How to Grow the Silver Birch (Betula Pendula)

Silver birch tree with yellow leaves against foggy background

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Not many things are as appealing in a garden as a tree that creates all-season interest. An easy way to introduce this into a landscape design is by planting the Silver Birch (Betula pendula).

The silver birch is a cool climate tree that is known for its pleasing aesthetic. It is spread throughout Europe and Asia in almost every temperate region. The silver birch especially favors being interspersed in conifer and the margins of old-growth forests. The tree is a pioneer species, meaning it grows where other trees and plants will not and before other trees will. Pioneer plants’ ability to grow in various soil, moisture, and environmental conditions mean they transition well in a garden setting. 

The weeping form atop the Betula Pendula trunk with stark white bark draws your eye when its foliage has dropped. The tree’s light yellow catkins hang lazily against its dark green leaves in the spring. These green leaves eventually turn a bright yellow in the fall, contrasting with the striking bark. There is not a season without a visual delight.

However, there are some issues worth considering before planting a silver birch. As noted, the tree prefers cooler conditions, so it is not ideal for areas that suffer from high humidity and warm summers. 

Also, the catkins that drape from the tree are attractive, but these will drop along with the fruit, causing a mess under the canopy. The low-hanging canopy itself causes an issue that can be a concern to some too. Not much grows beneath it because the weeping form blocks much of the light from under the tree. Slopes surrounding the area under the silver birch are prone to soil erosion due to lack of ground cover.

Finally, in some areas of the country, the silver birch is considered invasive. Before planting Betula Pendula, it is important to check the local and state ordinances regarding specific plants to determine invasive status.

Botanical Name  Betula pendula
Common Name Silver Birch, White Birch
Plant Type Tree
Mature Size 30-40ft. tall 15-30ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full Sun- Part Shade
Soil Type Medium to wet, well-drained sandy
Soil pH  Prefers soil below 6.5
Bloom Time March to April
Flower Color  Yellowish brown or Green
Hardiness Zone  USDA 2-6
Native Area  Europe and Asia
Toxicity No, but is a serious allergen.

Silver Birch Tree (Betula Pendula) Care

Growing a silver birch tree will take some work and some watering, but the year-round visual appeal is worth it

Silver birch trees with yellow leaves with leaves on ground

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Silver birch tree branches with green leaf buds

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Silver birch tree branch with green and yellow leaves closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Silver birch trees in forest with silver colored trunks

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Silver birth trees with yellow drooping leaves in green meadow

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

To enjoy the silver birches brilliant yellow foliage at its best, considering light when planting is important The birch’s aversion to heat makes it necessary for the tree to get full sun in the morning and, by the afternoon, the tree should be in partial shade.

Soil

Betula Pendula enjoy moist, well-drained sandy loams. Acidic soil is preferred, but it is a versatile tree and will adapt to many conditions. 

Water

The silver birch should have constantly moist soil. If not in a suitably wet location and an irrigation system is not available, consider a soaker hose to mimic the wet snow-covered or damp forest floors of northern Europe. Mulching the silver birch will help to conserve moisture in drier regions.

Temperature and Humidity

The plant does best in cool climates where it does not get warmer than 75oF and where snowy, wet winters are the norm. It grows in USDA Zones 2-7.

Birches do not thrive in the heat and humidity and will suffer in areas lower than zone 7.

Fertilizer

Silver birch is adept at growing well in many different soil types and will take to a soil that is not particularly fertile. No supplemental fertilizer should be needed.

Silver Birch (Betula Pendula) Varieties

There are many cultivars of Silver Birch available depending on what form, color, sterility, and heat tolerance you are looking for. Some of the most popular cultivars are listed below:

  • Filigree Lace’ - This dwarf form of the silver birch has an intricate cut leafed pattern. It grows to 7 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide
  • ‘Laciniata’ - Has a very serrated cut leaf pattern. Grows 25-30 ft. tall and 15-30 wide
  • ‘Purpurea’ - The new foliage is reddish-purple. Very susceptible to pests and cannot withstand infestation.
  • ‘Youngii’ - An extreme weeping form growing 10-12 ft tall.