What is wrong with my paper birch tree?

Asked July 21, 2014, 12:27 PM EDT

I live in monroe county michigan. My paper birch tree is around 17yrs old and had a bad winter. I am concerned about all the dead branches ans what I can do to help it survive? Maybe iron deficiency? And how or where can I send a soil sample for ph and chemical composition? Thanks Karl close

Monroe County Michigan

1 Response

The dead branches could be from a harsh winter.

But if the top of the tree or major branches are also dead, the problem could be bronze birch borer. This is a type of tree that can be negatively affected. If you can look at the portions of the tree that are dead, you would be looking for "D" shaped holes which are exits for the adult beetles. If this is just winter damage, you can remove the dead branches any time.

It is really not too logical to suspect an iron deficiency if the tree has been good all the other years. An iron deficiency means that the soil pH is too high for the tree and it cannot get existing iron out of the soil. That requires lowering the pH.

But to check on nutrients, you can buy a soil test self-mailer at www.msusoiltest.com for $25. They will ship it to you and you follow the directions to send in a soil sample. It takes a week or two for them to email you a recommendation. But July and the first half of August is not the time to fertilize the tree. You do not want to apply fertilizer during hot weather or to expect the tree to push out new growth that could be killed during a harsh winter. There is no time for new growth to mature between now and December. You could fertilize at the end of August or in September or October. The nutrients will be there but there will not be any top growth. Spring also works.

You would like to see a soil pH of around 6.0 for this tree. There are ways to lower the pH if lowering if it is necessary.

Some of the trunk damage could be from a weed whip or a whack from a mower because of the chunks removed. There are flowers there now so this was in some previous year or years.