Thread: River Birch Question - do I plant 3 trees or just 1?

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  1. #1
    Acorn
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    River Birch Question - do I plant 3 trees or just 1?

    We want a clump of 3 River Birches. Do we plant 3 trees close together? or do we just plant one tree and it makes it's own trunks?

    If we plant 3 close together, how close do we plant them?

    Thanks!
    Jamie

  2. #2
    Oak
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    RE: River Birch Question - do I plant 3 trees or just 1?

    River birches are normally sold in trunks of 3 or 4, it's hard to find them in any other form unless you are talking about a seedling which may only have 1 main trunk. A single river birch tree will "clump" on its own naturally, this is not accomplished by planting 3 river birches in close proximity.

    If you're planning to grow multiple River Birch seedlings in permanent locations, plant them at least 30-40' apart. Simply allow some of the little "suckers" to grow out from the main trunk, and keep the others pruned off. Believe me, that River Birch, if planted correctly and in a moist/wet location, will grow new "suckers" constantly every few weeks. You'll be pruning them off regularly in order to keep that river birch down to 3 trunks.

    In general, River birches do well with 3-4 trunks, more than 3-4 trunks can result in some chaotic growth and something that looks more like a shrub than a tree. You'll see them sold in nurseries most often with 3-4 trunks, so that should give you a good idea of how nurseries grow them.

    Birch trees get VERY large and have VERY aggressive water-loving roots, they can spread more than 40' wide and 60'-80' tall when they reach maturity, so keep that in mind when you decide on a location for them to grow. In an open field away from structures, telephone/electrical wires, etc., no problem. A river birch in a garden that borders your house - bad idea.

    My neighbor planted a river birch about 15-20 feet from his house 10-15 years ago, just this year he had problems with his gutters clogging. The gutters were not clogging from leaves or other weeds, rather, the river birch had managed to root through his under drain and up through all his gutters, rendering the gutter system useless. His drainage pipes were perforated and often had a supply of water in them, perfect for birch roots. Don't plant them too close to your house or anywhere near drainage pipes, especially near a septic system!! River birches have been known to destroy $10k-$20k septic systems in under 10 years if planted within 100' of the drain fields!

    Other than that, River Birches are excellent specimen trees and should be grown in the open away from obstructions. They grow VERY fast and provide lots of shade. Their cinnamon-colored bark exfoliates regularly, and gives the river birch great character even during the winter. I bought a somewhat sickly-looking clump river birch from the home despot parking lot in the late Spring this year for $15. It was about 5' tall and 3' or 4' wide (with 3 main trunks), it had a lot of die-back in its upper branches because no one was watering or caring for the tree. Over the summer and up until now, it grew at least 6-7' taller and 6-7' wider. It is absolutely thriving better than any other tree that I planted this year. Believe me, your river birch will grow in "clumps" on its own (I have been pruning new suckers from my River Birch all season long, they won't stop growing). Plant them at least 30-40' away from one another.

  3. #3
    Super Moderator Oak Quirky Quercus's Avatar
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    Re: River Birch Question - do I plant 3 trees or just 1?

    Quote Originally Posted by OklahomaJamie
    We want a clump of 3 River Birches. Do we plant 3 trees close together? or do we just plant one tree and it makes it's own trunks?

    If we plant 3 close together, how close do we plant them?

    Thanks!
    Jamie
    Clump river birches are often grown by seed, sowing multiple seeds together.

    If you plant a single river birch tree, it is likely that it may develop another trunk or two on its own but then again it may not. River birches grow in the wild near me and in nature some will have one trunk and some will have more than one. One way to ensure that it will look like a clump is to plant them all together.

    The purpose of clump birches is to showcase the attractive bark but in my opionion you're better off planting the trees a reasonable distance apart. They seem to tolerate stresses better and it's a big problem if you have a birch with 2 stems and one is lost during an ice storm or wind storm.

  4. #4
    Acorn
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    RE: River Birch Question - do I plant 3 trees or just 1?

    My lateral lines are in the back of my house, a good distance from the front where I want to plant the river birches. Can river birches be planted near the water line that extends to the house from the water tap?

  5. #5
    Oak
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    RE: River Birch Question - do I plant 3 trees or just 1?

    Sure, water lines are fine, the birch roots can't penetrate solid pipes or water lines. Anything that is solid underground (like an electrical line or conduit) is safe for planting. Remember that concrete is not solid - it has pores throughout and tree roots can cause serious damage to both poured concrete and cinder block foundations. Also, if for some reason your water line had to be dug up for maintenance and repair, keep in mind that the tree might have to be dug up as well. Chances are you'll never have problems, but there's no guarantee.

    The only precaution is to stay away from drainage pipes that are perforated (holes in the pipe), or pipes that are made of concrete/tile, because tree roots will clog them up and/or break through those types of pipes. Almost all water lines are copper, PVC or some type of plastic, and are solid. Roots will simply grow around them and not through them.

  6. #6

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    RE: River Birch Question - do I plant 3 trees or just 1?

    Keep in mind that sewer lines are not pressurized, so may have very small leaks that would never be noticed (like almost microscopic openings at the joints in the pipes), but that trees can take advantage of easily and send roots in to clog the line. As a youth I worked with my father in his plumbing business, and we were often called due to a tree finding a weak spot in a sewer line. Plastic line certainly isn't immune, but it is better than tile or iron.

    The potable water supply going into your house is under pressure, and even if there were a leak you didn't notice (very unlikely), the roots could not survive the pressure in the pipe.

    I've noticed in my home town that river birches have become popular in landscaping, and a lot of people are planting them near where I know their sewer lines run. In a few years, the plumbing business will be booming there.

  7. #7

    RE: River Birch Question - do I plant 3 trees or just 1?

    I'm reading this and searching, not about river birch, but about other trees that may get after my septic tank or drain field.

    I've got Red Maple, Pin Oak, one or two spruce trees, Tuliptree and Hybrid Poplar.

    I'm wondering if any of those can go within 40 feet of the septic/drain field.

    I'm keeping the Willows near a wet spot in the ditch out front away from any water lines (other than the pressurized main line from the county/city, I guess it's around there somewhere).

    Any other trees (other than birch) known for hunting your water system down?

  8. #8
    Oak
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    RE: River Birch Question - do I plant 3 trees or just 1?

    This:

    I bought a somewhat sickly-looking clump river birch from the home despot parking lot in the late Spring this year for $15. It was about 5' tall and 3' or 4' wide (with 3 main trunks), it had a lot of die-back in its upper branches because no one was watering or caring for the tree.
    Is more than likeley why you have this:

    Believe me, that River Birch, if planted correctly and in a moist/wet location, will grow new "suckers" constantly every few weeks. You'll be pruning them off regularly in order to keep that river birch down to 3 trunks.
    I maintain dozens of river birch on our campus, and we rarely if ever have to remove suckers from our HEALTHY trees. In most cases, excessive suckering and watersprouts are a sign of stress. Your HD river birch was EXTREMELY stressed, it lost much of its root system and it sounds like a good bit of its live crown. It was also probably root bound when you bought it, and has circling and girdling roots. It is producing new growth as a response to the root loss, and/or loss of foliage in order to help build starch reserves. It IS a survival mechanism, not a standard for the species. I have several single stemmed birch trees, also several clumps. To my knowledge river birch does not produce root suckers.

    If you want a clump of birch, plant several individuals. If you buy a clump, it is a good idea to separate them into individuals bfore planting. This will take care of many root and stability issues.

    But don't just take my word for it, do some research.
    "EDUCATION begins when you question something. EDUCATION occurs when you have resolved your doubts" Alex Shigo

  9. #9
    Oak
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    RE: River Birch Question - do I plant 3 trees or just 1?

    There's no doubt that the River Birch from HD was stressed when it was first planted. The roots were most certainly pot-bound and circling, which is why I scored them extensively using a sharpened razor knife prior to planting (which of course explains the initial root loss and sucker growth). Additionally, when I initially planted my River Birch, we ran into a hot/dry spell (in late May) where I had to water it quite often to keep it from drying out. It did not, however, lose a significant portion of its crown - while suckers were in deed growing, so was the crown.

    From the time that River Birch was planted, the crown more than doubled in size, lots of new branches grew from the top of the crown, and a new leader formed. By the end of the Summer/early Fall last year, the River Birch looked very healthy, had shown extensive growth, and sucker growth had stopped. Of all the young trees I planted last year, the River Birch was the only one that did NOT need staking, and several severe wind storms (with gusts over 70mph) did not phase it, so it anchored itself into the ground extremely well.

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