Something about the "white lady of the forest" stirs the imagination. Poet Robert Frost wrote about escaping his troubles by climbing birches, and the tree's black branches and snow white trunk have a universal appeal. Birch trees are undemanding backyard trees in the appropriate setting and thrive for 50 years or more in the wild. Planting at the proper time of year increases the chance that your birch will lead a long, healthy life.
Birches belong to the Betula family. While many types of birch boast papery white bark, other varieties have brown, orange or salmon-coloured trunks. All Betula remain under 50 feet tall and produce delicate leaves that turn yellow in autumn. The tree's shallow root system requires shade and moisture to develop, although birch leaves need plenty of sun most of the day. A deciduous tree, young birch saplings are best transplanted while dormant.
Unless you grow birches from seeds, all planting is essentially transplanting. Whether you dig up a small birch in the forest or buy a sapling at the nursery, timing is important. The ideal time to act depends upon the climate in your area. If winters are harsh, dig the hole for your birch in late summer or early fall -- just after the leaves fall -- to give the tree time to reroot before winter storms. Homeowners in mild climates can plant as late as November.
Some nurseries and government agencies offer trees with bare roots -- without any retained soil -- for sale in early spring. Bare-root birches are generally inexpensive and can thrive if planted appropriately. Do not wait for autumn. Since the roots of the saplings have no protection, you must keep them shaded and moist from the moment of purchase and get them into the ground as quickly as possible. It is important to water the trees at regular intervals throughout the first summer.
Nurseries grow some young trees in containers. Unlike birches grown in fields, container-grown birches retain 100 per cent of their root system. The intact root system allows the birches to establish themselves easily and quickly in a new location. You can plant potted birches at almost any time of the year as long as the ground is neither frozen nor heated excessively by the summer sun. For best results, birches need cool, moist soil and partial sun.