Birches tend to establish quickly and make rapid growth for the first 12-15 years. This will give a feeling of maturity to even relatively new gardens.
For more ideas on choosing birch and where to buy them, see our RHS Find a Plant.
Where space is limited try:
Betula utilis var jacquemontii ‘Moonbeam’: Possibly the most compact form of the Himalayan birches with white peeling bark & glossy dark green leaves. Height approximately 10m (33ft).
B. ermanii ‘Kwanak Weeping’: Spreading, shrubby form grown as a standard to create a beautiful small weeping tree. Cream peeling bark. Good yellow autumn colour. Height 8m (26ft).
B. medwediemii ‘Gold Bark’ AGM: Slow growing, compact, small bushy tree with bright yellow autumn colour. Attractive silvery-brown to gold-tinted bark. Height 10m (33ft).
B. nigra ‘Summer Cascade’: Small weeping form with pinkish orange, shaggy bark. Height 8m (26ft).
B. pendula ‘Youngii’: Beautiful, dome-shaped small, weeping form of the UK native species. Height 8m (26ft).
B. nigra 'Cully’ AGM: The river birch, ideal for planting in damp soil, a fast-growing tree with shaggy light brown to creamy bark, heavily peeling in layers when young. Dark glossy green leaves, yellow in autumn. Height 20m (65ft).
B. papyrifera: The paper birch, a vigorous conical tree with white papery bark peeling in layers, pale orange-brown when newly exposed. Serrated leaves turn clear yellow in autumn. Height 15m (49ft).
The Himalayan and Chinese birches are some of the most visually attractive of trees but not all are white-stemmed – those birches from the eastern Himalaya or western China have bark in rich hues of mahogany or cinnamon.
B. albosinensis ‘Hergest’: Beautiful selection from Hergest Croft Gardens. Light copper-brown shiny bark matures to warm orange-brown overlaid with a pinkish sheen. Glossy mid green leaves have butter yellow autumn tints. Height 10-15m (33-49ft).
B. albosinensis var. septentrionalis AGM: The northern Chinese red birch has finely flaking coppery-pink peeling bark with a pink & grey bloom and is quite striking. Unusual matt green leaves. Height 10-14m (33-46ft).
B. utilis ‘Fascination’: With deep orange satin peeling bark revealing layers of variable colour. Very long spring catkins. Height 10-14m (33-46ft).
B. utilis ‘Wakehurst Place Chocolate’: A Himalayan birch selected from the Wakehurst Place Gardens. Bark from an early age is very visible dark cocoa-brown in colour darkest of all the birches. Dark green leaves turn yellow in autumn. Height 14m (46ft).
B. ermanii ‘Grayswood Hill’ AGM: Elegant, vigorous, open branched tree with pure white bark flushed pink. Rough shoots produce bright glossy green heart-shaped conspicuously veined leaves with yellow autumn colour. Yellow brown 10cm (4in) long catkins. Height 15m (49ft).
B. ermanii ‘Polar Bear’: This cultivar is a stunning winter tree, conical in habit & of vigorous growth. Pure white heavy trunk and branch structure withapered dark green leaves that turn yellow in autumn. Height 20m (65ft).
B. utilis var. jacquemontii: Outstanding, hugely popular Kashmir birch with dazzling white shiny smooth peeling bark & stems. Mid green leaves turn yellow in autumn. Height 14-18m (46-59ft).
B. utilis var. jacquemontii ‘Doorenbos’ AGM: Sometimes sold as B. utilis var. jacquemontii ‘Snow Queen’ is a strikingly ornamental Himalayan birch cultivar. It exhibits pure-white peeling bark at a young age which contrasts with the dark-green leaves, tinted bright yellow in autumn. Height 14m (46ft).
B. utilis var. jacquemontii ‘Grayswood Ghost’ AGM: A cultivar of the Himalayan birch distinguished by brilliant chalk-white bark & very glossy green leaves and autumn tints of yellow-gold. Height to 20m (65ft).
B. utilis var. jacquemontii ‘Silver Shadow’ AGM: One of the loveliest of Himalayan birches with bright snowy-white stems & bark and an open branched habit. Large pendent dark-green leaves 13cm long have gold autumn tints. Height 12m (39ft).
Designing with birch
Birches are attractive as single specimens or in small groups. If space permits, plant a number of different species with differing bark colours and textures to provide contrast.
Alternatively, plant several species closely at a spacing of 90cm (3ft). This will result in trees with narrower canopies and conspicuous bark whilst competition at the roots for water and nutrients will restrict the rate of growth and overall height.
At RHS Garden, Wisley birches have bark in shades of white, peach and brown. You can find these trees on Battleston Hill, Weather Hill, Seven Acres and down into the Pinetum and Howard’s Field.