The great American poet, Robert Frost, once wrote: "One could do worse than be a swinger of birches." For centuries, poets and tree lovers have been inspired by these trees. Their black and white bark, delicate branches and gorgeous, yellow fall foliage are a joy to behold in nature and in home landscapes, planted in groves or standing alone. Birch trees are also fragile and prone to a host of diseases and problems, so it's best to give them ideal growing conditions and careful maintenance.
Plan a site for birches in your landscape where they will be seen. Birches make a beautiful statement, alone or in groups. Choose a spot to the north or east of your home, where it will receive plenty of sun on its branches, and partial shade during the hottest hours of the day. Provide a cool, moist soil bed for the shallow roots of a birch. They will not thrive in hot, dry dirt, so choose a low-lying area rather than a hilltop.
Go out in your yard and study the landscape in mid- to late-afternoon, and choose locations for planting birch where the ground is in shade. Don't forget to look up for overhead wires, since birches can grow to a height of 40 feet or more.
Plant birches near existing trees to give them adequate shelter. Choose striking combinations of trees such as birch and evergreen or spruce, or several birches together.
Plant birches in groups for a screening effect of thin, single trunks, or in pairs for a strong, central statement. Plan to prune birches if you want single trunks, or let nature take its course if you want double or multiple trunks. Consider planting a weeping birch near a red brick wall for a dramatic, graceful visual.
Once your birches are planted, landscape around them with stone or mulch to provide a lovely contrast with the fragile, peeling, black-and-white trunks. Lay down mulch or stone at depth of 2 to 4 inches to hold moisture and coolness at the base of the tree, but do not allow them to contact the tree's trunk or they may damage the bark.
Place containers of colorful annuals at staggered heights near birches to provide added interest. Keep them in containers to reduce competition for nutrients in the soil. Plant English ivy to make the white of the bark stand out, but keep it cut back so that it doesn't climb and strangle the tree.