Looking for a fast-growing tree that offers year-long interest? Himalayan birch, Betula jacquemontii, has a pyramidal shape, with branches that extend upward and open. Yellowish-brown male flowers in 3- to 5-inch drooping catkins appear in the spring. Greenish female blooms create smaller upright catkins, followed by drooping fruits that contain small, winged seeds in early autumn. The tree attracts pollinators and supports the larvae of the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus).
Leaves resemble slightly rounded ovate wedges, 2 to 3 inches wide. Catching the breeze and the sunlight, leaves are dark green above and lighter underneath and showcase glorious golden fall foliage. To brighten the quietude of winter, this deciduous tree reveals its gleaming white bark along the trunk and young branches. Commonly referred to as white-barked birch, the thin peeling bark was used in ancient times as paper for Sanskrit scripture.
Plant the tree in cool weather in the spring or fall.
|Botanical Name||Betula jacquemontii|
|Common Name||Himalayan birch, Indian paper birch, white-barked Himalayan birch|
|Mature Size||40-50 ft. tall, 20-35 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Loamy, sandy, clay, moist but well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acid, alkaline, neutral|
|Flower Color||Yellow, brown, green|
|Hardiness Zones||4b-7a (USDA)|
Himalayan Birch Care
This deciduous tree, which is native to the western Himalayas and Nepal, is hardy in USDA Zones 4b to 7a. To welcome Himalayan birch into your garden, plant it in cool weather.
The tree quickly spreads up to 35 feet wide and grows 40 to 50 feet tall. Provide plenty of space to let it grow freely and adorn the garden with its snowy white framework.
Himalayan birch prefers full sun, but it will grow in part shade where it can receive direct sunlight for two to six hours of the day. Afternoon shade can be beneficial in shading the shallow roots, especially in the hotter areas of Zone 7.
It will thrive in just about any soil type, from clay to loam to sand. Like other birches, its roots are shallow. Plant in a low-traffic spot.
After planting, cover the planting area with mulch to help keep the roots cool and moist. Consider companion plants such as evergreen groundcovers, which will protect and shade the roots further.
Himalayan birch can tolerate very wet soil. It is often used in wetland restoration. In well-draining soils, it can grow up to 18 inches per year. Use a soaker hose to establish strong roots during its first year.
Temperature and Humidity
Native to the Western Himalayan Mountains of Kashmir and Nepal, it does best in temperate summers and cold winters. Birch trees prefer cooler summer weather; the 65-to-80-degree Fahrenheit range is ideal for them. Extremely hot weather, above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, can damage the tree and stunt its growth. These trees thrive in average humidity.
Birch trees are hardy enough to withstand a variety of poor soils but can grow stronger with a low-nitrogen fertilizer. Choose a slow-release formula with added iron.
Birch Tree Varieties
As an alternative that is less prone to disease than Himalayan birch, you might consider plating a birch tree variety that is native to North America such as
- Bog birch (Betula pumila), a medium-size, shrub-like birch for wet locations
- River birch (Betula nigra), a fast-growing tree valued for its exfoliating reddish-brown bark and buttery yellow fall color
- Cherry birch (Betula lenta), a large landscape tree with bark that resembles cherry trees
A deep-rooted Himalayan birch needs very little care. Prune in late autumn or winter, never spring because of running sap.
Propagating Himalayan Birch
You can propagate Himalayan birch from a cutting taken in the late spring or early summer.
- Choose a stem that is still green and pliable but beginning to turn brown.
- Dip the cut stem into a rooting hormone. Plant it in a 5-inch pot filled with a well-draining potting mix.
- Keep it evenly moist. It might take several months for the new stem to grow new leaves and for roots to develop. Plan on keeping the new plant in a sheltered location or indoors for the first season until it has grown into a strong sapling.
- Acclimate it slowly to the outdoors for two or three months, then plant the sapling in the ground in cool weather in the fall.
How to Grow Himalayan Birch From Seed
Alternatively, you can also grow the tree from seed, which requires cold stratification:
- In the summer, choose soft and green cone-like fruit that contains the seeds from the tree. Let them dry out for two weeks or so in a paper bag. Shake the bag vigorously to loosen the winged seeds.
- Sow the seeds in 5-inch pots in a mixture of peat, potting soil, and coarse sand, pressing them just below the surface. Water the seeds thoroughly.
- Cover each pot with a plastic bag and place the pot in the refrigerator for two months. Check periodically to make sure the potting mixture stays moist.
- Move the plants to a sunny, warm location of about 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The seeds will germinate in four to six weeks.
- When the saplings are only about 1 inch tall, move them outdoors to light shade. Keep them sheltered from strong rains or winds. Slowly acclimate them to direct sun over two or three months. Plant them in the ground in autumn.
Potting and Repotting
Himalayan birch is a large tree with an extensive root system. Growing them in containers is not recommended.
Himalayan birch is a hardy tree that and an established tree will handle winter just fine. Smaller trees can benefit from several inches of mulch to help protect the roots during the first several years of growth.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Hot or humid conditions can often affect birch. A weakened birch is vulnerable to the bronze birch borer, a wood-boring beetle that girdles the trunk. Japanese beetles can also damage foliage.
Aphids, birch leaf miners, and birch skeletonizers pose minor and less frequent problems. (If the ground is sticky beneath the tree, this could be excrement from aphid feeding.) Generally, when a birch tree is stressed by insects, it is more susceptible to cankers.
How long can Himalayan birch live?
A well-tended tree can live between 30 and 40 years.
Can Himalayan birch grow indoors?
During the first season or so, keeping it indoors with warmer temperatures is recommended. After that point, however, it needs to be planted outside so it can develop a wide root system.
What are alternatives to Himalayan birch?
There are numerous other varieties of birch trees for growing zones. These include paper birch, sweet birch, yellow birch, and grey birch. The water birch is especially hardy and almost immune to infestations of boring insects.
Bronze Birch Borer. PennState University Extension