Weeping Birch Tree Profile

Branches with weeping form covered in yellow leaves.

 Allan Albery / Flickr / CC By 2.0

This graceful, elegant tree, also known as silver birch, is a familiar and well-loved landscaping tree. Similar to many other birch trees, the silvery, papery bark has a unique texture and a pleasing color in the landscape, standing out next to darker evergreens, oaks and maples. Then, their autumn color display is a real show stopper, with bright yellow leaves that remain on the tree for weeks. There are many varieties of birch with a range of bark colorations, some with grey, silver, reddish brown, or dark brown bark, but the white birches are the most recognizable in both residential and woodland settings. The weeping birch, like other birches, has both male and female catkins; the males appear in fall, and will stay on the tree through the winter and open in April or May. The female catkins appear as new shoots in the spring.

Birches in general have a rich folkloric history, given their striking appearance and the special qualities of the bark for making objects both useful and artistic, such as paper and even clothing.In Celtic mythology, the birch tree is also known as "The Lady of the Woods" and is associated with new beginnings; in Norse mythology, it is sacred to Freya and Frigg, goddesses of fertility and abundance. In Scotland, birch trees were often selected to be used to the annual maypole dances. It was also used in folk magic to ward off evil and banish fear.

Botanical Name Betula pendula
Common Name Weeping Birch, Silver Birch, Warty Birch
Plant Type Deciduous tree
Mature Size 40' - 50' tall, 25' - 30' canopy spread
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Fertile, moist, well drained, slightly acidic
Soil pH 4.5 to 6.5
Bloom Time Catkins appear in spring
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 3 to 9
Native Areas Europe, Asia
Small weeping birch tree within a landscape of majestic trees in the distance.
Though most weeping birches grow as tall as fifty feet, 'Young's Weeping Birch' is a smaller cultivar that grows about ten feet tall, giving more flexibility for planting; this specimen is in the Melbourne Botanical Garden in Australia.  eric / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

How to Grow Weeping Birch

Choosing a weeping birch for your landscape needs requires some planning and consideration. The weeping birch can grow to be fifty feet tall, and its shapely canopy can spread as much as thirty feet, so it needs plenty of space in the landscape to achieve its ideal form. It's not a suitable tree for a small yard, in terms of both size and scale. However, the weeping birch is available in a number of varieties, and some of them are smaller; Young's Weeping Birch, for example, grows to a maximum of ten feet tall, so it's possible to find a cultivar to suit your spatial needs. Try to plant your weeping birch where the soil will remain cool and shaded, but the tree branches will receive ample sun; the east or north side of the house may be best, but don't plant too close to the house. Twenty feet or more from a structure is usually a safe planting distance.

Soil

The soil needs for growing weeping birch are fairly basic: it prefers a moist and well-drained location with fertile, slightly acidic soil. This tree can also tolerate a slightly wet location, such as beside a pond or by a creek that overflows occasionally. The tree can help stabilize such areas where minor flooding is a problem by lessening the possibility of soil erosion. Weeping birches may develop yellowing of foliage (iron chlorosis) if soil pH goes below 6.5. Peat moss, coffee grounds, and pine needles are all soil amendments that can be used to make soil more acidic.

Light

This tree likes full sun to thrive. In a location with cool summer temperatures, the weeping birch can handle a great deal of bright sun.

Water

The weeping birch likes moist soil and a steady supply of water, and is not tolerant of dry soil or drought. Lack of water can cause the tree to have stunted growth, a weakened root system or weak branches, so making sure it receives ample water during unusual dry spells is important for its long term well being. Water at the base of the tree during drought: three gallons of water once per week should be sufficient. The root system is fairly shallow and so water will be easily accessible from the base of the tree, assuming the soil has good drainage.

Temperature and Humidity

These trees like mild summers that are not too hot, and are tolerant of cold winters. In areas where summer temperatures frequently go above 75 degrees, the weeping birch may show signs of stress. Keeping the base of your weeping birch tree heavily mulched will help ensure consistent temperatures and humidity, keeping moisture intact even during drought.

Pests and Maintenance

The weeping birch is somewhat susceptible to fungal diseases; keep the tree well-pruned and trim off any diseased branches or twigs. Generally the best time to prune is early winter (first week of December) but try to avoid pruning during or just before a cold snap (temperatures below freezing). Because the bark of this tree is somewhat soft, its trunk can be vulnerable to injury, and cuts in the bark can lead to pests invading or other problems, so take care when mowing grass.