How and when to prune Silver and River Birch trees


Birch is a deciduous tree that reaches between 10 and 30 meters high, it is generally grown as an ornamental species for parks and gardens. On this occasion we will not dedicate the article to talk in general about birch tree, but we will focus on specifically covering two of the most popular varieties, the River Birch and the Silver Birch. Although these two varidedades have several direfencias the treatment on their pruning is practically the same. That is why in this post we will dedicate ourselves to making everything clear about the pruning of Silver Birch and River Birch. We will also take the time to give advice on how to prune one of these birches near home.


If you read to the end you will learn the best techniques for proper pruning, the right time to trim and the tools to do it. The article has no waste, I assure you. 😉

Note: Please note that the advice given here is general, this blog is consulted from many countries in the world, with totally different characteristics, what not all tips will be adapted in the same way in all cases. Once you finish reading the article it will be necessary to analyze all the information and apply what you have learned in the best way. If you have any questions, remember that you can contact us to make your inquiries.

1. General Characteristics


You may have a birch tree at home and you are not sure if this is a River Birch, a Silver Birch or some other type of birch. To make sure you recognize if yours is one of the two types of birches that we will talk about in this post, we will see the general characteristics of each one.

1.1 Silver Birch tree

The mature silver birches can reach 30 m in height, forming a light canopy with elegant and fallen branches. The white bark throws layers like tissue paper and becomes black and rough at the base. As the trees mature, the bark develops dark diamond-shaped fissures. The twigs are smooth and have small dark warts.

Slver birch tree
Silver birch tree

Its leaves are light green, small and triangular in shape with a jagged edge, which fade to yellow in autumn. The flowers of the silver birch are monoecious, which means that the male and female flowers are found in the same tree. The male catkins are long and yellow-brown in color, and hang in groups of two to four on the tips of the shoots, such as lamb tails. Female catkins are smaller, shorter, bright green and erect.

Its most distinctive feature is the white bark, rough branches to the touch and triangular shaped leaves. Be careful not to get confused with the downy birch (Betula pubescens). The new buds on the silver birch are hairy and hairless, while the downy ones are smooth and covered with soft hairs.

Tolerates a wide range of temperatures, so it grows as far south as Spain and as far north as Lapland. It thrives in dry forests, hills and moors.

1.2 River Birch tree

As the name implies, this birch grows naturally along the banks. But as a landscape tree, it can be planted almost anywhere in the US. UU. The species is valued for its relatively rapid growth, moisture tolerance and some drought, single curly bark, extended branches and relative resistance to birch borer.

It has bright green leaves 2–3 “long and somewhat triangular. The margins have double teeth and the leaves are arranged alternately. It produces brown and green catkins in April and May. Then it generates a large number of small nuts after Female catkins ripen, usually in May and June.Its ripe bark has a tan color that curls and peels.

It grows at a height of 40-70 ‘and an extension of 40-60’ at maturity, with a medium to fast pace, with height increases from 13 “to more than 24” per year.

River birch tree
River birch tree – Image source

River birch grows well in acidic, clayey, moist, sandy, well drained, moist and clayey soils. Tolerates moderate flooding and some droughts. The full sun and partial shade are the best for this tree, which means that you prefer a minimum of four hours of direct sunlight and no filter every day.

2. What tools to use for cutting back River and Silver Birch


Regardless of whether you have a silver birch or a river birch they will be the same tools that you will have to use to carry out your pruning. There are several tools available, you will have to choose between one or the other depending on several factors, the most important being the age (height) of the birch. Among the tools you can use are the following:

  • Hand Pruning Shears: Stems up to half inch in diameter can be pruned with hand shears.
  • Lopping Shears: It is suitable to use on stems between half inch and 2 inches in diameter.
  • Saws: A number of pruning saws are available. These saws come with either curved or straight blades and of variable lengths and points. Curved blades that cut on the draw stroke are easy to use.
  • Chainsaw: for the thickest branches the most recommended is the use of these saws with motor, in adult birches you will surely need them.
  • Ladder, crane, scaffolding: since once adults these trees become very tall, you will need some strength that allows you to rise to perform pruning in height. Against this we always recommend that whoever is going to perform pruning tasks at height be a professional in the field.
  • Elements of personal safety: any pruning task entails risks, and if it is also carried out at height the risks increase. Keep all the protection elements available (helmet, harness, gloves, glasses, etc.). And as we noted in the previous point, try not to take risks and hire a pruning professional for risky tasks like this.

Keep in mind that you must disinfect all the tools before pruning your birch. This will help prevent disease transmission, you will have to do it before you start pruning and every time you change plants.

2.1 Necessary care for pruning tools

If you want to extend the useful life of your pruning tools there are some basic care.

  • Use the right tool for a job and avoid twisting or straining it.
  • Clean and oil tools regularly by wiping an oily cloth on blades and other surfaces.
  • Keep cutting edges sharp by regularly using an oilstone.
  • Wooden handles should be varnished or regularly treated with linseed oil to keep them from cracking or splintering.

Carry out the previous care on a regular basis and you will be saving good money on tools. 🙂

3. Why prune any birch tree


Regardless of which birch varidead is concerned (kicked birch, river birch, white birch, himalayan birch., Etc.) there are some reasons why pruning is necessary. We can summarize these reasons in the following:

  • Every dead or sick element in the birches interferes with its nominal growth, occupying space and resources. Therefore proper pruning encourages growth.
  • It is possible to avoid incidents with falling branches. In large plants such as birches, seeing a strong medium can cause the detachment and fall of branches.
  • As with any plant, pruning is often the best treatment against diseases and pests. On the other hand it also exposes some parts of the tree to sunlight, which helps minimize the incidence of the disease.
  • Improves the aesthetics of the tree. In birches located in gardens, pruning will always be necessary to improve the aesthetic appearance of the plant.
  • There is no doubt that the shade that a birch plant can give is excellent, a shadow that you cannot take advantage of if its surroundings are full of low branches. Eliminating these low branches will improve the use of your shadow.

You may also be interested in knowing about pruning:

4. Pruning Silver Brich and River Birch – How to prune


In both a silver birch and a river birch there are five types of pruning that can be carried out. The first is that which needs to be carried out from the plantation and during the first years in search of a correct formation of the structure, the other pruning will be necessary during adulthood.

  • Training.
  • Thinning.
  • Crown reduction.
  • Rising crown.
  • Cleaning crown.

We will develop below how these five types of pruning should be carried out.

4.1 Training

As we said, the formation prunings of both the river birch and the silver birch are necessary from the plantation, therefore we can conclude that the formation and planting prunings come hand in hand. So let’s talk a little about the planting of these birches.

The recommended age for planting is known as two sap (the first in nursery and the second already transplanted). At that age the seedling will be 70 to 100 cm high and a good radical system.

The ideal planting season is between November and March (northern hemisphere). The plant must be at a vegetative rest, without leaves. At that time it is convenient to carry out a conditioning by pruning of formation and elimination of branches, mainly, and cutting of the radical system.

Pruning birch formation, made in the first three years after planting, are indispensable. What should be done is to avoid double guidance, favoring the most vertical and best made so that the tree grows straight from the beginning. It is also necessary to eliminate the thickest branches seeking a balance in the arrangement of the branches in the plant.

4.2 Cronwn Thinning

This pruning that we titled as de thinning is the one we carry out when the crown of your river birch or silver birch is very dense. Very dense crowns have the problem that they do not let in the amount of light necessary for proper development.

When this happens I recommend that you take some time to analyze the birch crown, and define which branches you can eliminate to lower this density. Try to cut the weakest branches allowing stronger branches to sunbathe and develop even better. Try never to prune more than 20 percent of birch tree branches.

4.3 Crown reduction

In this pruning, what is sought is to reduce the height of an adult birch, cutting large branches from the top. It is not a very recommended pruning since it impacts negatively on the health of the plant.

Although it is not a recommended pruning, in plants such as silver birch and river birch that can reach great heights may become necessary. When are they necessary? On multiple occasions such as:

  • Birches located on public roads that disturb the power line.
  • When a storm has spoiled the plant leaving a large number of upper branches with danger of falling.

In case of carrying out a pruning like this, do not forget to place healing paste in the pruning cuts, since you will surely have cut branches of significant thickness.

4.4 Rising crown

When we talked about the reasons why pruning should be carried out we said that it is needed to improve the use of the birch shade. With this pruning known as the rising crown, what we will do will be to eliminate all the annoying lower branches, this will not only benefit the best use of the shadow, but also redirect the energy towards the upper branches, producing an rising crown.

4.5 Cleaning crown

This is the pruning that is carried out to eliminate diseased, damaged branches and branches that have developed in an undesired direction. By removing these leftover branches, it will expose the remaining branches to more air and sunlight and improve the structure and definition of the plant.

As I always say, before you start trimming, take some time to analyze the plant carefully, then you should eliminate the following:

Cut any branch that is growing in a direction that does not go hand in hand with the development you want to give your birch.

Cutting completely dry branches, it will help the aesthetics of the plant.

• If you find branches attacked by a pest or disease, it is time to cut it.

Once the pruning is finished, you should study what to do with the waste. If you have not cut diseased branches or attacked by pests, you can use them in your garden (for example, compost), otherwise, try to remove those wastes from the garden to avoid spreading diseases or pests to other plants.

5. When to prune River Brich and Silver Birch


Keep in mind that in the winter months, both silver birch and river birch lose their sap due to pruning wounds, so it is preferable to delay it until after buds sprout. Thus, the recommended time for pruning these birches is between the months of May and August (northern hemisphere).

If it is a pruning where only totally dead material is trimmed, you do not have the problem of losing sap, therefore you can carry out the trimming of dry branches at any time of the year. Something similar happens with diseased branches since you should not wait for an adequate time to cut them, but it is preferable to prune them just the detected ones to avoid a greater spread of the pest or disease.

6. Pruning silver and river birch trees near house


Plants of the characteristics of these varieties of birches, which can reach great heights, in principle are not recommended to be planted too close to a house. For safety reasons it is preferable to leave a certain distance to avoid the possible fall of branches on the roof. In this way, there are many people who choose to ignore this safety recommendation, either because of ignorance or because they want to have a good shadow near home. When this happens, doubt may arise; How should I prune my birch near home?

I wanted to keep a small section to talk about this for two reasons, the first one because it is a fairly consulted question, the second one because at home I have a tall tree nearby, that is, I have suffered this problem. And what did I do when I had to prune this plant near home? The answer is simple, look for a professional to carry out the task. When I say a professional, I don’t just say a person who knows how to prune a birch in these conditions, but also has all the necessary tools to carry out the task safely.

Therefore if you are not a professional (I deduce that if you are visiting this website you are not), do not perform a task as complex as pruning a tall birch that is close to your home.

So that you understand the complexity of the task I leave you a video with the pruning of a fairly tall tree that is near a house. I hope it helps you. 😉 (Video source The Homestead Craftsman channel)

You may also be interested in knowing about pruning:

Well with this we are done with this article, I hope there are no doubts about how and when to prune your river birch or your silver birch. Otherwise do not hesitate to contact us. 🙂

4/5 - (1 vote)
Tags:  , ,