Beautiful trees suitable even for small gardens; they provide little shade. There are many unusual varieties, often more attractive than the common birch.
In small gardens the tree should preferably be planted singly; its fine trunk is attractive even in winter. If space allows it may also be used among shrubs and conifers.
Sandy soil is preferred; the tree does not require a great deal of manure. A few species demand damp soil.
Betula costata: Height to 12 m; yellowish trunk, peeling attractively. Branches at low level. Small, firm, rounded at the base. Rather too wide for a small garden. Betula jacquemontii: Usually called, or confused with, Betula utilis. Magnificent white trunk, branching at low level, moderately vigorous, fine autumn colouring. Very suitable for small gardens.
Betula nana, dwarf birch: Height to only 1 m. A small, rounded shrub with thin, downy twigs. Betula nigra, river birch: Height to 20 m, often much smaller; magnificent red-brown, peeling bark;oval to diamond-shaped, white on reverse. Likes damp soil. Betula papynfera, paper birch: Height to 25 m, usually less; white, peeling bark, revealing a reddish-brown trunk underneath. Beautifully branching, the twigs ultimately droop. A fine specimen tree for medium-sized gardens. Betula pendula syn Betula verrucosa, the common silver birch, growing wild in woods and heathland: Height to 20 m, and by no means the finest species for garden use, although there are a number of attractive cultivars: ‘Tristis’ is a weeping birch with a leading top shoot; ‘Youngii’ is used for making arbours – it is a weeping form grafted on stock, growing less tall than the species and therefore suitable for smaller gardens; ‘Laciniata’ is a fine strain with incised foliage; ‘Fastigiata’ has an erect crown; ‘Purpurea’ is an ornamental variety with brown-red foliage. Betula pubescens, common white birch: Height to 20 m; white, peeling bark. The drooping branches are downy. Leaves are 3-6 cm long, oval- to diamond-shaped, pointed, usually wedge-shaped at the base, initially downy on the reverse. Like the river birch it enjoys fairly damp soil. ‘Urticifolia’ is a garden variety with pointed, fairly deeply incised, leaves.