How to Grow and Care for the Yellow Birch Tree

Yellow birch tree with bright yellow leaves on thin trunk and branches

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

In This Article

The Yellow Birch is a stately large tree with dramatic coloring. The tree forms small yellow blossoms in spring which become attractive catkins. Its leaves turn a brilliant golden yellow in fall, and its shiny bark peels and to create gorgeous texture. The bark's color is a deep yellowish brown when young, shifting gradually from a silvery grey to a deep reddish brown over time as the tree matures.

The Yellow Birch is long-lived, with an average lifespan of one hundred and fifty years; some old growth forest specimens of Yellow Birch are over three hundred years old. They can grow to between sixty and seventy-five feet in height, with a wide spreading canopy up thirty to fifty feet wide, making it almost as wide as it is tall! and the largest North American birch tree. The tree from afar has an almost circular looking shape due to its comparatively wide canopy. It's one of the largest hardwood tree species in North America.

In addition to its pleasing appearance, the young stems of this tree have an unusual wintergreen aroma, similar to the smell of a sweet birch though not as potent. The bark of both trees contain essential oil used to produce birch beer: an old-fashioned beverage enjoyed by American settlers. Also, the sap of the Yellow Birch can be boiled down like maple syrup; it has a lower sugar content than maple, but the sap is abundant and birch syrup has many culinary uses. The stems and twigs are also enjoyed by wildlife, specifically cottontail rabbits, moose and whitetail deer. Various birds enjoy eating the buds, and the yellow bellied sapsucker will drill holes in its bark to collect the sweet sap. This close-grained hardwood is also useful in the lumber trade.

Botanical Name Betula alleghaniensis
Common Name Yellow birch, golden birch
Plant Type Deciduous tree
Mature Size 60 - 75' tall
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Fertile sandy loam, well-drained, acidic to alkaline
Soil pH 4.0 to 8.0
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Yellow catkins
Hardiness Zones 3 to 7
Native Areas Northeastern North America

How to Grow Yellow Birch

Because of its unusually wide canopy, choosing a suitable location is of paramount importance when planting this tree. Its canopy can extend to fifty feet wide, so give it plenty of room. The bright yellow and golden leaves on display in autumn are a stunning accompaniment to other trees that get bright in autumn, like Japanese maples, sweetgum trees, bronze maples, and red oaks.

Yellow birch tree with wide spreading branches full of yellow leaves against blue sky

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Yellow birch tree branch with yellow circular leaves closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Yellow birch tree trunk with shiny reddish-brown bark with yellow leaves above

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Soil

The Yellow Birch will grow in soil with a wide-ranging pH, and while it tends to prefer slightly acidic soil, it tolerates alkaline soil just fine. The soil should be rich and well-drained, though. A sandy loam is ideal, but like other birch trees, the Yellow Birch is adaptable to varying soil conditions.

Light

Full sun is ideal, but if grown in a woodland landscape, or near buildings, it can handle partial shade. Seedlings will not germinate in full shade.

Water

The Yellow Birch doesn't have any special water needs beyond normal rainfall. In times of drought, however, it will benefit from a weekly deep watering at the roots.

Temperature and Humidity

This tree is found throughout eastern Canada and New England, and as far south as Georgia, thought it tends to grow more abundantly in the Northeast. It does best within hardiness zones between USDA 3 and 7. It doesn't like extreme dryness or heat. If grown in a place with hot summers, its longevity will be shortened considerably. Also known as swamp birch, the Yellow Birch often grows naturally alongside ponds, swamps and in damp woodlands.

Pruning

Pruning is recommended to keep the tree in good shape but wait until after the growing season; late fall (late November through early December) is ideal. The main reason to wait for pruning is because the bronze birch borer is active in spring and may be drawn to fresh cuts on the tree, and can cause damage. The Yellow Birch is fairly resistant to this destructive insect, but it's best to exercise caution and prune when the tree's growth has gone dormant.

Common Pests

The Yellow Birch does have some insect pests that can become problematic: mainly birch leaf miners and birch skeletonizers. Like other birches, the bark can occasionally develop cankers.