Bye, bye birchie

Our suburban neighborhood is full of Whitespire birch and river birch. I can only imagine the deal the developer got on these trees, along with Bradford Pear and Autumn Purple Ash, when our subdivision was platted 20 years ago. Like most trees common in large scale suburbs, these birches grow quickly and sport at least a single aesthetic feature that makes them attractive. This quick growth often carries a major drawback — a weak tree with poor habit. Birch is no exception.

I’m a sucker for interesting bark. When we first moved in, I remember listing the three Whitespire birches among the highlights of the existing garden. After living — and fighting — with them for more than a decade, to say I’m less enamored would be an understatement. Frankly, they’re a junky tree, constantly dropping twigs, growing awkwardly, and offering little appeal beyond the bark.

One of the trees died within a couple of years, another has lost one of its original three trunks, and the last has been pruned (yes, by me) into a grotesque mess of misdirection. It is the epitome of bad habit.

This will be the last season for these Whitespire birch in my garden. This spring, they’ll meet the fate of the chainsaw as I work to renovate the areas of the garden where they grow. While the smaller branches will be shredded into mulch, I plan to slice the trunks into biscuits and create a piece of natural art to hang on the back fence (inspired by the entrance to the Chicago Botanic Garden Woodcut exhibit). In this way, I can still enjoy the white bark, without the accompanying nuisance.

Coincidentally, the neighbors to our south have decided to remove at least one of their river birch, the one closest to our property. I’ll miss the peeling, papery bark on this one as well, but not the continuous rain of branches and its precarious lean toward our gazebo.

Soon my garden will be birch-less. It pains me to cut down living trees, but these are living on borrowed time. I’d rather accelerate the inevitable, getting a head start on their replacements.

We’re thankful for the 13 years you’ve given us, but it’s time to say bye, bye birchie. Bye, bye.

Published by

Christopher Tidrick

Be real. Love always. Share beauty. Lead well. Learn more.

6 thoughts on “Bye, bye birchie”

  1. I hear you about the birches. We have a beautiful white birch in our backyard and a river birch in the front. (Our developer must have gotten the same deal yours did.)

    We've been fighting birch bores (we think) in the white one the last two years. Most of the original white birches in our neighborhood have succumbed to the bores. If it wasn't for the lovely shade that tree gives on our deck, I think I would be ready to take it down. Lovely to look at, but we have a constant rain of birch seeds all summer long. We constantly are sweeping up literally drifts of those things.

    The river birch in the front yard is constantly losing twigs, particularly on a windy day. It loses so many, along with frequent large limbs, that I'm always amazed there are any branches left up there.

    Our neighbor across the street (now deceased)was the owner of a 100yr old family seed/feed business here in town. He was quite the expert on all things plant/garden related. He told me that all trees have at least one bad thing about them. We just have to decide if the good aspects of the tree outweigh the bad for us.

    Good luck with your garden renovation.


  2. White birch are usually doomed here too. (Borers.) But I do love their bark. We're in the same position you are, only ours is the willow that you and I discovered had a problem when you were here. It lived last year, but didn't look good at all. I'll be surprised if it even leafs out this year. It's time for it to go. I don't think we're going to replace it with a tree, but with a tall skinny structure. The garden needs something tall there in the middle. We might go with a tree, but it would be a long time before it would grow tall enough to look right.


  3. Chris, when it comes to trees, I'm patient with their foibles if they're otherwise healthy plants. When one is obviously declining, I get the chainsaw out and start over as quickly as I can.

    That said, these will only be the fourth and fifth trees I've removed in 13 years of this garden.


  4. I don't know about white birches, since they don't grow in my area, but river birches are wonderful native trees that are planted in inappropriate spots, way too often.

    As a “natural” gardener, I don't have any problem with their messiness in the right spot, but our former garden manager (at the botanical garden where I work), got rid of 4 perfectly nice trees near our education building (which had gotten quite large), simply because of their “messiness.” The boring coral bark Japanese maples planted in their place have no wildlife value, nor do they have any 'stories' for me to share as a garden educator (the river birches did!)


  5. Sometimes a tree's just gotta go. Experienced gardeners know it's okay to take out a non-performer, even something as big as a tree.

    We have three white birches planted in a triangle, and two are beautiful (yes, they drop twigs) but the third struggles, is smaller, and is now kind of a mess (my pruning didn't help either). They were all planted at the same time, all in the same area, so there is no explaining why one looks bad. The others do have real garden merit and no borers, but all are messy.

    I like the advice above about all trees having one bad thing that has to be weighed against their good attributes — so true in my garden!


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