Paper Birch Growing Tips

Paper Birch Tree surrounded by fall colors
Getty Images/Diane Shapiro

Paper birch trees provide a year-round show with their green leaves starkly contrasted against their white bark. In the fall, the leaves turn bright yellow and then fall to the ground, leaving just the bark on the tree trunk to blend well with winter's snowy surroundings. The most distinctive characteristic of this medium-sized deciduous tree is the peeling bark. And, similar to other birch trees, it likes a moist environment, making it the perfect accompaniment to a stream or pond feature in your yard.

Latin Name: Betula papyrifera 
Common Name: Paper birch, paperbark birch, American white birch, canoe birch, and white birch
USDA Hardiness Zones: Paper birch grows best in Zones 2 through 7, as its native habitat is North America.

Paper Birch Features

Paper birch grows 45 to 70 feet tall and 20 to 35 feet wide, putting it in a class of medium-sized trees especially suited for yard landscapes. Similar to a fruit tree, paper birch grows into a pyramidal shape which can be pruned to take on a cultivated form. The leaves of this tree grow 2 to 4 inches long on approximately 1-inch stems with double-toothed margins. The small dry fruit (nutlets) form in clusters on drooping catkins that turn brown upon maturity. The paper birch, being a monoecious tree, bears both male and female catkins.

Paper Birch Growing Tips

Birches, in general, are well known as water-loving trees and are not very drought resistant. Paper birch, in particular, grows best in well-drained sandy or silty loam that is acidic, although it can adapt to a variety of soils. Do not plant paper birch in compacted soil or in climates that have intense periods of heat or harsh conditions. Full sun to light shade, however, will allow this species to thrive.

Paper Birch Design Tips

Plant paper birch in small clumps of three or more and locate it close to water features. Paper birch is a fast grower—growing up to 24 inches per year—and can be used for areas of your yard where you need to create shade quickly. The creamy peeling bark on this tree provides great fall and winter interest and attracts several animals which feed on birch bark throughout the winter.

Paper Birch Maintenance and Pruning

Paper birch may form one or many trunks. Once a central leader has been established, you can lightly prune the tree so that it develops a singular trunk. Other than the occasional shaping, paper birch does not need much pruning. And, do not prune in late winter or early spring or your tree will bleed sap in an attempt to heal the wound. While sap bleeding is not necessarily detrimental to the tree's health, it can cause an unsightly mess and excessive open wounds can make the tree susceptible to pests.

Paper Bark Birch Pests and Diseases

All birches can fall victim to the bronze birch borer. However, paper birch is one of the more resistant species, making this pest less of an issue for a healthy tree of this variety. Aphids, birch skeletonizers, and birch leaf miners can also wreak havoc on trees that have become weakened due to water stress. So, make sure your trees are not competing with your lawn for moisture. Another potential drought problem is birch dieback, where the branches of the birch tree die out over time. Conversely, trees that are watered too much can become prone to fungal problems, including leaf spots and cankers.