i want to purchase a white burch but have read that it is more of a cold climate tree.
anyone successfully growing this in the richmond area?
I've tried all the way up in Northern Virginia (Leesburg) area without success. Having grown up in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, paper white birch is my absolute favorite tree.
If you attempt it anyway, I'd suggest shade and the coolest micro climate you can come up with... a low spot, away from pavement, near water, look for any cultural relief from heat and humidity your property offers.
You will have better luck growing swamp or river birch which looks similar, but can take the heat and beetles of Virginia. I have never seen a paper birch suffer through more than about 5 seasons before dying. I've had better luck growing palm trees in Northern Virginia like Sabal Minor, Needle Palms and Windmill Palms than the white paper birch. A cool micro climate will help get more years out of it, but it will eventually die in my experience.
According to Andre and Mark Viette (Mid-Atlantic Gardener's Guide, p 197), you can probably grow the Whitespire birch. Here is how the Viette's describe the tree:
"One of the most beautiful resistant birches is a single trunk cultivar, the Japanese white birch, B. platyphylla var. japonica 'Whitespire,' introduced by John L Creech, late director of the National Arboretum. It has chalk-white bark enhanced by contrasting triangles of blank at the base of the branches. The bark doesn't peel off and the structure of the tree is very appealing."
If you cannot find it or decide against it, you could try Heritage river birch (B. nigra 'Heritage') - it has striking colored peeling bark.
Here is a link that might be useful: Whitespire Birch
My previous home in Northern Virginia had a European Birch (Betula pendula) growing as a specimen in a lawn in full day sun. It looked a bit rough the first summer we moved in (2000) and even worse the next year. I eventually figured out that it was leaf miners that were eating the leaves. Mulching around the base of the tree, trimming out dead wood, watering during dry weather and applying "Bayer Advanced Tree & Shrub Insect Control" in the fall has helped significantly. It is a pretty tree but way too high maintenance here in Virginia.
Try River Birch 'Heritage' as a multi-trunk (3 trunks) form...the bark isn't pure white, in fact it is for the most part, white (cream) and tan. The neat thing about it is that it is hardy and fairly disease resistant and the bark exfoliates with age which makes an attractive presentation all year long.
I second the treatise on the paper birch in all but the high mountains in Virginia....it is too dang hot for too long here for them to have long term survival. River Birch is a better southern alternative.
you need a killing zone 4 winter for any success. Even here in S Mi they struggle with birch leaf borer and miner.
Most live around 5 years without spraying
I give mine TLC with a strong root systemic injection every early spring and it works. They look great