Planting a Clump of Three Birch Trees. European white birch (Betula pendula)

Question from Shirley:
My Birch in the front yard died because my sprinkler was not hitting it and I was unaware. When can I plant a new one. I would like Triple trunks so do I buy three or look for one with multiple trunks?

Answer from Pat:
Before choosing your birch tree or trees, please read with care the various questions and answers on birch trees, silver birches, and European white birch on this blog. (Here is the link: http://patwelsh.com/wpmu/blog/planting/european-white-birch-clumps/
Please also note at the bottom there are two more citations, “Related Articles”. Please read them too. (Perhaps you already have.)

Now to answer your question: Yes, it is okay to purchase three white birches and plant them very close together into the same hole, but it is also okay, perhaps even preferable, if you can find a container with three trunks already arising from the ground. The reason this is good is because you can choose a good looking clump. The problem, however, is that if this is all one tree, the price is likely to be very high. Also, if the multi-trunk specimen you choose has been in the container too long, this is a disadvantage since the roots are likely to have become wound around each other and inside the container and it may be difficult to loosen them up and spread them out.

The other way to go is to plant 3 saplings together in one hole. In this case the disadvantage is that you will need to rely on your own artistic eye to arrange them in a pleasing way, but this can be done. If you are naturally artistic it will be no problem. If not, or even if you are talented in this regard, it would help to study photographs of three-trunk clumps in books and magazines prior to planting. A good photograph will help you to do a good job of arranging them properly.

The way to do the job is to choose three young trees of close to the same size and height, and then dig a large planting hole, no deeper however than the root ball. Take the three trees out of their containers and set them into the hole with the root balls touching and the trunks leaning outward, away from each other at an angle. Be careful to fill in the soil under as well as around the roots so the root balls don’t have air under them and also so that the soil will keep the trees from falling down. Firm the ground but don’t stomp all the air out of it. When people use their feet to firm the soil, they often over do it and prevent water percolation. It’s better to get down on one’s knees and use hands. Stake the trees securely because when you water your planting hole the soil is going to soften up the earth. When staking allow for some movement in the wind so that the trees can grow strong trunks and gradually develop and natural shape.

Additionally when planting, notice where the branches of your saplings are headed so they won’t be on a collision course with the branches of the other two threes in the clump. As they grow you don’t want them to hit the branches or trunks of one another. If necessary prune out an offending branch,but it would be better not to do so. Any pruning, if necessary, should only be done on young trees if necessary to shape them, and then only in winter or spring since birch tends to bleed.

Comments

  1. I have lost 2 birch tree 2 years in a row. They were perfectly healthy and then one died last year one this year. Other than squirrels chewing up branches the trees seem to be comfortable in their environment. Do you know of anything that might explain and do Birch trees have to be planted in threes to be successful?

    Chuck

  2. Michael Beairsto

    Hello Pat,
    I love the look of three birches planted together, however, I live in South Texas and suspect the heat would be too much for the birch trees.
    Do you have any suggestions for a heat-hardy treee that would provide the same look when planted in a group of three?
    thank you
    Mike

    • There is nothing quite like white birch trees that can be planted in a clump of three and that is adapted to growing in South Texas.

      I know it is tempting to want to plant things that are not well adapted to the climate zone in which we live but the wisest and most successful gardeners stick to the plants that thrive where they live. My advice is to study the landscape that surrounds you. Look at other gardens and at botanical gardens. Gradually make a list of the plants you really love and admire—include the most spectacular and easiest plants that grow well with little care. Make a garden of these plants and arrange them artistically in the landscape. This is the way to be happy and have a great garden.

      A Horticulturist in Oregon once talked and wrote about “Climate Envy”, and gave instructions how to grow plants that are not adapted to the climate where one lives. I think this is sheer folly and it would be better to pull up stakes and move. To me, gardening wisdom means working with nature, not against it.

      • I live in subtropical Brisbane Australia and have just bought four young tropical birches ‘betula nigra’. Cannot grow the other variety here due to climate, but the tropical birch has beautiful bark and foliage and is also deciduous. I plan to put them fairly close to my house for shelter from the severe summer sun

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