When to prune River Birch

joyboise(7a)February 9, 2012

I bought my home last spring and there is a 5-6 year old River Birch in front. I doubt that it has ever been pruned and I would estimate that it is about 20 feet tall.

It has a couple of crazy branches (one crossing branch and another that goes straight out horizontally, unlike any of the others) that really need to be pruned out to get the tree in balance.

I'm looking for the best time to prune these branches and how far from the trunk they should be cut. Should I also use a wound sealer after making the cut?

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

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Sara Malone Zone 9b

I had an arborist look at my river birch as it was developing a second leader (I know, not a strong central leader tree, but this was wacky) last summer when she was here to prune my olive trees, and she said that she would come back in winter to prune the r.b. which is what she did. Much easier to see branching structure with no leaves. My tree is a bit older than yours (10 years maybe) but would be similar size. No wound sealer, please. Those are used only rarely in certain trees in certain locations to prevent disease spread. The cuts should be made just outside the branch collar. Don't cut too close or it's much harder for the tree to heal the wound. Good luck!
See link below - you can see my river birch clearly in the third photo.

Here is a link that might be useful: Form and Foliage

    Bookmark   February 9, 2012 at 11:54AM
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joyboise(7a)

Thank you so much for your helpful advise. Perhaps I should do it now, as it hasn't budded out yet.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2012 at 12:16PM
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Sara Malone Zone 9b

Should be fine! Good luck with it. It's a great tree.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2012 at 2:03PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

you prune at the branch collar .. which is a slight swelling between the trunk and the branch ... google it for pix ...

NEVER ...EVER .... paint anything on a tree .. its unnatural ... and ends up doing more harm than good ... trees heal themselves ...

i trim trees when i walk by with the saw ... though i try to avoid spring when the sap is flowing ...

especially in regard to crossing limbs that are harming each other ....

post a pic if you want some more specific suggestions ...

ken

    Bookmark   February 9, 2012 at 2:54PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

I don't suggest pruning river birch until after it leafs out.

The sap will rise and will be very messy and therefore stain the otherwise nice white bark.

Technically you prune it now though.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2012 at 3:18PM
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wisconsitom

Personal opinion: I'd not worry about the sap. It is indication of positive pressure within the tree-a good thing. Also, we prune literally thousands of maples which also "bleed" this time of year. Absolutely no harm is being done.

+oM

    Bookmark   February 9, 2012 at 6:11PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

Also, we prune literally thousands of maples which also "bleed" this time of year. Absolutely no harm is being done.

===>>> if it really was a problem.. we would not have maple syrup .. eh???

ken

    Bookmark   February 10, 2012 at 9:38AM
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Sara Malone Zone 9b

Ken is exactly right! Am taking coursework in aesthetic pruning and the arborist teaching last week's class made exactly that point. He said that he has to warn his clients ahead of time that there might be 'bleeding' (he does mostly Japanese maples) and still they get upset and he always reminds them about maple syrup. Of course, in California, people probably think that maple syrup is generated in little glass jars...

Here is a link that might be useful: Form and Foliage

    Bookmark   February 10, 2012 at 1:02PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Everyone knows you can prune maples and briches now. You can find it all over the web at various ext. sites.

They also state they bleed which sounds negative as if it hurts the plant but they always say it doesn't hurt the plant!lol!

What most sites fail to mention is that the sap runs down the bark and DRIES! It does NOT look good. I did it to my Heritage Birch a few years back and it looked all jacked up for the entire growing season. Didn't go away until it peeled away. Same goes for serval maples I planted. You don't noticed the blackening against the grey maple bark as much as the blackening on the white birch bark.

Just wanted to emphasize that point.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2012 at 2:04PM
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wisconsitom

I get you, whaas. It's just that, in my experience, even that point of aesthetics doesn't seem to happen. I guess I'm not saying you're lying-I'm sure your not, but honestly, I wonder how many maples I've pruned during "sap time" by now......it's got to be approaching one hundred thousand! I can't say I've gone back to check for this phenomenon, but by now, if it was a thing that happens much, I would have seen it. Maybe worse on birch? I've pruned far fewer of those.

+oM

    Bookmark   February 10, 2012 at 6:01PM
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joyboise(7a)

whaas, I guess I'm not so concerned about the bleeding because the river birch doesn't have "white" bark. It is darker and already has a lot of black in it and brown and gray, etc in all those peeling layers of bark. I don't think it will be noticed that much. Also, the limbs that need trimming are not at eye level, they are quite a bit higher than that, so all in all, I'm going to do it. I'll post back here if I regret doing it after all, LOL. Hopefully I won't. Still trying to figure out how to post pictures.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2012 at 12:11PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

There are some "absolutes" posted above that aren't correct. The intents were fine, but the end messages give false info.

As formandfoliage alluded to, there are times that certain "sealers" have been proven to be beneficial. They definitely have their disadvantages in typical applications, but that doesn't meant they are always the wrong thing to do. Just don't use them unless you are sure they are needed, and usually they are not the best solution.

Another point that is a little misguided is that sap bleeding doesn't hurt trees. While it's true that most healthy trees can endure the process without any problem, it's not true that it doesn't stress the trees or atttract problems in some cases. The process costs the tree stored energy, and this can be a problem for a weak tree or one faced with higher than normal disease/pest pressures. There can also be additional pest and disease issues brought on by bleeding. Some pests are attracted to tree wounds (particularly when the wound is bleeding) of certain species of trees. So, even though it's not normally a problem for most healthy trees, it's just not true that bleeding is completely harmless.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2012 at 1:13PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Brandon, this might be a sweeping statement and more applicable to my zone but when these plants 'tend' to bleed is when diseases and insects aren't active. Thoughts? I agree with the energy statement.

Tom, yeah its not that noticeable after a couple months on maples. Its generally worse depending on the size of the limb and proximity to the main trunk. Sorry, I didn't take pics of the previous trees to show...you can believe though :p!

    Bookmark   February 11, 2012 at 1:38PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Whaas, I don't really suspect that the bleeding would be a problem, in respect to attracting pest, in this situation, but was just saying that a blanket statement that "bleeding doesn't do any harm to trees" is not always correct. Like I said above, I don't think the intent of any of the above posts was wrong, it was just that they were too generalized.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2012 at 1:46PM
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Sara Malone Zone 9b

One follow up to the issue of the bleeding discoloring the birch bark: had another aesthetic pruning class today and the teacher (arborist) said that the weeping/bleeding could sometimes get sooty mold growing on it which would discolor the trunk. whaas may be vindicated!
Also noted that birch trees, in particular, did not close up wounds well, so large cuts should be avoided.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2012 at 5:14PM
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wisconsitom

Regarding birch, in my experience, they are a genus that rarely requires major pruning. Just a lower branch or two is all that is usually required. That and the pruning at the ground line of dead and dying trees ravaged by bronze birch borer!

+oM

    Bookmark   February 12, 2012 at 1:26PM
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frodo1997

How long should the bleeding last? I pruned a couple of branches on the 16th
and they are still bleeding.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 9:51AM
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betwolffert

Just had my 15 yr old rb's just pruned or rather stripped. We wanted thinning of crossing branches and others that were tight but while I trusted these professionals to do their job.......
I returned after running into town, to find one of my trees with no limbs 20 ft high. We are talking a 40' tree. I'm sick over this ,it was part of our outdoor sitting area. So much charm was lost.
Will lower branches grow again? And how fast?
Or should we pull out and start all over?!?! I'm disgusted! And sick over it.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 9:11PM
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IrishDan

My river birch is getting too big for where it was planted. It is made up of three trunks. Can I cut one away without hurting the other two?

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 12:19PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

dan.. start your own post.. and include some pix ..

and while you are at it.. figure out if its one tree.. with 3 leaders.. or three trees planted close together ... pix of that.. if you cant figure that out

ken

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 12:25PM
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