Birches have garnered a bit of fame among landscape designers for their demonstrated grace under pressure. They been famously used in some rather difficult spaces, such as rooftop gardens and drainage swales. Grey birch, Betula populifolia, forms the backbone of sections of the famous High Line Park, a very exposed site high above Manhattan’s West Side.
Our local native River Birch, Betula nigra, just happens to be stunning—with beautifully delicate, fringed leaves that cast a light, dappled shade. The catkins of the birch tree are adored by birds, including wood duck, ruffed grouse, goldfinch, juncos, pine siskin, and chickadees. And the salmon-colored, exfoliating bark accentuates the form of the tree, adding excellent texture through the winter months.
I have successfully used clusters of River Birch to form a small-scale strip of forest at the back of a yard, or to cast light shade along a front walk.
These birches are planted at the bottom of a swale that collects water after a storm. The trees will take up some of the water, and have the valuable quality of being able to grow where there is less oxygen in the soil due to the water.