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Betula populifolia (Gray Birch)

Gray Birch, Grey Birch, White Birch, Aspen-leaved Birch

Betula populifolia, Gray Birch
Betula populifolia, Gray Birch

Betula populifolia, commonly known as Gray Birch, is a deciduous tree that’s part of the Betulaceae family. It is recognized for its slender, upright habit and distinctive white bark.

Betula populifolia: An In-depth Look

Native: This birch species is native to eastern North America, particularly in regions from Quebec to Minnesota and south to Virginia, where it is typically found in both dry and wet soils.

Plant Type and Habit: Gray Birch is a deciduous tree with an upright, narrow, columnar profile. It most often appears in a multi-trunked form, but also grows with a single trunk.

Size: Typically reaching heights of 20 to 40 feet (6-12 meters) and a spread of 10 to 20 feet (3-6 meters), it’s considered a small to medium-sized tree.

Flowers: The tree produces inconspicuous catkins, which are pendulous for males and more upright for females. The catkins usually bloom from late spring to early summer.

Fruits: After blooming, the tree produces tiny winged nutlets that are wind-dispersed.

Foliage: Gray Birch has shiny, long-pointed triangular green leaves, 3 inches long (7 cm), with a doubly serrate margin. The foliage turns a beautiful yellow in the fall.

Bark: It is generally smooth and light gray to white in color. Unlike the peeling layers commonly associated with other birch species, the bark of Gray Birch tends to remain tight to the trunk and does not peel. Its distinctive bark makes it a particularly attractive choice for winter interest in the garden.

Hardiness: This tree is fairly hardy, suitable for USDA Zones 3-6. It is also more tolerant of poor, dry soils compared to other birches.

Uses: Due to its slender form, it’s often used as an ornamental tree. It’s also suitable for small landscapes and can be used in reclamation projects.

Wildlife: Gray Birch, is an asset to local ecosystems, offering nourishment and refuge to a range of wildlife. Songbirds, ground birds, and mammals are drawn to this tree for its seeds and sheltering branches. It also serves as a larval host for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, contributing to butterfly biodiversity.

Deer and Rabbits: Generally less palatable to deer, although not entirely deer-resistant. Rabbits may nibble at the lower branches.

Toxicity: There are no significant toxicity issues for humans or pets.

Invasiveness: Betula populifolia is not considered invasive; it usually coexists well with native plant species.

Benefits: The tree can be used for its ornamental value, for erosion control, and as a source of food and habitat for wildlife. Its wood, although not of high commercial value, can be used for pulp.
Key Facts: Gray Birch is often one of the first trees to colonize disturbed areas, making it important in succession planting. Also noteworthy is its relatively quick growth rate and short lifespan, often no longer than 30-50 years.

How to Grow and Care for a Gray Birch

Light: Prefers full sun to partial shade for optimal growth.

Soil: Adaptable to various soil types including clay, loam, and sand. Tolerant of slightly alkaline to acidic conditions, and can even handle occasional wetness as long as the soil is well-drained.

Water: Moderately drought-tolerant but prefers consistent moisture. Water deeply, especially during dry periods.

Fertilizer: Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in early spring before new growth starts. Avoid excessive nitrogen.

Pruning: Best to prune in late fall or winter when the tree is dormant. Avoid pruning between May and August to deter the bronze birch borer.

Propagation: Propagate through seeds or cuttings. Seeds should be sown in a cold frame as soon as they are ripe.

Pests and Diseases: Keep an eye out for Bronze Birch Borer, Birch Leafminer, Aphids, Leaf Spot, Powdery Mildew and Canker.

Requirements

Hardiness 3 - 6
Plant Type Trees
Plant Family Betulaceae
Genus Betula
Common names Gray Birch, Birch
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Early, Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Winter
Height 20' - 40'
(6.1m - 12.2m)
Spread 10' - 20'
(3m - 6.1m)
Spacing 120" - 240"
(3m - 6.1m)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy
Native Plants United States, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Southeast, Northeast, Midwest, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina
Tolerance Deer
Attracts Birds, Butterflies
Garden Styles Prairie and Meadow, Informal and Cottage
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Alternative Plants to Consider

Betula nana (Dwarf Birch)
Betula pumila (Bog Birch)
Betula alleghaniensis (Yellow Birch)
Betula lenta (Sweet Birch)
Betula platyphylla (Japanese White Birch)
Betula utilis (Himalayan Birch)

Recommended Companion Plants

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ (Smooth Hydrangea)
Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich Fern)
Hedera helix (English Ivy)

Find In One of Our Guides or Gardens

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Roots of Life: Exploring the Diverse World of Trees
Green Canopy, Better World: Exploring the Benefits of Trees
Trees that Invite Wildlife to Your Garden
Small Trees, Big Impact: Maximize Your Garden’s Potential
Spectacular Trees for Vibrant Fall Colors: A Gardener’s Guide
Betula (Birch) – What Is Wrong With My Tree?
Betula (Birch) – Pests and Diseases to Watch Out For
Alternatives to Birch Trees Prone to Borer Attacks
Betula (Birch)
Create a Garden with Great Winter Interest
Which Birch Tree to Choose for my Garden?
Underplanting Birches
Shrubs and Trees with Attractive Winter Bark
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.
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Requirements

Hardiness 3 - 6
Plant Type Trees
Plant Family Betulaceae
Genus Betula
Common names Gray Birch, Birch
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Early, Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Fall
Winter
Height 20' - 40'
(6.1m - 12.2m)
Spread 10' - 20'
(3m - 6.1m)
Spacing 120" - 240"
(3m - 6.1m)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Type Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil pH Acid, Alkaline, Neutral
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained
Characteristics Showy
Native Plants United States, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Southeast, Northeast, Midwest, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina
Tolerance Deer
Attracts Birds, Butterflies
Garden Styles Prairie and Meadow, Informal and Cottage
How Many Plants
Do I Need?
Explore Great Plant Combination Ideas
Betula (Birch)
Guides with
Betula (Birch)
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