Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Birch Family

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club ( sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM.

"The first tree we learned about in school as children is the birch! It was the tree used by many nations of the American Indians for transportation, shelters, storage containers, and even religious ceremonies. It was easy to recognize because of the beautiful white bark on the tree all year long. Did you know that the name birch means "shining white" and it shares its name with an ancient Irish goddess Brigid? The German and Russian people refer to the birch as "The Lady in the Forest." The nourishing and caring birch is an image of the White Goddess, standing for motherhood and protection. In a cool climate like New England it is considered the "Lady of the North American Forest."

Did you know that the original maypole was a tall birch tree brought into the village to celebrate the arrival of the spring season? The birch tree became the focal point of merry making, and it was said that in early February many children were born. And you thought that the birch was just another tree--be careful when planting!

Birch trees love the New England weather and have adapted to its many climate changes. They love the moist soil near the edge of a river or lake, where they grow in the wild and in a mixed forest of many hardwood trees. The birch has also adapted to grow on sides of slopes in a stony to sandy soil. The one main demand of the birch tree is that it must have an acidic soil. If the soil pH is high, the leaves will turn pale green to almost yellow, resulting in growth problems and eventual death. If you have birches on your property be sure to keep limestone away from them, as they thrive in acid type soils.

Birch trees will do very well on your front lawn as a single tree or planted in groups. It will grow in full sun but do just as well when shaded by large trees like oaks and maples for part of the day. You will find that there are many varieties of birches to choose from. Traveling in the mountains, you will see many paper or canoe birches growing in large groves. This native type of birch tree will grow as a single stem tree reaching 50 to 70 feet tall. The canopy of foliage will spread to 25 feet or more over the wonderful white bark which extends from the trunk to the tip of the branches. Birches grow almost pyramidal when young, and as they age will become oval or more rounded in shape. isThis tree is resistant to birch borer; this trait should be remembered when you are shopping for a tree for your yard.

The best clump-type birch is the river birch. It is resistant to birch borer, and the best type to tolerate heat during the summer. This is important, as most of us plant clump-type birches in the front of the house in the middle of the lawn with full sun all day. The river birch is also more appreciated for its character in a planting as a focal point tree. When young, the bark will have a cinnamon color and the bark will peel back or exfoliate, making it more interesting. As the tree matures, the color of the bark will begin to turn white and become more noticeable in front of the house. The leaves of birches will grow from 2 to 4 inches long, and each variety looks different.

Look for the weeping birch called 'Youngii' for great character, or the new dwarf birch called 'Little King' that grows in clumps and only 10 feet tall. I have a 'Little King' and love it! Use Tree and Shrub Insect Control in the spring to control leaf miner insect problems. Fertilize in the spring with Tree-Tone Fertilizer to help keep the tree strong and healthy."

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