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How To Grow: Beech
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Grown mostly for its tall stature, colorful leaves, attractive bark and bronze or yellow fall foliage color.
Mature Height x Spread
50 to 70 feet x 100 feet. There are dwarf and weeping forms as that grow much smaller.
native, attracts beneficials, fall color, drought tolerant, deer resistant
The beech tree is a staple in New England forests. Its large spread, attractive light gray, smooth bark and brilliant fall foliage color makes it an excellent woodland or specimen tree. The branches of mature beech trees can ground downward, touching the ground creating an amazing sight of foliage from ground to sky. I’ve seen some great examples of these around the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island. There is more variety in beech trees than you would think. Some varieties have attractive purple leaves and some have weeping forms that fit nicely in a garden or small space yard. Some beech can also be trimmed severely into a hedge for in a formal garden. The beech nuts are prized food for bears and squirrels.
When, Where and How to Plant
Beech trees are hardy throughout New England. Purchase trees from a local nursery. Plant from spring to early fall in well-drained, slightly acidic, moist soil. Beech trees don’t grow well on wet sites. They also have shallow roots, so plant where mowers and other vehicles won’t be driving over the root system. Space trees 40 to 50 feet apart.
Keep young trees well watered. Grass won’t grow well under mature trees due to their cascading growth habits. Since beech trees are shallow rooted, mulch around the trunks to prevent damage to the roots from lawn machinery. Spread compost around newly planted trees. Older trees don’t need plant food.
Regional Advice and Care
Beech trees have few major pest problems. Fruit drop can be a litter problem near formal gardens. Beech trees can sucker freely sending up new trees and become overcrowded. Prune in early summer to clear out these trees as needed.
Companion Planting and Design
Beech trees make amazing specimen trees in yards and great forest trees. Dwarf and weeping versions fit well in gardens planted with perennials and small shrubs. Plant purple leaved weeping beech trees as a backdrop to more brightly colored, large shrubs such as lilac and weigela. Because the of the natural cascading branch habit, beech trees create a sheltered area around the trunk that becomes a secret location for kids and adults. Some formal gardeners will trim beeches heavily to create a formal hedge.
‘Riversii’ Rohanii’ and Spaethiana’ are common varieties of the classic American beech (F. grandifolia) or copper beech. They have deep purple colored leaves and the tree grows 50 feet tall. ‘Dawyck’ is a tall, narrow tree that comes in yellow or purple leaf forms. ‘Pendula’ is a common cascading beech with branches that grow downward quickly after extending outward. There are purple and yellow leaved versions. ‘Tricolor’ has white, pink and green variegated leaves and only grows 30 feet tall. ‘Tortuosa’ only grows 15 feet tall with contorted branches and trunk. ‘Asplenifolia’ has fern-like leaves with yellow fall color.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.