The Stalwart River Birch (Betula nigra)

Some plants are determined. Something in their genetic make-up decided long ago that nothing would get them down and nothing ever does. Take this river birch (Betula nigra) for instance. I received it from the Arbor Day Foundation but this isn’t one of the 10 “free” trees I received with my donation. I actually purchased this one. It was one of several trees I used as the subject of my Arbor Day experiment last fall. Now it’s time for an update.

First let me tell you why I picked a birch tree. Several years ago my brother had his wedding in California at his wife’s grandmother’s house. She had a spectacular garden with hydrangeas, trumpet vines, and of course birches. The two trees she had in her garden provided a very nice shady area next to her patio. In the picture you can see the white bark of the birch she had in her garden. Even though the river birch is different from what she had, I knew I wanted to incorporate such great trees in my landscape.

Betula nigra is a native tree to the U.S. and here in Tennessee which is great for the birds and local wildlife that are used to river birches. River birches are fairly heat tolerant and can survive mild drought conditions.

Birches are probably the most renown tree for interesting bark. Their brown papery bark peels away to reveal new layers of bark underneath. It’s a great tree for winter interest. Just imagine planting it next to a couple red twig dogwoods and an evergreen or two! I would take that kind of winter color any day in my garden.

The Results of My Arbor Day Experiment: River Birch

All along I thought this little tree failed. I believed it had passed away to become one with the compost bin, but thankfully I was wrong! I let it go not for any great hope that it would survive but out of laziness. I looked at the base of the tree last week and found a new sprout!

It may not look like much now but since river birches are fast growing trees it should quickly grow into something grand! Soon I’ll clip the old stalk away from the sprout and let this little native tree develop into what I hope will be a fantastic tree in my landscape.

River Birch Growing Info

  • Hardiness Zones 4-9
  • Full Sun
  • Height: 40 to 70 ft.
  • Width: 40 to 60 ft.
  • Soil: Tolerates a wide variety of soil types including including clay, sandy, loamy, or moist soils.

Uses for River Birch: Good for wildlife, river banks, wet locations, shade creation.

Since this post the deer to another (and possibly fatal) swipe at the little birch.  It’s now in a pot on the back porch and has been replaced by a dogwood.

6 thoughts on “The Stalwart River Birch (Betula nigra)”

  1. Hi Dave, great work and way to be lazy to give things a chance. We call that the Semi school here. My row of river birches that were planted to block the view of the house next door have grown to be over twenty feet tall in seven years. But the drought of the last two years has caused them to think it is fall again too soon. They are dropping leaves and twigs all over, poor confused dears. It is probably a defense mechanism from stress for lack of water. The bark is fantastic and they are still growing like crazy. Site them well, for they dislike being moved. One of the largest ones was a gift from neighbors Mae and Mickey, a cutting!

  2. Dave, you and I seem to share a lot of favorites. I’m glad your river birch is showing signs of life.

    I got a dormant one from a big box store early this spring. When it leafed out I could see a lot of it was dead. I cut back the dead branches and dead tips, and although it went from an 8′ tree to a 5′ tree, it’s now growing and thriving. They are such beautiful trees.

  3. This is one tree we don’t have here…I think they need more sun than we have left in the woodland and I don’t have moisture, either. They are attractive and in the right spot are fabulous…

    Dave I love the new feature your sporting with the latest updates on the TN gardeners.


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