river birch placement

mrtulinSeptember 20, 2010

I am thinking about a heritage river birch for a space in front of my house.

cultural conditions should be fine.

The planting space is probably 12 x 20 feet but there's plenty of space for the tree to grow: its bordered by an attractive driveway; it can grow 15-20 feet in any direction, and no overhead wires.

I can't decide between a clump, a grouping of single trunk specimens, or a single trunk specimen.

Here are my thoughts, and I'd like to know yours

I'm starting to feel like the 3-to-a-clump is on the verge of being overused. Also, I had the experience myself and have seen several instances of one tree dying and then there's a two tree clump which isn't always attractive. If you lose the or have to take off the 3rd you have a tree that is often not straight.

I don't want a single trunk to look like a lone ranger. However, it will be underplanted by (plenty of root room however) japanese maple (small) physocarpa mongomery spruce, and a nice grouping of rhus low grow

If these don't work out, I'm flexible and wouldn't hesitate to move them.

So I am trying to imagine a plan that might use more than birch in this space, but not look quite so predictable as a clump.

dry joke coming: It's really not my fault that this forum has contributed to my becoming very particular about my trees.



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If you think a 3 stem clump looks bad when one of the stems dies, just think of what a 2 stem clump looks like.
I'll draw you a picture.

Here's a 3 stem clump when 1 stem dies: \/
Here's a 2 stem clump when 1 stem dies: \

Multistem River birch in the landscape. 15 -20 years tops. I challenge anyone to post a photo of one in the landscape older than that.

If I were you, if I absolutely had to have a birch, it would be a single stem. They are very pretty even though they are not showing as much bark.

The clumps really are unnatural looking to me. They do that so there's more bark to display. That's like a waitress at hooters having a third and forth hooter sewn on just so there is more to display. Catch my drift?

A grove of single stemmed birches would be very pretty. And if you absolutely must have a clump, 3 stems is better than 2. And make sure the union of the stems is above the soil.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2010 at 8:19PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

let me sum this up .. if i understand correctly ...

three is overused

one is boring ...

2 is unapproved ....

i guess that leaves 4 or more ...

or picking a different tree ...

where else can we go with this???


    Bookmark   September 21, 2010 at 9:36AM
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LOL Ken.

Just one, I don't think looks appropriate for this specimen.

My Mom's has 3 and it has gotten quite tall. Looks nice.

It's up to you.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2010 at 4:06PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

on whose preconceived notion is a single tree inappropriate ...

it can.. and will be gorgeous.. for itself ...

what your son is not good enough.. because he wasnt a triplet????


    Bookmark   September 21, 2010 at 4:17PM
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Ken, you usually get the most ridiculous aspect of a question. You summarized my question perfectly, and I got a good laugh out of it as well.

Yep, I'm a little ambivalent. I'll write back after my therapy session tomorrow. I've never talked about trees there before......

Thanks from someone who needed a laugh at herself....

    Bookmark   September 21, 2010 at 7:47PM
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This may be of no interest, and I don't know how it'd fair in your zone & local conditions, but since you're got your eye on a multi-trunked tree with peeling bark yet would prefer it not be 'overused' (too common), and it sounds like this would be a 'display' tree and yet some think it wouldn't live real long...

Have you maybe considered whether a paperbark maple would work there?

Just a thought. Not nearly as fast growing. Doesn't get as large. Perhaps a nice show piece down the road.


    Bookmark   September 22, 2010 at 7:38PM
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Hi Richard,
Any thoughts at all are ok! I just planted one! However, I'm worried about it b/c it is near the street and salt is used in icy weather up here (MA 5b) I know sugar maples are salt sensitive and I suspect paperbark might be too. In which case.....I could transplant it to the front.

Good thought.


In this spot I need something fast growing for southern shade.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2010 at 8:36PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Overused is so subjective, plant what makes you happy. If you can find a well branched multi-stemmed go for it.

If situated properly, River Birches can live 50-75 years in zone 4 and 5.

The misconception is that they are easily stressed so the folks that don't situate them properly (ie not enough moisture or alkaline soil) they tend to decline in 10-20 years in the landscape.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2010 at 9:18PM
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I must not have been clear....I- very subjectively- am bored with looking at clumps of river birches in front yards. No one has put a gun to my head and said "Do it! Plant that 3 trunked river birch!"

I'm going to look at magnolia "yellow bird" and single trunk river birch. The rhus "low grow" in fall would look beautiful near the birch. And the magnolia would look beautiful all by itself.


    Bookmark   September 22, 2010 at 11:52PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

Plant that 3 trunked river birch!"


one 3 trunked tree.. or three trees????

what about 4 trees.. space 4 to 6 feet apart???

see pic below.. there is actually a 4th birch behind the left most ...


    Bookmark   September 23, 2010 at 9:00AM
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tophers(Z8 - Portland OR)

Ken, I like that photo and have decided to adopt that "grove" look with some birches that my neighbor will give me this fall...they are volunteers in her garden and she's going to throw them out, so I thought I'd try it.

Marie, I know what you mean by being bored with the plants everyone situates in their front yards. Here in the Portland area, everyone has a Japanese Maple in their yard (yes, me included *looking down in shame*). It's practically a law. We don't have very many River Birches in the area at all, in fact, I can only think of about 3 or 4 anywhere around me...although, I'm sure there must be more than that. I have a Heritage River Birch in my backyard, single stem, and it doesn't stand out, IMHO, as a lone ranger. I have 2 clump River Birchs along my driveway (actually single stem, cut near ground level to create clumps). Personally, I love them, but again, they are somewhat rare in my area. One of the River Birches in my area is a single stem (straight trunk...not leaning/curved) and it is quite attractive. They have it planted near the sidewalk with a variety of underplantings to complement it. At an Insurance Agent's office near my office, there is a River Birch, single stem that breaks into multi-trunks about a foot above ground level. At first glance, it looks like a multi-trunk. It is very attractive, as well. No underplantings, though. I've been driving by it for the past 13 years and it was large when I moved here, so I'm guessing it's well over 20 years old. I don't have a picture of it, but could tell you where to find it on Google Maps, if you were interested.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2010 at 3:06PM
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Ken, thank you for the photo. The "grove looK" was starting to take shape in my imagination a few days ago. I as stuck on how small the actual planting space is, and what would happen to the sense of "balance" (not symetry) with the other planting space. (Old colonial, the spaces on either side of the central walkway to front door doNOT have to be the same...god forbid....but there should be balance and similar scale.. I think...)

I too have a japanese maple in my front yard and I actually paid someone to put it there. And it is staying. I have enough re-planting to do!


    Bookmark   September 23, 2010 at 3:46PM
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MAture river birches are uncommon to find in the landscape as I alluded to before however I did see some yesterday that were single stemmed. They were magnificent. Even single stemmed birches have large branches stemming off in the canopy that has a lot of ornamental appeal. People seem to not know that.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2010 at 9:45AM
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Idabean, what did you decide to plant? I have been going back and forth with trying to decide whether or not to put a "clump" of river birch in my front yard. I like the "grove" idea of single-trunked specimens, and would like to see some photos. In the photo Ken posted, the trees appear to me to be spaced closer than what I was thinking would be used for to create a grove effect.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2011 at 2:04PM
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