Flowering time (month)
Ornamental or utility value
bird protection hedges
alkaline to slightly acidic
moderately nutritious to nutritious
The red beech (Fagus sylvatica) from the beech family (Fagaceae), colloquially called beech for short, is native everywhere in Europe, where the climate is predominantly humid and cool. As the most common deciduous tree in this country, it shapes the image of the forests. They can be found from the lowlands to the Alps (up to altitudes of 1,600 metres). The copper beech is one of the few deciduous trees that can reach a stately age of up to 300 years.
If the deciduous copper beech is given enough space, it will grow relatively quickly with an increase of 40 to 50 centimeters per year. Within 100 to 150 years it becomes a mighty tree up to 30 meters high, whose crown is almost as wide as it is high. Freestanding specimens even reach a crown diameter of up to 25 metres with their horizontal branches. The young branches are grey-brown, with age the deciduous tree carries a shiny smooth silver-grey bark. The “red” in the name does not refer to the autumn colouring, but to the slightly reddish colouring of the wood. Red-leaved varieties of copper beech are known as copper beeches.
The oval to egg-shaped leaves, seven to ten centimeters in size, have a slightly wavy edge, some of which is slightly notched or toothed. In spring, the young leaves of the copper beech bear a fresh spring green and silky hairs. In summer the upper side of the leaves turns shiny dark green, on the underside they are light green and hairy. In autumn, the colour of the spreading changes from pale yellow to orange-red to reddish brown. Where a beech tree feels at home, the dried leaves remain on the branches until new shoots, a fact that makes them even more attractive as opaque hedges.
The red beech flowers only from an age of 30 to 50 years. It is a monoecious tree, which means that the male and female flowers sit together on a tree. The flower buds look light brown, narrow and pointed. They are surrounded by bracts that overlap like scales. The flowers grow with the leaves from April to May. They stand together in inflorescences. The tufts of the male flowers are three to five centimeters long and hang down, from the upright female flowers three pink-coloured scars protrude in each case.
The red beech owes its great popularity to its fruits, the beechnuts. These are two prickly fruit cups with nuts. However, consumption is not advisable. The slightly oval-shaped fruits contain Fagin, an irritant poison, as well as small amounts of oxalic acid. A handful can cause nausea. Beechnuts are not as toxic to animals as they are to humans. They are used, among other things, by squirrels as winter supplies.
The red beech is uncomplicated. It gets along well on sunny as well as on shady places and is very hardy. It does not tolerate only extreme dry periods and permanent waterlogging. In addition, it reacts violently to earth fills in the root area. Even an increase in the ground level by ten centimeters can cause the beech to die in the medium term.
Although the copper beech prefers fresh to moist, nutrient-rich alkaline soils with a clay content, it also grows well on weakly acidic and inferior soils.
If you want to plant beech trees, you can choose between seedlings, heister and stem bushes in the tree nurseries. The first two are usually offered bare-rooted and must be planted or watered quickly after purchase – otherwise they dry out. Seedlings are once transplanted, little branched young plants. They are often sold in bundles and very cheaply. For a little more money, there are two to three times transplanted heister, which are already richer branched. For beech hedges that need to be opaque quickly, it is a good idea to plant heister hedges that are 80 to 100 centimeters high and have been transplanted twice. It is sufficient to plant about three to four plants per running metre. For beech trees that are to serve as solitary trees in the garden as eye-catchers, it is worth picking up trunk bushes with bales or container plants.
Autumn is the best time to plant bare-root goods.Although the trees have stopped growing above ground, root growth is still active at soil temperatures of seven to eight degrees Celsius. In addition, damp autumn weather is good for the offspring. This way rain closes the cavities in the soil and the roots get a good contact to the soil, which in turn guarantees water and nutrient uptake. The planting hole or ditch should always be so wide and deep that the bare roots do not touch the soil all around. A loosened ground facilitates the growth. Dead and broken roots are cut off before planting. In addition, roots with a diameter of more than one centimeter should be slightly shortened. The fine fibre roots remain as they are. Insert the roots of the beech so that they are completely below the edge of the planting hole. If you wish, you can mix a third of the compost into the excavated soil before filling up the hole again. Theoretically, beech trees in containers or with bales can be planted all year round – as long as the soil is frost-free. But it is advisable to plant them in spring or autumn. Because the mild temperatures and the precipitation promote a good start. Important: First ram a stable support post into the generously dimensioned planting hole and then insert the tree. In the case of bale goods, the knot must be detached from the cloth or cut open. Then fill the excavated soil into the planting hole, step firmly and fasten the support post to the trunk with a rope. Water well and water the tree abundantly in the first year when it is dry.
The beech needs no special care. It is good for young trees and hedges to be given a basic fertilisation with horn shavings in spring. In very dry years it is advisable to water beech trees by hand in the garden.
If you want a beech hedge to look perfectly beautiful, you can cut it twice a year: In February and June, after the young birds have left the nests. The hedge is trimmed to the desired height and width in the middle to end of February. Later, in the summer, the new growth is cut by three quarters, young hedges by half. To ensure that the branches get enough light in the lower part and remain dense and green, the beech hedge is cut into a slender trapezium shape so that it becomes narrower towards the top. If possible, cut the leaves in cloudy weather so that the freshly exposed leaves do not get sunburned.
Anyone who wants to shape an old beech hedge, which has become very wide, is welcome to rejuvenate it due to its high regenerative capacity. Therefore, in the early spring of the first year, one cuts back all side branches with a pruning shear or a tree saw on the upper side and on one flank so far that only stumps remain at which branches branch laterally. In the second year it’s the other flank’s turn. The advantage of a gradual rejuvenation is that the trees have enough leaves to better cope with radical pruning.
In gardens, it is mainly varieties with sweeping crowns that attract attention – especially where there is enough space for them. Beech trees also shine as formal hedges with attractive leaves that protect against noise and unwanted glances. Not to forget that many animals find shelter and nesting places between the branches of the copper beech. In the economy, red beech wood is mainly used in the furniture industry, because the trees form thick trunks, which only set branches high up.
In individual positions, the following varieties are particularly effective: Hanging beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Pendula’): growth height 15 to 20 metres; medium-sized tree with a crown diameter of 15 to 20 metres; trunk continuous up to the top; horizontal, obliquely hanging or arched main branches; branches cascade down to the ground; more broad than tall with age; grows slowly to medium strong; further characteristics and care as with the species.Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck’: 15 to 25 metres tall; medium-sized columnar tree with a crown three to six metres wide; grows columnar; trunk forks into several main branches; other characteristics and care as for the species.
Hanging hornbeam (Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea pendula’): three to seven metres small tree with a 2.5 to 5 metre narrow, uniform crown; trunk does not form a central shoot; almost vertical, arched branches that hang down to the ground; leaves deep red when they shoot out, later black red, brown red in autumn.Suentelbuche (Fagus sylvatica ‘Suentelensis’, Tortuosa Purpurea): at 15 metres a medium-high tree with a 25 metre wide umbrella-like crown; trunk twisted, bizarrely shaped; branches twisted into each other and partly growing together; leaves green, bronze red to black, brownish to yellow in autumn. If you want to plant copper beeches as a hedge in your garden, we recommend the copper beech Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea’, the leaves of which glow wonderfully red when budding. The copper beech Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea latifolia’ (grafted) grows somewhat weaker and has deep red leaves which later turn blackish brown and appear yellowish brown in autumn.
Beech trees are grown in nurseries from seeds, but many varieties are also grafted on a rootstock of Fagus sylvatica.
Diseases and pests
With the exception of beech aphid (Phyllaphis fagi), beech is rarely affected by pests and diseases. As a rule, trees and hedges survive the attack of sucking insects well and do not need to be treated.
Beech trees in the our store-Shop
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.