Can I plant a birch tree that won't die?
July 11, 2007 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Landscaping question: We recently moved to a house in central NJ whic has many trees. The tree doctor we hired to trim back some trees that were too close to the house says that the clump of beautiful birch trees we love is terminal due to a borer and the disease is such that the tree can have its life extended, but not saved. Local nurseries have red birches, but we love the kind with the papery white bark. Our question: Should we remove the trees as we have been advised, and if we do, Is there a disease resisitant white birch that can grow in our area?
posted by mmf to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Something to consider: those clumps of white birch only last for 30 years and are prone to come down easily in the wind, so you don't want them too close to the house and they aren't exactly what you'd want to use to line an avenue. I'd probably take the doctor's advice and remove them, and make sure new ones aren't too close to the house.
posted by furtive at 7:05 PM on July 11, 2007

Have a look for Asian White Birch or 'Heritage' cultivars. Try searching for birch borer cultivar and see if you can find a fact sheet from an agricultural extension in your area.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 7:09 PM on July 11, 2007

If you can afford a second opinion, I'd recommend getting one before you give the go-ahead to remove all the trees (that's pretty drastic).
posted by amyms at 7:33 PM on July 11, 2007

Betula papyrifera, the native white birch, is considered more resistant to the borer, but you should probably double check with your local agricultural extension.

Cutting down the infested trees sooner rather than later helps prevent the spread of the pest, and ultimately is less of a liability than sick trees near your house.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:52 PM on July 11, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the info. Now your answers make me wonder if the new trees can be planted in the same general area the old trees were -- is the disease retained in the soil?
posted by mmf at 8:18 PM on July 11, 2007

Many towns & counties in NJ have Shade Tree Commissions that offer free disease consultations. They could probably also help you pick out a new one.
posted by djb at 8:50 PM on July 11, 2007

Best answer: The beetles don't appear to have any part of their life cycle in the soil, but if there are other birch trees in your neighborhood, it's likely they are hosts. Pests like this rarely affect healthy trees; if you want to continue to have birch trees, carefully consider whether you can provide a healthy environment over the long term. One thing that people rarely consider that can have a very detrimental effect on shallow rooted trees such as birches is soil compaction. If the root system of these trees is where people walk, under a driveway, or in any area that may be used as access or staging for any construction you may be considering, that can set the stage for detrimental borer infestation. Here's a good page on the birch borer that talks about desirable conditions for birches, more resistant varieties (there aren't any that are borer-proof), and the life cycle of the pest.

As a gardener, if you were my client I'd do my best to talk you out of planting these trees again. If you really love birches, maybe a nice specimen as a focal point somewhere, and something else to replace the sickly trees.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:24 PM on July 11, 2007

Best answer: There are resistant varieties. This Royal Frost birch looks promising. A birch is never going to be a long-lived tree, but you can hedge your bets by getting a hybrid that is designed for disease and insect resistance. Here is another resistant variety.

The London Plane Tree has bark similar to a white birch. This tree is actually a more disease-resistant variety of the native sycamore. It's a very pretty tree but also quite a bit larger than the birch.

You may also want to look at weeping cherry trees as an alternative. Beautiful shiny brown bark, graceful habit, and soft, delicate pink flowers in the spring.

So, to answer your question, any birch will probably last 30 years at the most. But that may be ok in your situation. Just pick a more resistant variety.
posted by Ostara at 9:50 PM on July 11, 2007

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