Our house is strangely sited on our half acre lot right up against the building line on the east, leaving the west side with a big open patch of yard, lots of yard. All on one side of the house.
Not knowing what to do with all that open lawn on the side, we opted for some trees to start with, and planted three paper birches in a rough triangle to fill the space. Later a garden was added in the middle, and other landscaping, but the three birches, with their glowing white bark that can be seen from down the street, remain the focal point of our home.
To keep them healthy, we spray for borers each year; to keep them from wilting and sulking I water them when there isn't enough rain. Neither practice is very eco friendly.
And to keep them neater, I prune them. Here's one after her haircut:
They grow criss-crossing branches, they grow way too many branches, and they get wildly shrubby, so the canopy always needs to be thinned out. They need to be limbed up to show off their best feature, the peeling white bark, which sheds. I find little strips of white parchment in my garden beds, as if the fairies who live there were tossing away sheets of paper as they write their notes.
Cut branches and logs make nice decorations; they keep their bark color and can be used for garden features.
Fall color is supposed to be a showy clear yellow, but the past several summers have been very wet, and they got a leaf spot fungus that defoliated them by Labor Day. We're probably too warm and humid here in the summers for paper birches to do really well. They thrive in zones 2 and 3.
They are far from trouble-free trees for me, and probably not the best choice for our landscape, but they are striking and they do define our home in the neighborhood. "That's Jim and Laurrie's house, the one with the three birches."
And besides, if I ever need to evacuate during a flood, we can make a canoe.
In MoBot's database
In University of Connecticut's plant files