We acquired three Birch Trees.Silver,..not weeping...from a Landscaper. One was mostly straight...the other two had mostly 'weeping' branches. I expressed my concern and was told that they would 'grow out of that'. It's been about six years and they are still 'weeping'. One site suggested I prune off about 1/3 of the brances that are headed downward. Repeat next year, etc. I have done that and one of the trees now appears to be mostly one sided! Any thoughts on this? Thanks

  • 2
    Welcome! “Any thoughts” is a bit vague as far as questions go - could you please read How to Ask, then edit your post with more details? And a photo or two certainly would help your fellow gardeners to get a better idea of what you are working with.
    – Stephie
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 8:31
  • I doubt very much the ones with weeping branches will 'grow out of it', no matter how you prune them, they are likely a different variety of Birch than the straight one provided. A photo of the trees might help to identify which varieties you have.
    – Bamboo
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 17:43
  • So: 'Any thoughts' should have been: Do you have any thoughts on this?
    – CJ Jones
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 20:46

2 Answers 2


Betula pendula (aka "silver birch") is, to quote the RHS, "an elegant medium-sized deciduous tree with slender drooping twigs." Betula pendula "Youngii" is, again quoting the RHS, "a small deciduous tree forming a dome-shaped crown of arching branches weeping to the ground ... " If you google them you'll see the difference. If you have Betula pendula then my advice would be to let it do its own thing - you won't be able to prune it to look nicer than its natural, graceful form. If you have "Youngii", it wants to be a weeping, dumpy looking tree and nothing you do will be able to prevent that. Also, bear in mind that there are numerous birch species and cultivars.

  • Comparing the photos of the two species you mention, I still maintain my original thought that we received 1 Silver Pendula and 2 Youngii (weeping Birch)......With the pruning I have just done............we may end up with a 'Monster' Birch....! ha
    – CJ Jones
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 20:42

Birch pruning is trickier than most hardwood species, because the trees have a tendency to bleed massive amounts of sap if pruned in late winter or spring, the way many trees can be safely pruned. This can harm the tree, and can leave them vulnerable to damaging insect infestations. The best time to prune birches is usually in late summer or early fall. This timing both avoids the highest sap flow, and the egg-laying season for the insects that are most damaging to birches.

As for the "weeping branches", this is a feature of silver birch, whose scientific name is Betula pendula, "pendula" referencing the hanging nature of the branches. However, this characteristic varies from individual to individual, and depends both on the genetics of the tree and on the site. It could be that your particularly tree is unusually prone to this growth habit. But it also could have to do with conditions.

Silver birches love light; they are fairly shade-intolerant even compared to other birches. As such their branches will seek light wherever it is available. If there is abundant light reaching lower levels of the tree, already-hanging branches will grow longer. Relative to other birches, silver birch is more likely to have higher-up branches droop or grow longer to reach light lower down, rather than sprouting out of the base.

If they're grown among other trees, these trees will self-prune and you will find few branches reaching the ground, mainly because the lower branches don't get enough light to justify the tree sustaining them.

How to prune? I think the best way to prune most birches is to leave them alone as much as possible, and only remove branches that are too close to something, like a building or a path. If you want the tree to have a single-trunk habit, you can prune off side-branches. But in general, birches sometimes grow with a multi-trunk habit. Silver birch is a lot less prone to such a growth habit (and more likely to grow with a single trunk) than some other birch species (such as gray birch, Betula papyrifera, a native of North America) but it still sometimes grows this way, and if it wants to grow this way, you will have a lot of work cut out for you if you want to change its growth habit. Also, when grown on open, sunny sites, silver birch sometimes likes to branch lower down on the tree. Again, you can sometimes get it to grow in a single-trunk habit by pruning off side branches.

It is always best not to prune off too much at once. If you have selected one of several trunks or branches that you want to make the main trunk, but they are all relatively equal in size, you don't necessarily want to cut off too much in one year. Instead, trim off a portion, maybe a third to a half the growth on the side branches. Then, over the next 1-3 years, continue trimming back the unwanted trunk or branches. This will minimize the stress on the tree, and allow it to invest more growth into the main trunk or branch. Usually, this approach is sufficient to get the tree to adopt a single-trunk habit.

If you pruned off too much in a previous year, you might want to go easy on it this year. Does the tree look stressed, or does it look healthy or vigorous? I would lay off the pruning if it looks visibly stressed, i.e. less healthy or vigorous than the other trees.

Lastly, look at the lighting conditions. It could be that the tree is growing in a more one-sided way because it is more shaded on one side. If that's the case, there's not much you can do about that. Either open up more light for it by pruning away a branch or two from a nearby tree that is shading it, or just accept the asymmetry. If you have a shaded site, to where the birch isn't getting enough light, you might be better off looking for a more shade-tolerant species in the long-run. In the wild, silver birch are usually replaced by more shade-tolerant trees over time.

I'm not sure where you're located so I can't give any specific recommendations, but I always recommend choosing plants native to your local area. (Silver birch is native to a wide range across Europe and north Asia and depending on how you classify birch species, possibly into northwestern North America.)

  • 1
    I live in Portland, Oregon. These Birch Trees have total 'light'. They all started as a 'single trunk' but these two branched off rather soon. I have been told to just pick a 'leader' and prune off any side branches...sporadically... One of them does not have a 'leader'....I was assured by the Professional that they were all the same 'species'.....I saw a difference within two years. Last resort, which I dread....start over. Thanks for all the comments.
    – CJ Jones
    Commented Nov 4, 2021 at 20:31

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