Expe ’s choice
Attractive bark, a light canopy and spring catkins make the birch a firm favourite, says Graham Rice
The birch is one of Britain’s best-loved trees. In the countryside we enjoy its white stems, its spring catkins and its buttery autumn colour, while in garden varieties we enjoy all those features with extra intensity plus its quick growth, light shade and dappled canopy of foliage. The choice from the 35 species, and many varieties, allows us to select plants for wet soil and for dry, and the fact that trees quickly reach a size where they make an impression, yet never cast dense shade, allows a wide range of shadeloving plants to be grown beneath. At this time of year the gleaming white bark of many varieties shines in the low winter sunshine, especially when cleaned with soap and water. The weeping growth of some is elegant year round, while yellow spring catkins stand out against blue spring skies. In autumn, the foliage of many birches turns bright yellow – sometimes so predictably as to reach its peak on almost exactly the same day each year. The only problem is that birch roots tend to be shallow and so they take moisture from the root zone of shade loving perennials underneath. Fortunately, their relatively thin canopy allows rain to reach the soil and light to encourage a wide range of dappled shade lovers.
Position Best in open sunny situations, species vary in their moisture preferences. All are hardy across the country. Most reach about 12-15m in height but cast only light shade. Care Support with a short, stout stake when young. When established, in summer remove lower branches of those with the brightest bark to create a more dramatic look. Clean the bark with soap and water in late autumn. Where to buy botanicaplantnursery.co.uk 01728 747113, crocus.co.uk 01344 578111, junker.co.uk 01823 400075, ornamental-trees.co.uk 01943 660870
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