River Birch: 2 Trunks leaf out, 1 not, dead?

drrich2(6)April 4, 2010


Last year in October we bought a roughly 15' tall 3 trunk 'Dura-Heat' river birch from a local nursery, ball & burlap of course, & planted it in the backyard. It still had some leaves on it but shed them over time.

Okay, now it's early April. Of the 3 roughly similar-in-size trunks, the central & right trunks have branches with a lot of buds opening into tiny leaves.

The left trunk does not. All 3 trunks have been shedding some little dead branches over time. If the left trunk has any buds, they must be high up, & I don't see any big green ones.

But at the base of the left trunk, near where the 3 trunks join, there is a small branch maybe 8 inches or so long, fairly new, with live buds.

This tree would look a lot less attractive if we end up needing to chain saw or hacksaw off that 3'rd (left) trunk. I'd REALLY rather not have to do it, and if the trunk's maybe struggling, I hate to start slicing around on it looking for green cambium (I'm not one for 'subtle' clues; when I look for something, I look for certainty).

Any ideas on how likely the tree is to draw on nourishment from the 2 trunks doing well, and restore the 3'rd, or am I most likely looking at cutting the 3'rd off, and hoping that little twig off the base many years from now forms a 3'rd trunk (that would be coming off at a weird angle anyway)?



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Oh, it's in clay soil, has some mulch around the base, our soil tested slightly acidic but near neutral, and we've had a wet year, so it's not been through bad drought. Southwestern KY, Zone 6.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2010 at 10:25PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Probably three different specimens planted close together to form a clump. Cut the dead trunk off near the ground.

Now you will have two trunks that will lean away from one another over time, to create a visual tension.

Instead of three.

Clump birches do not work unless part of a grove of birches, where shading from the other, single-trunk birches around the clump keeps the clump growing more erectly.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2010 at 11:26PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

one would hope you have a warranty on trees purchased at that size ....this is the risk when buying large .... smaller trees transplant much more easily ....

i would contact the seller about warranty .. and accept something half the size if he is willing to split the risk with you ...

it is also possible the odd one out.. may still flush .. give it some more time ... transplanted trees can do weird things...


    Bookmark   April 5, 2010 at 8:19AM
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Dan Staley

Exercise your warranty. I'm not a fan of them so close together either, but nonetheless one tree shouldn't perish like that.


    Bookmark   April 5, 2010 at 9:07AM
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As bboy mentioned, it's common to find clump birches sold in garden stores that are multiple plants growing out of a container and those are problematic. Tree growers on the other hand don't normally do it this way though and you did say you bought it b&b so I have to ask. Do all the trunks come together at some point or do they all appear to have their own root systems? I know you already indicated that they "join" and there is already a new stem forming so I just want to clear that up. What is the caliper of the widest trunk at the widest point? 15' can still be a young plant that if a single stem can regrow an additional leader in the course of 2-3 years unless I am misunderstanding, it looks like you already have your new leader there. If so, cut off the dead stem and let the new one take its place. Wait until the tree leafs out so you are certain it's dead.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2010 at 9:10AM
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Been really busy at times and was slow getting back to this post with photos. Earlier today I took some photos of the tree and its base. Here we go:

The roughly 8 inch 'twig' coming off the base of the (presumably dead) trunk; guess that'll be the new 3'rd trunk!!!

Once I plant a tree, I tend to get attached. I dug into the side of the trunk several feet up & didn't get any green/cambium layer; now I've got to wonder just how low on the trunk it's still alive.


    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 8:07PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

You should exercise your warranty if the main trunk isn't showing green.

Those are some very poor crotch angles so you just might be better off anyhow...can already see the included bark.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 8:18PM
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Dan Staley



    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 9:39PM
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I have two river birches I bought as young saplings serveral years ago and they naturally developed into multi-trunk trees. I think they are Heritage. I had a conversation with an arborist about river birches and this was his take on these trees: 1) they should only be planted in the early to mid-spring - no fall planting, 2) they should be pruned in June, 3) they do not tolerate drought or alkaline soil, 4) they do better when planted as a group rather than a single specimen.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 3:26PM
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Good to know; thanks. Right now I'm letting that one kind of sit there; once I plant something I tend to get attached, so ripping it up or cutting it down would be hard to do, Guess I'll see how it turns out.


    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 4:39PM
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