Despite their romantic appearance, birches in the wild are tough, long-lived pioneer trees. Many homeowners select white-barked birches as ornamental trees without taking their shallow root system into account. That characteristic gives backyard birches a much shorter life-expectancy than woodland birches.
The Betula family includes dozens of types of birch trees in addition to the popular silver birch. Most offer papery white bark and delicate, spring-green leaves. All have shallow roots that mandate moist soil.
The roots of many trees bore deep into the soil, ignoring surface changes in temperature and humidity. Shallow birch roots, however, suffer from even brief episodes to drought and heat. Birches grow best and live longest in a moist, shady location, although their crowns require sun most of the day.
Birches should be planted on the east or north side of your home, so that the building provides afternoon shade. The ideal location will be well away from compacted areas, such as paths or driveways. Soil disturbance damages the shallow birch root system. Birches benefit from mulch sufficiently deep to ensure cool, moist soil.