6 Birch Trees That Grow Well in Tennessee

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Written By Shannon Campbell

Off-Grid Gardener & Food Forager

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With temperate weather all year round and long growing seasons, Tennessee has no dearth of plants and trees that will grow and thrive in this southern state. And one of the best tree species that TN gardeners can use to beautify their landscape is the classic birch.

Despite the warmth and mugginess that are part and parcel of TN summers, and the overall cold hardiness of most birch trees, there are a number of birch varieties that grow well here.

Let’s take a look at the six best birch trees that can be grown in Tennessee.

6 Romantic Birch Trees That Grow Well In TN

1. River Birch (Betula nigra)

River Birch tree NH
Image via Nature Hills

There are plenty of reasons that the river birch is the most planted species of birch tree in the United States. They grow in the widest range of USDA zones of any of the major birch varieties, are low maintenance, highly adaptable, and the most resistant to the deadly bronze birch borer! Tennessee gardeners can’t go wrong with this beautiful heat-loving tree.

The river birch also offers plenty of interest. Its famous peeling white bark and salmon-pink inner wood look appealing in every season, and its brilliant yellow fall foliage will light up any landscape. Uses for river birch in landscape gardening include specimen planting, privacy screens or living fences, windbreaks, and planting in groupings along a water feature.

As mentioned, the river birch is a very adaptable tree, able to tolerate even poor-draining soil, wind, and flooding. However, it prefers moist, well-draining soil with an acidic pH in a location with full sun.

Other Common Names: Black Birch, Red Birch, Water Birch

Growing Zones: 3-9

Average Size at Maturity: 25-50 feet tall, with a 25-35 foot spread

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

2. Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)

Paper Birch - Grid 2 Square
Images by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Add a touch of romance to your property with the paper birch, a birch variety native to the northern and northeastern United States.

They also have an important history, used for centuries as a canoe-building resource for Native American tribes. With their stunning streaked white bark and classic birch fall color, they have become a classic symbol of the American north.

That being said, paper birch grows in zones 2-7, so it will still grow well in most parts of Tennessee.

While they are attractive and distinctive birches, TN gardeners should think carefully before choosing these sensitive trees. They are susceptible to pests, intense heat, drought, and many urban conditions that make them unfit for city landscapes. However, in the right conditions, they will flourish.

Paper birches thrive in moist soil that is sandy and rocky, in a location that grants partial shade. They are not too fussy about pH levels, though they prefer acidic soil. Fully alkaline soil should be avoided.

Other Common Names: Mountain Paper Birch, Canoe Birch, Paperbark Birch, Kenai Birch, White Birch

Growing Zones: 2-7

Average Size at Maturity: 40 feet tall, with a 30-foot spread

Flowering Season: Early Spring

Available at: Nature Hills

3. Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)

Yellow Birch Tree
Image by schizoform via Flickr

A larger birch tree, the yellow birch is native to the northeast and has a significant history of use as lumber in the US. While they start growing in a pyramidal form, their growth habit becomes more rounded as they mature.

The bark of the tree is particularly striking, with a silvery copper color that peels laterally, adding an attractive texture to the landscape. The inner bark has an almost golden sheen, hence the names ‘yellow’ and ‘gold’ birch.

The yellow birch is the largest birch species that grows in North America, reaching heights of up to 80 feet tall with an equally wide canopy, so make sure you have enough space to accommodate it. These trees also need a medium level of maintenance to protect them from root rot, birch borer, and other pests and disease.

Plant your yellow birch tree in rich, well-draining, slightly acidic in a location with full sun.

Other Common Names: Golden Birch

Growing Zones: 3-7

Average Size at Maturity: 70-80 feet tall, with a 60-80 foot spread

Flowering Season: Mid-Spring

4. Gray Birch (Betula populifolia)

Gray Birch Tree
Image by Nicholas_T via Flickr

The gray birch is a medium-sized ornamental with a narrow crown, thin glossy leaves, and white bark.

Its trunk has much less of a peeling effect than other birch trees but instead is covered with horizontal black lesions which provide their own kind of appeal. They share a close resemblance to both the paper birch and the common poplar.

This tree is reasonably low-maintenance, and like the river birch, it is more resistant to bronze birch borer than most of its relatives. What’s more, it is particularly hardy and adaptable, and an excellent choice for sites with poor soil where other species may struggle to grow.

While they can be planted in a variety of soil types, the grey birch prefers moist, well-draining soil with an acidic pH in a location with full sun, at least 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.

Other Common Names: Grey Birch, Poplar-Leaved Birch, Wire Birch, Old-Field Birch

Growing Zones: 3-7

Average Size at Maturity: 20-40 feet tall, with a 10-20 foot spread

Flowering Season: Mid to Late Spring

Available at: Nature Hills

5. Sweet Birch (Betula lenta)

Sweet Birch Tree
Image by Plant Image Library via Flickr

Another unique birch species, the sweet birch has plenty to offer for landscape gardeners in Tennessee. It has a very thin trunk covered in dark bark beneath a large canopy of glossy green leaves.

What’s more, its fall foliage is considered one of the best among all birch varieties, with brilliant shades of yellow, gold, and orange.

Sweet birch also has some rather unique properties, according to the University of Minnesota Urban Forestry Outreach Lab. These trees produce oil and sweet sap that can be used to make medicine, candy, and beer.

These birch trees are excellent as ornamentals or even shade trees in lawns, gardens, and naturalized spaces. They are also relatively low maintenance with little need for pruning, and able to tolerate salty and water-logged soil. However, they grow best in rich, moist, well-draining soil with a slightly acidic pH.

Other Common Names: Mahogany Birch, Cherry Birch, Black Birch, Spice Birch

Growing Zones: 3-7

Average Size at Maturity: 40-70 feet tall

Flowering Season: Spring

Available at: Nature Hills

6. Water Birch (Betula occidentalis)

Water Birch
Image by Andrey Zharkikh via Flickr

Compared to some of its tall, narrow relatives, the water birch is a relatively short tree, sometimes only growing to 10 feet tall, though compensating with its broad and irregular crown.

Its dark brown bark does not peel and is instead streaked with white horizontal lines. The water birch can grow as either a single-stemmed tree or a multi-stemmed trunk. Like many other birches, its fall foliage is a clear, bright yellow.

True to its name, the water birch is most often found growing along streams, rivers, and other waterways. Naturally, the tree loves moist soil and can even tolerate flooding and waterlogged soil. When it comes to landscape gardening, they are most often planted in small groupings near a water feature.

While they are fairly adaptable trees, the water birch prefers moist, well-draining soil in a location with plenty of sunlight.

Other Common Names: Red Birch, Western Birch

Growing Zones: 3-7

Average Size at Maturity: 10-40 feet tall, with a 10-30 foot spread

Flowering Season: Mid to Late Spring

Find The Right Birch Tree For Your Landscape

Birch trees in Tennessee are a beautiful sight, whether found in the wild or cultivated garden spaces. They add a classic element to any landscape, with their peeling bark, eye-catching spring catkins, and fantastic fall foliage.

Keep in mind that most birch trees are hardy to USDA zones 3-7. While this suits the vast majority of TN, which falls under zones 5b to 8a, some parts of Memphis in the southwest fall under 8a, which may be too hot for most birch trees.

Whether you prefer the wildly popular river birch or the distinct sweet birch with its famous fall foliage, you’ll find an excellent tree for your property. And if you are looking for more ornamentals to go with them, consider these lovely flowering trees that grow well in Tennessee.

Photo of author

Shannon Campbell

Off-Grid Gardener & Food Forager

Shannon has always loved looking after trees and plants since as long as she can remember. She grew up gardening with her family in their off-grid home and looking after her neighbor's plant nursery. As a child she also participated in native tree replanting, and as an adult has volunteered in reforestation programs in northern Vietnam. Today, she puts her horticultural efforts into tending her vegetable and herb gardens, and learning about homesteading and permaculture. When she’s not reading, writing, and gardening, she’ll be out fishing and foraging for edible flora and fungi in the countryside around her home.

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