Answer: I think the problem deserves more investigating. If limbs and branches are dying and breaking off, it could indicate a serious disease - perhaps a problem with the roots. Birches are subject to root rot, from soggy soils. Or, maybe your tree is suffering from drought stress (not enough water). I think your best course of action would be to take a sample to your local Cooperative Extension office. Be prepared to explain the size of the tree, any leaf drop or other symptoms you noticed last summer, what your regular watering and fertilizing schedule is, and whether or not herbicides have been used in the immediate area. All of these clues will help the extension agent determine the cause of your tree's decline. Contact UC Davis at (916) 875-6913.
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