Garden Clippings for June 15, 2019
Birch are the stuff legends are made of. We Canadians have high regard for Birch trees because we cherish the stories of original Canadians who used Birch bark to make canoes. Birch bark has also been used to make writing paper, dishes, cups, bowls and baskets.
Nowadays Birch trees are prized for their ornamental value. The distinctive white bark makes Birch as beautiful in summer as in winter. We cut up Birch stems for Christmas decorating and we make logs to put in the fireplace. Using Birch logs as decoration in the fireplace is rather silly business because Birch lumber makes lousy firewood.
Birch trees also have a special place in Canadian’s hearts because they are truly Canadian. Yes, Birch grows along some northern states, but Birch prefers to grow in cold climates. Birch happily grows from the top to the bottom of Ontario but needs to be compelled to grow in the southernmost tip of Ontario.
In the Hardiness Zone chart Birch is listed as growing in Zones 2 to 7. Sarnia sits in zone 6b. Ottawa is colder and is listed in zone 5 while Kenora, Ontario’s coldest big city is in Zone 4.
The native Canadian Birch tree goes by many common names. In Ontario the preferred name is Paper Birch, but it also goes by the name of Canoe Birch, White Birch, Silver Birch and Spoolwood. The official botanical name is Betula Papyrifera.
Birch is a hardy tree that grows in any soil conditions, although its demand for water is greater than the average tree. It will grow fine in the clay soils of south Lambton County. For those who want to plant Birch in sandy soils, put down a good layer of mulch over the root zone and be prepared to water in the summer months until the tree is established.
At one time, Birch trees were plagued with bothersome insects, namely Birch Borer and Birch Leaf Minor. These pests attacked the European White Birch with a vengeance, a tree that was imported into Canada because its bark turned white earlier than the Native Birch. By now, most European Birch have disappeared, and insect pests are diminishing.
River Birch, Black Birch, Water Birch or Heritage Birch (Betula Nigra) is a native Birch with growth habit similar to Paper Birch. It hails from Eastern United States and the Eastern provinces. River Birch claims to the more pest resistant than Paper Birch and when mature has very attractive peeling bark.
As with many trees, horticulturists have concocted several Birch varieties with unique characteristics. Look for ‘Crimson Frost’ with purple leaves and ‘Shilo Splash’ with variegated white/green leaves.