River birch trimming

Asked July 11, 2017, 11:47 AM EDT

Hello, I visited the farmers market and they referred me to you with my question. Thank you for being a resource for my tree problem. My river birch is very scarce. Should I trim all the branches without leaves to see if it fills in. They're high up so I can't scrape them with my nail to see if they're dead or not. The leaves fall all the time and branches drop off too. Here is a photo. Thank you for your help!

Anne Arundel County Maryland

1 Response

I have a Heritage river birch and have to tell you that what you are describing is very typical. Initially in the spring, the foliage comes out very lush but the roots just can't take up enough water to support all of those leaves. The leaves dry up and drop off beginning in early summer. Falling dead twigs is a constant for any river birch. This is actually referred to as 'self pruning.' While it is an ongoing maintenance issue in the landscape, it is good that you don't need to have an arborist out to trim those numerous branches on a regular basis. Heavy watering could postpone the early leaf drop, but it is not necessary for the health of the tree since this a natural occurrence. That said, your tree does look sparser than it should and some of the lower, larger branches do appear dead. The other plants around it appear healthy so that is good. The branches do prune off quite easily with a pole pruner. It has been very dry this season so a deep watering once a week during dry periods could be beneficial. Fertilize in the fall after all of the leaves have dropped with a well balanced fertilizer. Thank you for your question and best of luck to you! Ria Malloy