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How to Prune a Young River Birch Tree


prune a river birch tree

Why Prune Trees?

Pruning encourages healthy plant growth by getting rid of dead branches and overgrown branches. Here are a few reasons why it is crucial for you to prune your young river birch tree to keep it healthy:

  • Avoid Plant Diseases: Pruning helps your river birch tree avoid plant diseases. Decaying plant parts can spread the disease to the rest of the tree. Getting rid of dead and dying river birch tree branches prevents this from happening, and exposes more of the plant to sunlight which can reduce the disease.
  • Rigorous Growth: Dead or decaying tree branches and stems stunt your plant’s growth by hogging up resources and wasting them. To encourage healthy tree growth, make more room for your river birch tree, and allow its roots to breathe, it is vital for you to prune your plant.
  • Aesthetic Appeal: Clustered and poorly maintained river birch tree branches and peeling bark are an eyesore. Keep your plants looking neat and clean by pruning them regularly as required. Create an appealing look for your young river birch trees so that it is easy to maintain an aesthetic look as birches grow old.

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When to Prune Birch Trees?

Looking up to a river birch tree
Looking up at a River Birch tree’s beautiful cinnamon colored bark.

Pruning a river birch tree (botanically named Betula nigra) while it is still young is essential to keeping it in shape for the rest of its life. Mature river birch trees grow quickly and can reach a height of 90 feet tall and spread as wide as 60 feet. They have a growth rate of up to 1-2 feet per year. Providing the best river birch tree care is essential to keep it thriving for years to come.

As a fast-growing species, it is important that you prune your river birch tree before it gets too old.

When it comes to seasons, the best time of the year to prune a river birch tree is towards the end of winter or the start of the early spring growing season. This is because River Birches are deciduous trees, meaning they will lose their glossy green leaves over fall and winter to prepare to go into a dormant state. However, you will need to keep in mind that river birch trees have a heavy flow of sap when winter ends.

To prevent sap loss from bleeding out of your river birch tree, the best time to prune is during late summer or early autumn. While losing sap does not damage the health of your river birch tree, it is still recommended to avoid unnecessary sap flow while your tree is still young. You may also prune it while the plant is dormant during early winter.

Apart from pruning your river birch tree when it is healthy, you will also need to consider if it is thinning or diseased. It is time to prune your river birch tree if there are larger branches, dying branches or if they show signs of disease or you notice them thinning. 

Best practices for planting river birch trees include having it in full sun and slightly acidic soils. Some varieties of birch trees can tolerate alkaline soil but River Birch prefers a soil pH of 5.5-6.5. A planting site in a wet area is perfect for birch trees to soak up extra moisture. They are heat tolerant and make excellent shade trees.

How to Trim a River Birch Tree?

pruned branch of a river birch tree
Pruned Off Branch

Start by trimming any side shoots and suckers, with pruning shears. Once this easy part has been completed, you have to move onto deciding which large branches to remove. River birch tree pruning yields the best results when it is performed in moderation.

Too much or too little trimming will not yield the desired results. Excess trimming of a river birch tree (especially when it is young) such as eliminating a quarter of the canopy of the tree can put your plant’s life in danger. The goal with pruning is to be as selective as possible. Only prune where necessary and never take more than 20 percent of the tree’s structure away.

Focus on the dry branches close to the collar of your river birch tree, and get rid of them if they are less than two inches in diameter or around or 5 cm. You will want to use pruners with long handles to quickly pull out branches from your river birch tree. 

Tip: Clean the pruning tool after removing each branch using a disinfectant such as 10% bleach solution. By disinfecting pruning tools like lopping shears it prevents the spread of disease to other parts of the tree.

Branches which are a bit too big to handle require 3 special types of pruning cuts to extract:

  • Undercut: Measure 18 inches (46 cm) along the length of a branch, starting from the trunk. At this length, make an incision that is a third of the thickness of the branch, working your way from down to up (to prevent the branch from falling).
  • Main-cut: Measure 1-2 inches (2.5 or 5 cm) away from the undercut that you have made already. Here, you will want to cut the branch from top to bottom steadily.
  • Final touches: The stub that remains between the undercut and main-cut can cause diseases, and needs to be removed. Cut it off, to complete pruning a big branch on your river birch tree.

For More Information On River Birch Trees Visit the Links Below:

Arbor Day Tree Guide

Perfect Plants Best Front Yard Trees Blog

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