I have always loved the pristine white bark of the Himalayan white birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii) and it was an obvious choice to anchor the far end of our island bed where it was highly visible from many vantage points.
When a colleague offered me two more I created a small grove of these, dreaming of how stunning they would look in years to come. I was concerned about the birch borer but kept my fingers crossed and hoped for the best. What I hadn't considered were birds.
The trees thrived for a while but then I began to notice small holes in the trunks. These quickly expanded and girdled the entire trunk; 1/4" diameter holes spaced every inch or so and covering sections 12inches -20 inches high – on every trunk of the three multi-trunked trees. These holes then began to weep sap and it was quickly clear that the trees were in decline. At first I thought the culprit must be the large pileated woodpecker which we see from time to time. In fact the diminutive sapsucker was the vandal. (This article shows you the typical damage).
There was no cure for such extensive damage and it was clear that the situation was rapidly deteriorating so we made the decision to replace the trees. Easier said than done!
After 11 years they had quite the root system that took several hours of excavating, cutting then finally a hefty chain attached to the back of the truck. (Let's just say the grass may take a while to recover….)
We spent a very wet and muddy day yesterday planting two multi-trunked river birch (Betula nigra 'Heritage') in their place.
Some of the other plants transplanted into this area include three Cobalt-n-Gold hypericum , a low growing, mounding shrub with silvery-green leaves and small yellow flowers followed by fiery fall color that should show up nicely against the variegated hedgehog holly (Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’).
We have a cluster of Heritage river birch nearby and they have thrived, the beautiful peeling bark a true four season highlight, while the dappled light under the canopy is similar to the white birch – perfect for the bench.
They look so small after enjoying taller trees for many years but in our moist soil we know these will grow quickly and also that younger trees establish more easily than large specimens.
Change is rarely easy, but sometimes you have to admit defeat and just get on with it.
What are you changing in your gardens this spring?