River birch is a handsome ornamental shade tree that adds interesting character to the garden with small, toothed green leaves that flutter in the breeze and silhouettes of slightly leaning and sometimes forked, multiple trunks. The distinctive, peeling bark and pale yellow fall foliage adds to this tree’s appeal. Although the flowers are not showy, many songbirds are attracted to the seed capsules, which mature in spring. It is the best birch for warmer areas and is beautiful when planted in groups of three to five. The cultivar ‘Cully’ (Heritage), my favorite, is vastly superior to many because it is very resistant to the birch borer, less prone to leaf spots and the bark exfoliates at a younger age.
As the name implies the river birch is excellent for planting near water and can provide erosion control along stream banks and pond edges. Prune only in late summer and fall as winter and spring pruning will cause the plant to bleed or extrude sap. In more northerly climates, it can be somewhat sensitive to fall planting because it needs a longer time to prepare for winter temperatures than the time frame allows.