Birch Companion Plants

Birch trees of all types are popular in temperate growing zones where deciduous trees thrive. All birches have distinctive bark patterning and exfoliation, from the brown river birch to the iconic silver birch. Birch trees are at home in wet soils near a creek or river. They can be planted as a special focal point in a smaller garden, or in clusters to delineate a property or fence line. 

All birch varieties thrive in well-draining soil that retains moisture, especially throughout the hot summer months. Most birch trees are hardy in zones 4-9, although some are fully winter hardy even in zone 2. Plant birch trees in an open location with either full or partial sun and in slightly acidic to slightly alkaline soil. These fast-growing trees reach anywhere from 40-100 feet at maturity and will need to be planted well away from overhead utility lines and other outdoor structures. 


Photo by K M, unmodified, Flickr, copyright CC BY 2.0 DEED

Shrubs To Plant With Birch Trees

Various shrubs make good understory plantings for birch. Select shrubs that tolerate part shade, damp soil, and competing tree roots, such as hydrangeas, rhododendrons, and viburnum. These shrubs provide interesting foliage texture and long flowering. 

Various cultivars of dogwood shrubs make a dramatic combination with birch trees. The brilliantly colored stems of dogwood in the late fall and winter highlight the interesting bark of a birch tree. Birch trees also partner well with dwarf conifers in more formal garden settings. Mugo pine, dwarf blue spruce, and arborvitae all have a strong presence that requires minimal seasonal maintenance and pruning.

Perennials To Plant With Birch Trees

Planting herbaceous and semi-evergreen perennials as an understory or ground cover layer is a great way to give your birch planting a naturalistic woodland feel. Low-maintenance ground covers such as wild ginger, ajuga, English ivy (in locations where it is not invasive), wood violets, sweet woodruff, and Vinca major all work well to suppress annual weeds.

Medium-growing perennials can add texture and color to a birch understory. Select plants with overlapping bloom times like tiarella, hosta, fern, bleeding heart, and brunnera, which thrive in shady sites and can highlight the birch trees' fantastic peeling bark. Small clumping ornamental grasses give a modern feel to a garden bed and look spectacular when planted in large drifts of five plants or more. 


Photo by K M, unmodified, Flickr, copyright CC BY 2.0 DEED

Annuals To Plant With Birch Trees

Flowering annuals work well as a groundcover under birches and can be changed from year to year. The shallow roots of annual plants do not compete for nutrients or moisture in the soil and will grow well amongst tree roots. In a formal white and green border, white nicotiana looks spectacular against the silver bark of a birch tree. Violas and pansies bring early color at the base of birch trees. Make sure to mulch the planting with organic compost to help the annuals establish. 


Photo by K M, unmodified, Flickr, copyright CC BY 2.0 DEED

Best Companion Plants For Birch Trees in Containers

Birch trees are not often grown long-term in containers due to their size at maturity, although dwarf varieties like Cesky Gold® Dwarf Birch are good candidates for containers. The root system of the birch will require a lot of volume and pairs best with shallow-rooted annuals for seasonal color. For a modern look, consider annual euphorbia and millet grasses, which combine elegantly with the upright growth of a birch tree. You can also grow birch in its own pot and position it near other potted woodland plants for a naturalistic container garden. 

Plants Not To Grow With Birch Trees

Birch trees are not good companions for plants that thrive in desert or xeric conditions. Overly dry soils fit for succulents will require frequent irrigation for birch trees to survive. Cacti, succulents, and drought-resistant grasses will struggle in the damp-to-boggy conditions that most birch trees prefer. 

Best Plants To Grow With Birch Trees

Plant birches with herbaceous plants and shrubs that are at home in slightly shaded woodland conditions that may experience seasonal flooding. Shrubs that have long blooming periods like hydrangea, viburnum, and spirea add lots of color and texture to a birch understory planting. Dogwoods with fiery-colored naked branches in the winter make a bold statement next to a birch colony and maintain interest even when the rest of the garden is asleep.