The silver birch tree is a common type of tree that can be found in many gardens and parks around the UK. It has a very distinct look with its silver bark and an easily recognisable shape, its long trunk, and branches that curve upwards. Silver Birch are remarkably easy to grow and have many people asking “Can I grow a silver birch in my garden?” Before you go out and plant one of these towering beauties, there are a few things that you should know about Silver Birch trees which should give you an idea if planting one in your garden is right for you.
What is a Silver Birch?
Silver birch trees, Betula pendula, are a common fixture in the forests of the UK and North America that belong to the Betulaceae family (the same family as beeches). The tree is named for the silvery-white bark of its mature growth stage and can grow up to 100 feet tall with a circumference of 10-16 feet. It matures at 15-25 years, with height sometimes being determined by elevation i.e., taller at higher elevations due to lower oxygen levels in the air.
The Silver Birch is shade intolerant meaning that it demands an open space away from other trees or buildings where it will not be shaded out by direct sunlight during the warmer months of the year because these times are when it needs most light energy via photosynthesis for sustained growth and development.
Can I grow a Silver Birch in my Garden?
The short answer is yes, a silver birch can be grown in your garden but there are some considerations you should make before planting one of these iconic beauties. You will need to be mindful of the rooting system and the distance between the tree and your home.
Silver Birch Root System
The first thing to consider is the silver birch’s root system. The silver birch is a shallow-rooted tree with root systems that have been known to spread up to 10 metres. Although silver birch roots are not considered to be aggressive, they have been known to cause significant damage to lawns, patios, and other structures.
Like most trees, you will need to consider the planting distance from any buildings or other structures to minimise the risk of damage.
Silver Birch Planting Distance
According to the subsidence bureau, in clay or peaty soil, a silver birch should not be planted within 4m of your property. This is due to the soil shrinkage that occurs in the summer months when the tree is absorbing water around its roots. This soil shrinkage has the potential to destabilise and damage the foundations of structures around the tree which can ultimately cause subsidence to your property.
Silver Birch Roots in Your Lawn
Silver Birch roots in your lawn can be a real nuisance and lead to a bumpy and uneven surface. There are two main reasons that may cause your silver birch roots to become exposed and ruin your lawn: the roots’ natural growth and erosion.
Much like a tree trunk, roots will grow and thicken as the tree matures and due to the silver birch being so shallow-rooted, it does not take much for them to show at the surface. A good way to prevent this from happening is when you plant your young silver birch, you plant it deep enough so that once your tree is fully grown, the roots remain deep enough to not cause any issues with your lawn.
In especially wet or windy areas, the soil around the base of your tree can naturally erode. Unfortunately, there is not too much that can be done to prevent this from happening but once the problem arises, it can be fixed.
How to Fix Silver Birch Roots Showing Through Your Lawn
Some people will advise that you can just cut away any unwanted parts of the roots, but this can be counter-productive and lead to a deterioration in the health of the tree. The best way to deal with exposed roots is to raise the level of your lawn enough to create an even surface. Personally, I would look to raise the level of the lawn at least 12 inches above the highest visible root. It is important not to forget that roots serve as a vital part of a tree’s circulatory system. They transport minerals and sugars throughout the entire body of the tree, so any damage or disturbance to them has the potential to cause problems inside the tree.
Note: If the tree has still not fully matured, you may need to wait a few years to prevent raising the lawn again.
How Big Does a Silver Birch Grow?
The next thing to consider is the size of the silver birch. Silver birches grow extremely tall and in the right conditions, they are regularly known to reach 100 feet tall. Any tree of this size if planted in someone’s garden can pose a risk to people and property. There is the danger of the tree falling in high winds and the risk of dead or dead branches falling from height. Much of this risk can be mitigated with the right maintenance but hiring a professional tree surgeon every couple of years could be awfully expensive.
Silver Birch Height Reduction
If you are growing a silver birch or plan to in the future, you may think about reducing the height of your tree with a technique known as ‘topping’. Topping a silver birch tree is not an easy task and does not always produce the best results meaning that the tree may need regular pruning to keep it the desired shape. Like many trees, when topping a silver birch tree by pruning the central leader (trunk), the tree will grow maybe 5 or 6 smaller branches from where the cut was made which can make the shape of the tree look a little odd and unnatural.
Topping a silver birch can lead to the overall health of the tree deteriorating so we recommend that you speak to a qualified tree surgeon for professional advice.
Growing Silver Birch in Containers
Yes, with the right care and attention, silver birch can be grown in containers and in fact, this is a great way to grow them in a small garden. When growing silver birch in containers or pots, the overall growth of the tree will be stunted leaving you with a beautiful, small, and manageable tree. The trees grown in pots can require a little more work than if they are planted in the ground – especially with watering.
If you want to purchase a young silver birch, you can do it here (amazon link – opens in a new tab).
Silver birches are big drinkers and pots will only hold so much water so for the tree to stay healthy, you will need to keep a tight watering schedule – especially during the drier months of the year.
Consider the location of the pot – even though the tree will be stunted and relatively small, it will still be extremely heavy. It would be a good idea to keep your tree away from any open spaces to prevent toppling in the wind – or you could try fixing the pot to the ground.
Are Silver Birch Trees Protected?
The answer is no, in the UK silver birch trees as a species are not protected although there are instances where individual trees or whole woodlands containing silver birch are protected. These protections are known as TPOs – Tree Preservation Orders. If you have a silver birch in your garden that may be causing you some of the problems mentioned above, or you think that there is the potential for problems in the future, you should have a look into whether there is a TPO.
Why Are Tree Preservation Orders Issued?
A tree preservation order (TPO) can be issued for a variety of reasons so if you plan to fell your silver birch, you will need to check with your local authority regarding its status. TPOs for silver birch are uncommon but they do exist. Trees that are on an SSSI (site of special scientific interest) for example will likely have a TPO in place to prevent them from being felled. There are also instances where a TPO might be issued for another characteristic such as being home to bats. Bats are protected in the UK, and it is extremely unlikely that you will be allowed to fell a tree with bats roosting in it. If you do see bats in your silver birch, it would be a good idea to arrange a bat survey.
As you will know, silver birch is a beautiful-looking tree that makes a great addition to almost all landscapes. Can you grow a silver birch in your garden? Of course, you can as long as you are well prepared for any issues that may arise in the future. If you do go ahead and plant a silver birch, remember to think about the full-size adult tree, the size of the roots, and the soil around your home. If your garden is too small, it may be a good idea to grow your silver birch in a large pot or container so you can enjoy the beauty of the tree without some of the dangers that may come with it.
Garden Doctor Tips
“Think about the minimum planting distance when planting near your home, you wouldn’t want any damage to be caused by the tree whether direct or indirect!”
“Silver birch grown in containers requires an awful lot of watering. If you want your tree to stay healthy, you will need to stay on top of it!”
“If you need to do any serious work to your tree, call in professional help – tree surgery is a dangerous pastime!”
“Consider the full size of the tree before planting – they may look small and cute when they are young, but they grow to be towering beasts!”
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Silver Birch Tree Roots Cause Problems?
Yes! Silver birch trees grow vigorously and have the potential for damaging structures in their vicinity – a common issue with residential foundations.
This can be more severe when the silver birch is growing in clay soil. In drier months, the tree will absorb all of the water from the soil which causes shrinkage. This shrinkage can adversely affect the foundations causing subsidence.
How far from the house should I plant a silver birch?
It is recommended that a silver birch is planted a minimum of 4m from the household in loamy, well-draining soil and up to 8m from the household in clay soils.
The roots of a silver birch are known to grow up to 10m long so be sure to take this into consideration.
Do silver birch tree roots damage foundations?
Silver birch roots have the potential to damage foundations along with other structures.
As long as you keep to the safe minimum planting distance of 4m from your house, your foundations should be fine although if you have a new conservatory or small structure without deep foundations, the roots may well cause an issue.
How quickly do silver birch trees grow?
Silver birch trees are relatively fast-growing trees, especially in their early years. On average, they can grow up to 2 feet per year, and can reach a height of 40 to 50 feet in 20 to 30 years. However, their growth rate may vary depending on the growing conditions, such as soil type, moisture, and sunlight.
Are silver birch trees OK for small gardens?
Silver birch trees grow quite tall and their roots can spread widely, so they may not be the best choice for very small gardens or for planting close to buildings or other structures.
What is special about silver birch trees?
Silver birch trees are known for their distinctive white bark, which peels off in thin, papery layers. They also have delicate, airy foliage that creates a light, dappled shade. In addition, silver birch trees are often used for their ornamental value in gardens and landscapes, and they are also valued for their wood, which is used for furniture, flooring, and other purposes.
Where do silver birch trees grow best?
Silver birch trees are native to Europe and parts of Asia, but they can grow in a wide range of climates and soil types. They prefer well-drained, acidic soils and full sun or partial shade. They are often found in woodlands, along rivers and streams, and in other moist, open areas.
What are the disadvantages of silver birch trees?
One of the main disadvantages of silver birch trees is that they can be susceptible to pests and diseases, such as bronze birch borer, which can weaken and kill the tree. They also have shallow roots that can compete with other plants for water and nutrients, and their roots can damage sidewalks, driveways, and other structures if planted too close. In addition, the shedding of bark and leaves can create a mess in the surrounding area.
How tall is a 10 year old birch tree?
The height of a 10-year-old birch tree can vary depending on the species and growing conditions. On average, a silver birch tree may reach a height of 20 to 30 feet at this age.
How far to plant silver birch from fence?
When planting silver birch trees, it’s recommended to leave at least 4 metres of space between the tree and any nearby structures, such as fences or buildings. This allows enough room for the tree’s roots to spread without causing damage.
How far do silver birch roots go?
Silver birch trees have shallow, spreading roots that can extend up to two times the diameter of the tree’s canopy. This means that the roots can potentially spread quite far and may cause problems if planted too close to structures or other plants. It’s important to keep this in mind when choosing a planting location for a silver birch tree.
Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.