Birch (Downy & Silver)

The two types of native British birch are commonly known as 'downy' birch and 'silver' birch. Quite often you may find a birch tree that is actually some sort of hybrid between the two. These beautiful trees can reach a mature height of around 30m, but are ideal for woodland or wildlife gardens as they have a light, open canopy which provide perfect conditions for grasses, mosses, woodland flowers and other partial shade tolerant plants to grow beneath.

Growing birch trees:

The 'strobile' or multiple fruit cluster containing many seeds, can be picked from an existing birch or silver birch tree from late August-September, before they turn brown. Lay out strobiles somewhere warm and allow them to dry. When they are dry separate out the seeds and place them in a cool, dry place.

Four weeks before sowing you should soak the seeds for 24-48 hours in clean, cold water, then surface dry them by placing them in a sealed bag in a spin drier for a minute or so, or by placing them in the toe of some old tights and spinning them around your head. Place those seeds in moist horticultural sand and place them in a sealed bag, which you should then place in the fridge for around four weeks, which should improve the germination rates.

Birch is fairly fast growing and can colonise relatively easily, which is why it is often one of the first trees found growing on waste ground. Plan to plant birch seeds in April in pots or seed beds. Make sure that seeds and seedlings never dry out. Place them outside in a shady, sheltered spot.

Birch saplings may put on as much as 60cm in height in the first year, and can be planted into their homes after one or two years (or bought from a nursery or garden centre at this stage). Make sure that all weeds and grass is cleared away and that the hole dug is big enough to accommodate the root ball. Plant carefully into the hole, ensuring that you replant the sapling at the same depth as it was in the pot. Firm the soil around the young tree.

Birch look good in groups, as they are found in nature but if you have a small garden then one tree alone can make a beautiful specimen tree that can enhance the space. Birch trees look good as part of a wild, natural style garden.

Why grow a birch tree in the garden?

Beautiful birches can add a lot of vertical interest to a mature garden and will also encourage bio-diversity and encourage a wide range of insects, birds and other wildlife to your garden. The birch provides food and habitat for over 300 insect species. Leaves attract aphids, which in turn encourages their predators, such as ladybirds and keeps aphids from attacking your vegetables or precious plants elsewhere in the garden.

Quick Facts

Latin Name
Betula Pubescens/Betula Pendula