Question from Barbara:
Do white birch trees grow in CA?
Answer from Pat:
You are the second person today who has written to ask about European white birch (Betula pendula.) I agree it’s lovely looking tree. No doubt about that. Also, yes it will grow here in California, probably better in coastal northern California than Southern California. The problem is that this tree comes with a flock of built-in problems. It is prone to attack by borers, which can girdle the bark and kill the tree. It hates extreme heat, it does better with a cold winter, and also, it requires deep, well drained, fertile soil, and not many gardens here can fill this requirement. However, a few gardens provide the right situation for European birch which are as follows: Plentiful irrigation, fast drainage, deep fertile soil, afternoon shade from burning hot sun, and an organic garden with many beneficials in residence to protect against borers and leaf miners. When you count all these requirements, perhaps you might decide it would be better to study the lists in Sunset Western Garden Book and find some tree you like that is well- adapted to growing in a dry Mediterranean climate where you don’t need to stand on your head trying to recreate England or New England here in California.
However, I understand falling in love. If you fall in love with a man because he is so wonderful, but he has a few built-in faults, I would say it’s better to marry him anyway and find ways to cope. Sometimes you just can’t help yourself. So the other course of action is to knock yourself out doing everything right: Fix drainage so it’s rapid, make soil magnificent, build a raised bed or mound the soil to create perfection beyond belief, feed with organic fertilizer, introduce beneficial insects galore, provide afternoon shade, and protect the patient from burning heat— (hmm, an electric fan?… How far are we going to go?) But if you’re willing to do all this, then throw your heart over the jump and plant the tree you love. Before doing all this, however, please read elsewhere on this blog the caveats I have written to various other people afflicted with violent, irrational love for European white birch (Betula pendula.)
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