Birch Tree losing leaves in July

My 70+ year old birch tree has started to drop its leaves at an alarming rate with the slightest breeze or touch of the branches and the ground is carpeted! The leaves are still green, although the reverse sides of many of them are brown spotted. Seed heads are already mature - is this unusual for July? I read somewhere that leaf drop of up to 50% can happen but that's usually due to drought, while here in Edinburgh on 15th of the month we have already had 140% of our expected July rainfall - and have experienced the dizzying delights of 105 minutes of sunshine (:-l Any advice or diagnosis will be gratefully received!


  • Alina WAlina W Posts: 1,445

    I wonder if it might not be age, 70 is quite mature for a silver birch. They're not usually bothered by wet, as their roots are fairly shallow and I've seen them growing happily at the edges of marshes.

  • Sue HighamSue Higham Posts: 76
    Thanks Alina ... am conscious of her lifespan but dreading the day when our beautiful birch tree no longer graces the garden. She's long been my favourite - my Queen of the Woodland ... and another birch will stand in her place, one day.

    However - it would appear that day is not yet! More research has revealed the source of the problem to be aphids. They're having a field day as the very wet weather has laid low all their predators. The received advice is to hose down the tree every few days ...well, for a start she's about 40' tall and ... hose down? THIS year? Sheesh!

    Anyway, our Queen of the Woodland is fighting back! Close examination today shows new leaves forming wherever the old ones have been lost - I look forward to the rest of this growing year with interest!
  • Alina WAlina W Posts: 1,445

    It's unusual to have such a bad infestation on a birch, but I guess it's an unusual year.

    Good luck - if the aphids are shed with the leaves, it should certainly help.

  • Pat T3Pat T3 Posts: 1

    Hi I have exactly the same problem with my silver birches and live in the Edinburgh area. I have noticed new leaves appearing very slowly too but the most affected tree is losing it's leaves with the slightest breeze.  Glad to hear it's probably aphids.  Did you try the hosing down thing?

  • Sue HighamSue Higham Posts: 76
    Hello PatT3 .... How are your birch trees this year? My tree managed to produce about 30% new leaf cover in late summer last year and started coming into leaf again about 4 weeks ago. Today, I noticed the new leaves are falling. They are brown spotted on the reverse just as last year - no sign of aphids though - maybe it's a bit early for them? New leaves are still opening and looking healthy - but am anticipating the same behaviour from them in about 4 weeks. I fear the tree has been unable to store enough energy from reduced leaf coverage last year to take it through the longest winter for 50 years! Can't seem to find any conclusive diagnosis on the web - think I'll contact the Botanics next week to see if they can help. This could be the year drastic action has to be taken - I'll be heartbroken :'-(
  • We are having a similar problem in Northern Ireland. Our silver birch looks like only about 2/3 of the canopy has formed. Leaves are spotted and dropping as we speak. we noticed this for the past 2 years and tried to ignore it and stick our heads in the sand! Tree is approx 30 years old and the centre piece of our garden! I'm feeling your pain????

  • Sue HighamSue Higham Posts: 76
    Hi Nicola ... emailed various organisations for help diagnosing my birch tree's problems and had a very prompt reply from the Plant Health Department at Forestry Commission Scotland - from the photos I sent them they are pretty sure the culprit is as follows ...

    "The leaf spotting on the second photo is almost certainly caused by the fungus Marssonina betulae which in a wet summer can cause heavy defoliation and sometimes shoot die back. With large trees there is no practical control of this fungus and although the fungus may cause shoot die back it should not kill the tree although the foliage may be more sparse this year."

    Sure enough, Googling the fungus name led me to images which do match my tree's symptoms. Will wait, with interest, to see what the other organisations have to offer, and will post here if there are different views.

    Still apprehensive about the long term survival of my Very Old Lady of the Woods if we get more wet summers - leading to more fungus, more die back, and less leaf cover weakening the tree ..... but your 30 year old youngster should be OK!
  • Hi. I'm in the Southern hemisphere-South Africa to be precise. We've had an unseasonably wet summer this year. All my Silver birches are losing their leaves and fall is still a month and a week away! Will they survive the artificial "longer" winter without most of their leaves having already fallen? Can I give the trees some or other fertlizer to make them recover? The biggest of them has already started making new leaves at eye level, but the crown is almost bare.

    My one and only Betula pendula 'dalecarlica' which I imported in the 80's and that had been standing in a huge pot as an overgrown bonsai, was planted out onto the lawn last summer. It produced its first crop of catkins and I managed to collect 18(although I read they're sterile).Yet it now has less than a quarter of its leaves left. The tree is pushing new buds on the main trunk. Should I drastically prune the tree back, hoping to force those new buds to develop into leaves and maybe even branches? 

    HELP PLEEAASE!!!!! I cannot afford to lose this 18 year old beauty!

  • Just hijacking this thread as it's about birches.

    I have in my garden a tree which I thought was a COPPER birch. Talking to a garden centre today they said they don't exist. Problem is, where I work, the industrial estate has silver birch and copper birches all the way down.

    The bark is gorgeous copper colours and is exactly the same as the silver birch

    Can anyone shed any light on this? It's only been planted in my garden for 2 years so I can't really give any decent info on it.
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 19,692

    Duncan - are you sure they aren't Prunus serrula? They have copper bark and are sometimes called the Birch Bark Cherry.

  • nutcutletnutcutlet Posts: 24,037

    I have had birches lose their leaves in summer due to drought, get some more when it rains and then drop those. Something similar might happen to yours.

    I wouldn't do anything. Birches are beautiful until you start cutting them back, then they lose all their grace and become lumps.

    As to fertilizer, don't force feed a sick patient.

  • Fairygirl, your guess is as good as mine. It was sent through the post from some Internet nature site. It was literally a stick about 1ft long. I just dropped it into a piece of dirt by my shed and 2 years later it's nearly 8ft tall and still climbing, I have to move it next weekend though.
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 19,692

    If you can take a pic and put it onto a thread here that will help ID it Duncan.

    I've never heard of a copper Birch either so I'd guess it's the Prunus, but a photo will help confirm it for you image

  • How do I add a picture?
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 19,692

    You should have a little tree icon at the right hand side of  the toolbar at the top of the window you post in. Just click on it and follow the instructions image

  • 18 months on and my Lady of the Woods has (all by herself!) made a majestic recovery from the Marssonina betulae which she fell prey to during the dreadfully wet summer of 2012.  All the new shoots she formed in late summer, immediately after the leaf drop, have contributed to something like 90% leaf cover this year, all spotlessly clean, and she is looking very healthy - and SO beautiful!!  

    Incidentally ... to my knowledge there IS such a thing as copper birch.  The weeping variety is particularly beautiful - I only wish I could have found space for it in my garden!

  • Sue you are a star

    I knew I was correct, shame on the garden centre for saying it didn't exist
  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 42,783

    Lots of googling reveals that there is a Copper River birch - betula nigra. 

    Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes. 
  • nutcutletnutcutlet Posts: 24,037

    or black birchimage

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 42,783

    Yes - nigra = black, so does Copper in this case refer to a place called Copper River maybe?

    Gardening is cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes. 
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