Himalayan birch (Betula utilis) is a deciduous tree closely related to our native silver birch (Betula pendula), but has a more compact habit and a whiter bark. It looks beautiful all year round, bearing long brown-yellow catkins in spring and glorious yellow leaves in autumn. In winter, the white bark of Himalayan birch tree dazzles when backlit by the sun, and also peels in scrolls to dramatic effect.
Identifying Himalayan birch
Himalayan birch closely resembles our native silver birch but has a much whiter bark, typically with horizontal bands known as lenticels. The bark peels decoratively, revealing pinkish bark beneath, that soon turns white. Like other birches it has an open branch structure so doesn’t form a dense canopy, making it ideal for growing in small spaces. While single stemmed Himalayan birches are most commonly grown, multi-stemmed varieties are available too.
Size: height and spread
Himalayan birch grows relatively quickly, achieving a height in excess of 10m and a spread of 6m or more in 15-20 years.
Value to wildlife
The tiny flowers of Himalayan birch, borne on spring catkins, are attractive to bees and other pollinating insects. Seed is subsequently produced that is popular with seed-eating birds such as finches and goldcrests.
How to grow Himalayan birch tree
Grow Himalayan birch in any reasonable soil. Ideally plant when dormant, preferably in autumn. Stake when young and keep watered during dry spells for the first couple of years. Prune only if necessary, in late summer.
Where to plant Himalayan birch
Himalayan birch is stylish enough to suit an urban garden, but also looks good in a garden border, as a standalone feature in a lawn or in a woodland garden. Multi-stemmed birch can be grown in a very large container or a raised bed.
How to plant Himalayan birch
Autumn is the ideal time to plant Himalayan birch so it establishes well before the growing season. Late winter to early spring is the next best time. Container grown trees can be planted at any time of year if kept watered through spring and summer.
Dig a planting hole no deeper than the depth the tree was previously planted (bare-root trees have a soil ‘tide mark’ towards the base of the stem), and sufficiently wide for the roots to be spread out. Ensure the top of the root ball is at soil level by placing a cane across the top of the planting hole. Backfill the soil around the roots, firm in well, water in, and mulch the soil surface with compost or chipped bark to improve moisture retention and discourage weed growth. Stake the tree with a short stake angled at 45 degrees and secured to the trunk using a tree tie.
How to care for Himalayan birch
During the first full growing season, keep the tree watered during dry spells, watering thoroughly once every few days to encourage deep roots to develop. Keep the ground around the base clear of grass and weeds for at least a one-metre circle to avoid competition for water and nutrients. In its second year, keep up watering when conditions are dry.
Remove the stake after two to three years, ensuring the tree’s roots don’t ‘rock’ in high winds (you will need to replace the stake if wind rock is an issue). If the tree remains staked, ensure it doesn’t rub against the bark of the tree, as this could cause damage and potentially be an entry point for disease.
How to prune Himalayan birch
Himalayan birch trees naturally develop an elegant shape and need very little pruning apart from removing any dead stems. Carry out any necessary pruning in late summer or early autumn because birch sap ‘bleeds’ less freely from pruning cuts at this time.
Pests and diseases of Himalayan birch
While leaf mining and sap sucking insects are attracted to birches, these are rarely an issue and indeed add to the wildlife value of these trees by attracting insect-eating birds.
Birches are susceptible to honey fungus, a disease that is potentially serious. Honey fungus thrives on dead tree stumps and spreads to a wide variety of trees and shrubs, so ensure any stumps are professionally removed by stump grinding before planting.
Powdery mildew disease may appear as a white coating on the leaves during long periods of dry weather. Avoid this problem by giving trees an occasional thorough watering.
Advice on buying Himalayan birch
- Himalayan birch is widely available in a range of varieties both as container grown and bare rooted trees
- Bare rooted trees are grown in nursery fields and can only be transplanted while dormant, so the planting season is limited to the November-March period. Buying bare-root usually gives you more variety for less money, and there’s no plastic pot
- Container grown trees are available all year round
Where to buy Himalayan birch