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All About River Birch

The best features of these trees are three traits that always come in handy: rapid growth, multi-season interest, and tolerance for wetness. The best Birch for our more southerly climate, their heat tolerance is good for standing up to the pests that can fell the whiter-barked species that prosper up north. While they can make a bit of a fuss over dry soils summer (by shedding some leaves), they’re fairly low-maintenance and only ask for a soaking now and then when we go through weeks of drought. Leaves are on the small side and allow enough light through the canopy that grass can be successfully grown until the trees get at least two decades old. Still, the dappled light underneath them would be much better served to grow a beautiful shade garden, filled with Hosta, Astilbe, sedges, ferns, Hydrangea, Anemone, and so on. Their roots can be quite shallow, so place them carefully near foot paths or paving, and troublesome wet spots in the yard are perfect for their tolerances. As they age, trunks develop peeling papery bark that reveals an array of creamy-tan and brown tones, perfect for catching light snows and giving woodpeckers places to hunt for hibernating bugs in the winter. It’s not uncommon for River Birch to grow 2’ per year, but their flexibility holds up well to wind, ice, and snow. Multiple trunks are the norm, and leaves turn bright yellow in autumn.

by Miri Talabac, Woody Plant Buyer

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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