Roger Cook advises a homeowner on how to keep birch trees upright during winter
An awful ice storm left our clump of paper birch trees bowing over in different directions. Is there anything we can do to salvage them, or are they a loss?— Kelly Boisvert, Templeton, Mass.
Young paper birch trees (Betula papyrifera, or white birch) have an almost bamboo-like flexibility that allows them to survive high winds and ice storms without snapping. It's a characteristic that Robert Frost celebrated in his poem "Birches," where he marveled at how these trees gently bent to the ground when he climbed them as a boy.
Unfortunately, you can't count on a birch to naturally spring back upright after it's loaded with ice. As Frost noted, "once they are bowed/So low for long, they never right themselves…"
But your trees are not necessarily a loss. If you can rope together the upper half or so of the trunks in your clump, you should be able to pull the trees out of their "bough-down" posture. Make loose loops around each trunk and use a short length of garden hose to keep the rope from rubbing over the bark as you pull it tight. Remove the guylines in the spring when the danger of snow and ice storms is past and the trunks resume growing again.
You can stop your birches from sagging next winter by tying the trunks together in the fall, following the same precautions. One little trick: White ropes and black hose will blend in nicely with the birches' bark.
— This Old House Landscape Contractor Roger Cook