Bulletin #2566, Native Trees and Shrubs for Maine Landscapes: Sweet Birch (Betula lenta)
Developed by Marjorie Peronto, Associate Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension; and Reeser C. Manley, Assistant Professor of Horticulture, University of Maine.
This series of publications is the result of a five-year research project that evaluated the adaptability of a variety of native trees and shrubs to the stresses of urban and residential landscapes in Maine. Non-native invasive plants pose a serious threat to Maine’s biodiversity. Plants such as Japanese barberry, shrubby honeysuckle, and Asiatic bittersweet, originally introduced for their ornamental features, have escaped from our landscapes, colonizing natural areas and displacing native plants and animals. By landscaping with native plants, we can create vegetation corridors that link fragmented wild areas, providing food and shelter for the native wildlife that is an integral part of our ecosystem. Your landscape choices can have an impact on the environment that goes far beyond your property lines.
Form: a rounded tree with a well-defined main trunk bearing stout, ascending limbs and slightly pendulous branchlets
Size: 50 to 75 feet high, typically two-thirds as wide
- clear lemon to golden yellow fall foliage
- rich dark reddish bark
In the wild, sweet birch flourishes in upland sites with moist but well-drained soils, typically found on the cool north and east slopes, growing with white pine (Pinus strobus), red oak (Quercus rubra), white ash (Fraxinus americana), Canada hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), and pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia). It is highly intolerant of poorly drained sites, as well as soil compaction. Among our native birches, B. lenta is most tolerant of alkaline soils.
Well worth growing for its deep yellow fall foliage, sweet birch is ultimately a large tree and should be used only where space will allow development of its spreading crown, which is often as much as 50 feet wide. It is well suited for use in public parks and on college campuses.
Hardiness: USDA zone 3b
Soil requirements: tolerant of a wide variety of soils
Light requirements: full sun or partial shade
soil compaction — intolerant
pollution — intolerant
deicing salts — intolerant
urban heat islands — intolerant
drought — intolerant
seasonal flooding — intolerant
Insect and disease problems: bronze birch borer
Seeds of sweet birch are a favorite food of many songbirds and upland ground birds.
Irrigation: During the establishment period, defined as one year after planting for each inch of trunk diameter at planting time, water your trees regularly during the growing season. Give the root zone of each tree 1 inch of water per week; in general, a tree’s root zone extends twice as wide as its canopy. After the establishment period, provide supplemental irrigation during periods of severe drought.
Fertilization: Landscape trees and shrubs should not be fertilized unless a soil test indicates a need. Correct soil pH, if necessary, by amending the backfill soil. No nitrogen fertilizer should be added at planting or during the first growing season.
To learn more about native woody plants
Visit the Eastern Maine Native Plant Arboretum at University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Penobscot County office, 307 Maine Avenue in Bangor. Established in 2004, the arboretum displays 24 different native tree and shrub species that can be used in managed landscapes.
Reviewed by Cathy Neal, Extension professor, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.
Photos by Reeser C. Manley.
Illustration by Margery Read, Extension Master Gardener.
Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.
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