same height or slightly higher than the potting mix was when it was in its pot.
  5. Water it well.

Caring tips

Silver birch is a water lover, and you need to guarantee it water in the drier months. In drier parts of the country you might even consider installing a small irrigation system to keep the soil damp.

How and when to prune silver birch

Silver birch needs no real pruning, except to ensure it has a straight main trunk, and this is usually not necessary as the nursery has done it for you. If it is in a narrow spot, you might want to remove the lower branches for ease of access or weeding under.

Diseases and pests

Another reason the silver birch is popular is that it rarely suffers from diseases or pests. Check your tree every now and then and address any problems if they arise.

How to propagate silver birch

  1. Wait until autumn for catkins to fall apart. They contain small pendulous sausage-like clusters of seeds.
  2. Collect the seeds.
  3. Sow the seeds into pots or trays of seed-raising mix.
  4. Keep the mix damp, and little trees should appear in no time at all.

If you like this then try

Magnolia: deciduous tree with showy lilac, purple or white flowers in spring.

Crepe myrtle: small tree with smooth bark, good autumn colour and flowers in late summer.

Pittosporum: narrow, upright growing evergreen shrub ideal for screening.

Japanese maple: spectacular autumn colours on a small but broad deciduous tree.

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Asbestos, lead-based paints and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber are health hazards you need to look out for when renovating older homes. These substances can easily be disturbed when renovating and exposure to them can cause a range of life-threatening diseases and conditions including cancer. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page.

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