The European beech (Fagus sylvatica) is a popular deciduous shade tree (it loses its leaves in the fall) from Europe. It typically grows quite large with an upright oval to rounded shape. The trunk is relatively short with branches starting low on the tree. Smooth, thin, silvery gray bark is a trademark of European beech trees. The leaves are roughly 4 inches long and a dark green color that turns to a striking golden bronze in the fall. In the spring, small yellow-green flowers bloom and give way to seeds, or beechnuts.
European beech trees are fairly slow growers, gaining roughly 1 to 2 feet per year, so they can take a few decades to reach maturity. But they have very long lifespans, commonly reaching 200 years old and often even older. They can be planted in the late winter or early spring, as well as in the fall.
|Botanical Name||Fagus sylvatica|
|Common Names||European beech, common beech|
|Mature Size||50–60 ft. tall, 35–50 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Loamy, moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Hardiness Zones||4–7 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans and animals|
European Beech Care
European beech trees are excellent to fill in a large space and become a focal point in the landscape. To start them off right and make their care a breeze, it’s important to select a planting site that will have space for the tree’s mature size. Keep young trees well watered, but make sure they’re not sitting in soggy soil, as this can kill them.
Besides watering whenever the soil starts to dry out, annual fertilization, and a bit of pruning, this tree doesn’t require much continual maintenance. It is ideal to regularly remove any grass and weeds growing over the tree’s root zone. This will prevent competition for soil moisture and nutrients.
European beech trees can grow in full sun to partial shade. Full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days, is best for optimal growth. But the trees can tolerate slightly less light if need be.
The trees thrive in rich, loose, loamy soil that has a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH. They also require sharp soil drainage. They can tolerate various other soil types, including soil with a slightly alkaline pH, as long as there is good drainage.
European beech trees like evenly moist, but not soggy, soil. And they’re fairly intolerant to drought conditions. So during hot weather and/or a stretch without rainfall, water your tree deeply as soon as the soil begins to dry out. The trees will benefit from a layer of mulch over their root area to help maintain soil moisture.
Temperature and Humiidty
Mild temperatures are ideal for these trees; they don’t like extreme cold or heat. Likewise, they prefer a moderate humidity level. In high humidity, ensure that the trees have good soil drainage and sufficient air circulation among the branches. And in dry conditions, pay extra attention to keeping the soil evenly moist.
Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer each spring following label instructions. Be sure to spread it under the tree’s entire canopy and extend about a foot beyond the canopy circumference to target the whole root zone. Compost mixed into the soil at the time of planting also can be beneficial for the tree.
Is the European Beech Toxic?
While people and wildlife do sometimes eat beechnuts, the triangular nuts that ripen in the fall actually have mild toxic properties. Ingesting them in a high amount can cause symptoms of poisoning. Unripe and uncooked nuts have a higher degree of toxicity. And eating the husk of the nut can cause more serious symptoms because it contains more of the toxic properties.
Symptoms of Poisoning
Some symptoms of poisoning in both people and animals include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, fatigue, and dilated pupils. If you suspect poisoning, contact a medical professional as soon as possible.
European Beech Varieties
There are several varieties of the European beech tree, including:
- Fagus sylvatica 'Tricolor': This cultivar features variegated leaves with a mix of pink, white, and green.
- Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea': This tree is known for its beautiful coppery purple foliage that turns to a copper-red in the fall.
- Fagus sylvatica 'Pendula': This cultivar is slightly smaller than the main species tree and has a weeping growth habit (like a weeping willow), with branches drooping toward the ground.
- Fagus sylvatica 'Atropunicea': The foliage on this cultivar emerges nearly black and turns to a purple-green throughout the growing season.
European beech trees don’t need much pruning, as they naturally grow in an attractive form. However, if branches are growing too close together and rubbing against one another, remove one of the branches to prevent bark damage. Also, remove suckers (the thin stems that sometimes grow from the base of the tree), as they can sap the tree’s energy. The best time to prune is in the late winter or early spring before new leaves emerge. But any dead, damaged, or diseased branches should be removed whenever you spot them.
These trees generally don’t have any major issues with pests or diseases. However, occasionally beech scale, aphids, and borers might infest a tree and cause leaf damage. If you notice an infestation, use a horticultural oil or insecticide as soon as possible. The best method to keep a tree healthy is prevention by maintaining its desired growing conditions.