Here’s Why Birch Trees Are So Messy (Yard Cleaning Tips)

Birch trees scattered with orange hue background

Birch trees are a very popular choice for landowners, especially since they make great ornamental trees. They can be quite messy, though, thanks to several natural traits that lead to some sticky situations. No worries, though, there are many solutions to keep your yard clean in the wake of a birch tree!

Birch trees produce large amounts of sap, which attract insects that produce honeydew. This honeydew attracts insects such as ants, wasps, and sugar loving insects to your yard. Birch trees also shed their bark extremely easily, leaving bark scattered on the ground near the tree.

To understand more about birch trees, we’ll first explain what type of tree it is before we dive into the ways that the tree creates a mess. Next, we’ll discuss how to provide general care to keep it healthy and how you can quickly clean your yard. So, let’s get into it!

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What Exactly Is A Birch Tree?

A birch tree is a hardwood tree, and a deciduous one, which means that it loses its leaves during the months of the year that get colder. Not to worry, it blooms again in the spring before cycling back through the process again the next year!

Enough of what a birch tree is, though, let’s get into the real topic of this piece- the messiness of birch trees.

Why The Heck Are Birch Trees So Messy?

In case you weren’t yet sure, or are thinking of getting a birch tree and landed here, we can confirm that birch trees are, in fact, quite messy. 

How so, you may ask? 

Well above all else, these trees can get sticky.

Birch Trees Produce SO MUCH SAP

According to the University of Vermont, birches, river birches, in particular, are ‘bleeders’ meaning that they release large amounts of sap. 

Open wounds on the tree can lead to a heavy flow of this sap that can cause some secondary concerns such as attracting bugs and making it messy to clean up.

Birch trees’ continuous seeping of the sap creates a sticky situation that landowners may come to see as quite a pain.

The sap and its mess are not the only concerns though. The sticky substance that comes from birch trees does more than create surface-level messes for you to deal with. It also attracts bugs that cause a whole new set of worries.

Something super cool – you can actually harvest birch tree sap for syrup!

Birch Tree Sap Attracts Bugs And Insects

Speaking of bugs and sap, the cycle of attraction can become neverending rather quickly. 

Aphids are insects that like to suck on sap from trees. Well, not only does this sap attract aphids, but those aphids actually produce a secretion of their own, too. 

Known as honeydew, this secretion can cause decay and even types of mold if left to sit on a tree for too long. 

So, aside from sticky scenarios, is there anything else that causes substantial mess when it comes to birch trees?

Yes, in fact, there is!

Birch Trees Shed An Incredible Amount Of Bark

Not only are there concerns regarding stickiness and insects, but also of bark shedding in your yard. Even the trunk itself seems to shed its bark. 

Why is this?

While young branches appear to be very smooth with a thin layer of bark intact, older branches and the trunk begin to appear quite weathered. The bark will shrivel and peel until it falls off, is knocked off by animals, or is blown off by the wind. 

Are the extremities of birch trees weak, or is this just the nature of the tree?

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this is not because twigs and branches are brittle, but actually, it’s just the opposite.

The branches are not prone to wind or ice damage because of their strength, so die-back occurs in the outermost parts of the tree, the bark.

These die-back areas will shrivel and peel easily, creating a mess in the space beneath. 

Now, you combine this with readily-flowing sap and some bugs that also produce a sticky secretion, and you’ve got a real mess on your hands. While the bark peels off on its own, you should never try peel it off, you can learn more about why you shouldn’t peel birch tree bark in our in-depth piece.

Before we get into how to clean up your yard and maintain a space that feels in your control, let’s briefly talk about what to know when it’s time to grow!

Things To Consider When Planting Birch Trees To Limit The Mess

Pathway in autumn fog birch forest

There are a few things to consider when growing a strong, healthy birch tree.

We won’t waste any time getting into it here, though, so follow along!

Think About Soil

Birch trees do well in damp soil, but can also thrive in soil that is drier as long as enough water gets through to it, at the end of the day.

The real factor to consider when thinking about soil is the nutrients that it may be able to provide your tree.

Where To Plant

If you are just getting started, it’s important to know that birch trees thrive when they get as much sunlight as possible on their canopy.

Shade from a building may not end the tree, but it certainly won’t be doing it any favors.

If you can help it, ensure that your birch tree gets at least 6 hours of full sunlight a day to keep growing successfully.

Check out our guide for the best places to plant a birch tree if you’d like to learn more.

Keeping Weeds Away

Now, this may seem simple, but you’d be surprised by how many people overlook this easy step. 

Weeds suck the nutrients, water, and other essentials from being given to your tree, and can quickly wreak havoc. Instead of spraying down a product, I highly recommend that you pick weeds out by hand – just make sure to get all the roots!

Keeping weeds away is a great bridge between keeping your tree healthy and your yard maintained.

On that note, though, let’s talk about how to avoid the mess now that you’re keeping your tree healthy and stable!

How To Keep Your Yard Clean With An Established Birch Tree

Countryside autumn birch forest with fields on background

There are a few things that you can do to decrease the level of mess that your birch tree creates. 

You don’t have to work super hard to avoid a catastrophic yard. In fact, we want to give you some of our simplest solutions so that you can go about your days knowing that things are taken care of.

Wash Your Tree To Limit Sap Build Up

Back up… wash a tree?

Yes, you read that right!

Birch trees, and other species, can be washed to get some of that sticky sap removed. 

This is a great preventative method when it comes to keeping insects and animals away and keeping your tree from getting so stuck in sap that it begins to decay. 

All around it’s a win-win. 

So, how should you go about this?

Great question!

According to the US Forest Service, the honeydew secreted by aphids is neither easily nor permanently removed, but there is a solution.

You can use a soft sponge, loofah, or other gentle-bristled cleaning supplies to apply a small amount of a soap-and-water mixture to the tree where there is an excessive amount of sap or secretion. 

This is not something you’ll need to do regularly, but in order to maintain appearances and give your tree some special attention, this can be quite beneficial.

Keep Bugs Away From Your Birch

If aphids, or other insects attracted to your birch’s sap, are causing you issues, another solution is to use an insecticide to minimize the issue. 

Realistically, bugs will always be drawn to the sap – so I’m using this point to reiterate to clean the sap! Just don’t scrub too hard. Cleaning the sap will help keeps bugs away from your birch tree and yard altogether.

So, what is the final step we can take to keep a clean yard?

Rake Up The Shedding Birch Tree Bark

As the bark-shedding is a natural occurrence for birch trees, you’ll likely need to either rake the fallen branch bits or leave them on the soil.

Eventually, this organic tree matter will decompose and help nourish your tree once again.

However, we know that the appearance of shriveled bark laying around is not always the most sightly yard decor. So, if you’re looking to rake the bark away, try using a 63” Garden Leaf Rake for a quick and easy clean-up that won’t damage the soil or your tree.

Thanks For Sticking Around!

White birch trees forest background, spring.

Get it? Because of the sap…and the honeydew?

Thanks for hanging out and learning about why birch trees are so messy and what you can do to keep your yard looking fresh and ready for anything!

May your birch tree produce no more than the usual amounts of sap, and may your tree journey continue developing as you learn and grow along with your trees.

See you next time, friends!

References

Cliff, E. P. (1969). Our birch resources. In Birch symposium proceedings (pp. 19-27).

REY, A., & JARVIS, P. G. (1997). Growth Response of Young Birch Trees (Betula pendulaRoth.) After Four and a Half Years of CO2Exposure. Annals of Botany, 80(6), 809-816.

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