How to trim a silver birch tree

Pruning Silver Birch and River Birch【How and when to prune】

01 Oct, 2019 Garden 0


Birch is a deciduous tree that reaches between 10 and 30 meters high, it is generally grown as an ornamental species for parks and gardens. On this occasion we will not dedicate the article to talk in general about birch tree, but we will focus on specifically covering two of the most popular varieties, the River Birch and the Silver Birch. Although these two varidedades have several direfencias the treatment on their pruning is practically the same. That is why in this post we will dedicate ourselves to making everything clear about the pruning of Silver Birch and River Birch. We will also take the time to give advice on how to prune one of these birches near home.


If you read to the end you will learn the best techniques for proper pruning, the right time to trim and the tools to do it. The article has no waste, I assure you. 😉

Note: Please note that the advice given here is general, this blog is consulted from many countries in the world, with totally different characteristics, what not all tips will be adapted in the same way in all cases. Once you finish reading the article it will be necessary to analyze all the information and apply what you have learned in the best way. If you have any questions, remember that you can contact us to make your inquiries.

Table of Contents

1. General Characteristics


You may have a birch tree at home and you are not sure if this is a River Birch, a Silver Birch or some other type of birch. To make sure you recognize if yours is one of the two types of birches that we will talk about in this post, we will see the general characteristics of each one.

1.1 Silver Birch tree

The mature silver birches can reach 30 m in height, forming a light canopy with elegant and fallen branches. The white bark throws layers like tissue paper and becomes black and rough at the base. As the trees mature, the bark develops dark diamond-shaped fissures. The twigs are smooth and have small dark warts.

Silver birch tree

Its leaves are light green, small and triangular in shape with a jagged edge, which fade to yellow in autumn. The flowers of the silver birch are monoecious, which means that the male and female flowers are found in the same tree. The male catkins are long and yellow-brown in color, and hang in groups of two to four on the tips of the shoots, such as lamb tails. Female catkins are smaller, shorter, bright green and erect.

Its most distinctive feature is the white bark, rough branches to the touch and triangular shaped leaves. Be careful not to get confused with the downy birch (Betula pubescens). The new buds on the silver birch are hairy and hairless, while the downy ones are smooth and covered with soft hairs.

Tolerates a wide range of temperatures, so it grows as far south as Spain and as far north as Lapland. It thrives in dry forests, hills and moors.

1.2 River Birch tree

As the name implies, this birch grows naturally along the banks. But as a landscape tree, it can be planted almost anywhere in the US. UU. The species is valued for its relatively rapid growth, moisture tolerance and some drought, single curly bark, extended branches and relative resistance to birch borer.

It has bright green leaves 2–3 “long and somewhat triangular. The margins have double teeth and the leaves are arranged alternately. It produces brown and green catkins in April and May. Then it generates a large number of small nuts after Female catkins ripen, usually in May and June.Its ripe bark has a tan color that curls and peels.

It grows at a height of 40-70 ‘and an extension of 40-60’ at maturity, with a medium to fast pace, with height increases from 13 “to more than 24” per year.

River birch tree – Image source

River birch grows well in acidic, clayey, moist, sandy, well drained, moist and clayey soils. Tolerates moderate flooding and some droughts. The full sun and partial shade are the best for this tree, which means that you prefer a minimum of four hours of direct sunlight and no filter every day.

2. What tools to use for cutting back River and Silver Birch


Regardless of whether you have a silver birch or a river birch they will be the same tools that you will have to use to carry out your pruning. There are several tools available, you will have to choose between one or the other depending on several factors, the most important being the age (height) of the birch. Among the tools you can use are the following:

  • Hand Pruning Shears: Stems up to half inch in diameter can be pruned with hand shears.
  • Lopping Shears: It is suitable to use on stems between half inch and 2 inches in diameter.
  • Saws: A number of pruning saws are available. These saws come with either curved or straight blades and of variable lengths and points. Curved blades that cut on the draw stroke are easy to use.
  • Chainsaw: for the thickest branches the most recommended is the use of these saws with motor, in adult birches you will surely need them.
  • Ladder, crane, scaffolding: since once adults these trees become very tall, you will need some strength that allows you to rise to perform pruning in height. Against this we always recommend that whoever is going to perform pruning tasks at height be a professional in the field.
  • Elements of personal safety: any pruning task entails risks, and if it is also carried out at height the risks increase. Keep all the protection elements available (helmet, harness, gloves, glasses, etc.). And as we noted in the previous point, try not to take risks and hire a pruning professional for risky tasks like this.

Keep in mind that you must disinfect all the tools before pruning your birch. This will help prevent disease transmission, you will have to do it before you start pruning and every time you change plants.

2.1 Necessary care for pruning tools

If you want to extend the useful life of your pruning tools there are some basic care.

  • Use the right tool for a job and avoid twisting or straining it.
  • Clean and oil tools regularly by wiping an oily cloth on blades and other surfaces.
  • Keep cutting edges sharp by regularly using an oilstone.
  • Wooden handles should be varnished or regularly treated with linseed oil to keep them from cracking or splintering.

Carry out the previous care on a regular basis and you will be saving good money on tools. 🙂

3. Why prune any birch tree


Regardless of which birch varidead is concerned (kicked birch, river birch, white birch, himalayan birch., Etc. ) there are some reasons why pruning is necessary. We can summarize these reasons in the following:

  • Every dead or sick element in the birches interferes with its nominal growth, occupying space and resources. Therefore proper pruning encourages growth.
  • It is possible to avoid incidents with falling branches. In large plants such as birches, seeing a strong medium can cause the detachment and fall of branches.
  • As with any plant, pruning is often the best treatment against diseases and pests. On the other hand it also exposes some parts of the tree to sunlight, which helps minimize the incidence of the disease.
  • Improves the aesthetics of the tree. In birches located in gardens, pruning will always be necessary to improve the aesthetic appearance of the plant.
  • There is no doubt that the shade that a birch plant can give is excellent, a shadow that you cannot take advantage of if its surroundings are full of low branches. Eliminating these low branches will improve the use of your shadow.

4. Pruning Silver Brich and River Birch – How to prune


In both a silver birch and a river birch there are five types of pruning that can be carried out. The first is that which needs to be carried out from the plantation and during the first years in search of a correct formation of the structure, the other pruning will be necessary during adulthood.

  • Training.
  • Thinning.
  • Crown reduction.
  • Rising crown.
  • Cleaning crown.

We will develop below how these five types of pruning should be carried out.

4.1 Training

As we said, the formation prunings of both the river birch and the silver birch are necessary from the plantation, therefore we can conclude that the formation and planting prunings come hand in hand. So let’s talk a little about the planting of these birches.

The recommended age for planting is known as two sap (the first in nursery and the second already transplanted). At that age the seedling will be 70 to 100 cm high and a good radical system.

The ideal planting season is between November and March (northern hemisphere). The plant must be at a vegetative rest, without leaves. At that time it is convenient to carry out a conditioning by pruning of formation and elimination of branches, mainly, and cutting of the radical system.

Pruning birch formation, made in the first three years after planting, are indispensable. What should be done is to avoid double guidance, favoring the most vertical and best made so that the tree grows straight from the beginning. It is also necessary to eliminate the thickest branches seeking a balance in the arrangement of the branches in the plant.

4.2 Cronwn Thinning

This pruning that we titled as de thinning is the one we carry out when the crown of your river birch or silver birch is very dense. Very dense crowns have the problem that they do not let in the amount of light necessary for proper development.

When this happens I recommend that you take some time to analyze the birch crown, and define which branches you can eliminate to lower this density. Try to cut the weakest branches allowing stronger branches to sunbathe and develop even better. Try never to prune more than 20 percent of birch tree branches.

4.3 Crown reduction

In this pruning, what is sought is to reduce the height of an adult birch, cutting large branches from the top. It is not a very recommended pruning since it impacts negatively on the health of the plant.

Although it is not a recommended pruning, in plants such as silver birch and river birch that can reach great heights may become necessary. When are they necessary? On multiple occasions such as:

  • Birches located on public roads that disturb the power line.
  • When a storm has spoiled the plant leaving a large number of upper branches with danger of falling.

In case of carrying out a pruning like this, do not forget to place healing paste in the pruning cuts, since you will surely have cut branches of significant thickness.

4.4 Rising crown

When we talked about the reasons why pruning should be carried out we said that it is needed to improve the use of the birch shade. With this pruning known as the rising crown, what we will do will be to eliminate all the annoying lower branches, this will not only benefit the best use of the shadow, but also redirect the energy towards the upper branches, producing an rising crown.

4.5 Cleaning crown

This is the pruning that is carried out to eliminate diseased, damaged branches and branches that have developed in an undesired direction. By removing these leftover branches, it will expose the remaining branches to more air and sunlight and improve the structure and definition of the plant.

As I always say, before you start trimming, take some time to analyze the plant carefully, then you should eliminate the following:

Cut any branch that is growing in a direction that does not go hand in hand with the development you want to give your birch.

Cutting completely dry branches, it will help the aesthetics of the plant.

• If you find branches attacked by a pest or disease, it is time to cut it.

Once the pruning is finished, you should study what to do with the waste. If you have not cut diseased branches or attacked by pests, you can use them in your garden (for example, compost), otherwise, try to remove those wastes from the garden to avoid spreading diseases or pests to other plants.

5. When to prune River Brich and Silver Birch


Keep in mind that in the winter months, both silver birch and river birch lose their sap due to pruning wounds, so it is preferable to delay it until after buds sprout. Thus, the recommended time for pruning these birches is between the months of May and August (northern hemisphere).

If it is a pruning where only totally dead material is trimmed, you do not have the problem of losing sap, therefore you can carry out the trimming of dry branches at any time of the year. Something similar happens with diseased branches since you should not wait for an adequate time to cut them, but it is preferable to prune them just the detected ones to avoid a greater spread of the pest or disease.

6. Pruning silver and river birch trees near house


Plants of the characteristics of these varieties of birches, which can reach great heights, in principle are not recommended to be planted too close to a house. For safety reasons it is preferable to leave a certain distance to avoid the possible fall of branches on the roof. In this way, there are many people who choose to ignore this safety recommendation, either because of ignorance or because they want to have a good shadow near home. When this happens, doubt may arise; How should I prune my birch near home?

I wanted to keep a small section to talk about this for two reasons, the first one because it is a fairly consulted question, the second one because at home I have a tall tree nearby, that is, I have suffered this problem. And what did I do when I had to prune this plant near home? The answer is simple, look for a professional to carry out the task. When I say a professional, I don’t just say a person who knows how to prune a birch in these conditions, but also has all the necessary tools to carry out the task safely.

Therefore if you are not a professional (I deduce that if you are visiting this website you are not), do not perform a task as complex as pruning a tall birch that is close to your home.

So that you understand the complexity of the task I leave you a video with the pruning of a fairly tall tree that is near a house. I hope it helps you. 😉 (Video source The Homestead Craftsman channel) can’t be loaded because JavaScript is disabled: Removing a Large Tree Branch Over a House – DIY Version (

Well with this we are done with this article, I hope there are no doubts about how and when to prune your river birch or your silver birch. Otherwise do not hesitate to contact us. 🙂


How To Trim A Birch Tree? — Forest Wildlife

Birch trees are beautiful and often used for landscaping. How can you make sure your birch stays looking its best? Read on to learn more about how to trim a birch tree and what time of year is best for pruning.

What You'll Learn Today

  • Can I Prune a Birch Tree?
  • Can I Reduce the Height of a Birch Tree?
  • How Do You Shape a Birch Tree?
  • In What Month Do You Prune Birch Trees?
  • Conclusion

Can I Prune a Birch Tree?

Like any other tree, birch trees can be pruned. In fact, sometimes it’s even best for their health to cut away dead, diseased, or improperly growing branches.

That said, you have to be very careful when pruning birch trees. They are very sensitive trees, and trimming away too much or doing it wrong can cause more harm than good. 

When pruning birch trees, only trim away dead, diseased, or damaged branches. Make note of the branches that need to go, then trim them away during the late spring through early fall.

Do not perform routine trimming during the tree’s dormant season because this may cause it to leak sap. Even if the tree isn’t actively sapping on the day you trim, sap may begin to flow before the pruning wounds have healed, causing the tree to leak.

If at all possible, avoid pruning a birch tree during the few weeks when sap is flowing.

If the tree sustains a broken branch that is posing some hazard to your home, pets, or family, then it needs to be removed immediately even during sap season. Just keep in mind that you will need to water the tree daily for the next few weeks to make up for sap loss.

Can I Reduce the Height of a Birch Tree?

Many homeowners plant birch trees for aesthetic purposes, not realizing how large the trees can get. If you have a birch tree that’s outgrowing its location, you may be wondering if it’s okay to cut away the top growth, making the tree shorter and perhaps less dense.

This practice is called topping. While it is technically possible to top a birch tree, doing so isn’t the best idea.

Topping a tree both weakens it and stunts its growth. What’s more, cutting away large sections of the tree will produce large, open wounds in the main branches, leaving the tree open to rot and pests. 

Aside from being hard on the tree, topping simply looks ugly. It makes the tree look “bald” at first, and the new growth will come in at odd angles

Plus, after a few years, the new branches, growing straight up, will make the tree nearly as tall as it was before topping. Repeated toppings to try to keep a tree at a certain height may kill it over time.

To avoid having to reduce your tree’s height, plan ahead before planting it. Know how large the tree may get and plant it in a spot where it won’t outgrow its bounds. 

You might also try planting two or three birch trees together, as they will have to compete for soil resources and may limit each other’s growth naturally.

If an existing tree is too large, it’s better to simply remove the tree than to top it or attempt to reduce its height.

How Do You Shape a Birch Tree?

Most birch tree species tend to shape themselves. They are very shapely trees to begin with, often producing a conical or triangular canopy without any help from a pruning saw.

If you want to give your birch a different shape than the one it develops naturally, it’s best to do so when it’s young, and to remove as few branches as possible.

Before doing any kind of pruning on your birch trees, it’s a good idea to watch a good tutorial video first. The one below is a great place to start: can’t be loaded because JavaScript is disabled: How to Prune (Not Kill) Trees and Shrubs (

When pruning and shaping your tree, it’s important to keep the following tips in mind:

  • Don’t cut the tips off branches you leave. This practice is called tipping, and it weakens individual branches by stunting their ability to produce new growth. Over time, these branches will weaken and die, as well as harm the overall health of the tree.
  • Stick to pruning branches 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Anything larger than this should be handled by a professional arborist.
  • Use a pruning saw. This type of saw is made specifically for pruning trees; it is small enough to fit in tight spaces and sharp enough to produce a clean cut.
  • Use the 3-cut method to make clean cuts that can heal properly. This method involves creating a small cut on the underside of the branch about 6 to 12 inches out to prevent the branch from tearing; sawing all the way through from the top an inch outside of the first cut; and finally removing the last 6 to 12 inches of the branch.

The 3-cut method is the best way to avoid damaging the tree and produce a clean cut that will heal well. The method is described and demonstrated in the tutorial video above.

  • Don’t cut into the branch/bark collar. This is the swollen area where the branch connects to the trunk. Cutting into this joint will make it harder for the tree to heal itself.
  • Don’t let the cut tear at the end. A clean cut is easier for the tree to repair than the jagged edges of torn wood. Slow down, don’t rush, and make sure the wood doesn’t tear under your saw.

In What Month Do You Prune Birch Trees?

Most trees are pruned during their dormant season, but that isn’t the case with birch trees. Since birch is a heavy sap producer, pruning during the dormant season can cause them to lose too much sap at once, weakening the tree.

Birch trees should be pruned in the late spring through early fall – after the new growth has been produced, but before the tree enters its dormant stage.

The best month to prune will depend on your specific region, but in general, birch trees should be pruned between May and August.


To trim a birch tree, it’s best to only remove the diseased or dead branches. If you want to shape your tree, make sure you do so while it’s young, and be careful to make clean cuts.

Avoid removing too many branches or branches that are too large, as this will weaken the tree. Finally, save your pruning for the spring and summer months to avoid causing your birch to bleed too much sap.

How to prune a birch

Birch belongs to the genus of deciduous trees and shrubs from the Birch family. Widely distributed in the Northern regions and throughout Russia. Today it is massively grown everywhere. Refers to valuable tree species. In nature, about one hundred and twenty species are represented.

Scope of application is quite diverse. Its bark and wood are used in the timber industry. Birch has a number of healing properties. Infusions and decoctions of buds and leaves are used as a good diuretic, bactericidal, wound healing and antipyretic agent. An oil extract is made from birch buds, which is used for dermatological purposes. And birch sap, in addition to medicinal properties, also has valuable taste qualities.

Hanging birch

The wood is also actively used to create beautiful garden decor. Today, quite often you can find whole birch groves, parks and roadside massifs, so carefully planted by man.

Among the most common species, the common birch is noted first of all. It is planted in city groves and parks, decorate roadsides, but it is rarely seen in the garden. This is primarily due to the peculiarities of its structure and high growth. This species has a well-branched surface root system, thanks to which the tree feeds. But, in this way, the roots take almost all the moisture and nutrients from the soil, so other garden plants do not grow nearby if you do not properly care for the tree. If it is watered and fed in a timely manner, then common birch can be planted in a summer cottage.

Today, thanks to the fruitful work of breeders, a number of undersized species and dwarf varieties have been bred. Which perfectly fit into the design of any garden plots, regardless of its size, and are served not only for sanitary pruning, but also for crown formation.

Birch, regardless of species and variety, is a rather undemanding plant. Thanks to its beautiful external data, it looks great in the garden. Moreover, today there is a wide variety in the choice of decorative forms. But in order for the tree to develop safely, to fully realize its decorative qualities, you still have to take a little care of it. One of the important points in the care of a birch is its pruning. We will pay special attention to this issue. After all, the health of the birch and its appearance depend on when and how it is carried out.

You need to cut a birch based on what goals you are pursuing. First of all, it can be:

  • crown formation;
  • sanitary pruning;
  • reduction in the size of the crown or individual branches of birch.

Based on this, it is determined when it is better to perform these manipulations and how to do it.

General recommendations, no matter what the purpose of pruning a tree is:

  • use clean and disinfected garden tools;
  • you can remove no more than twenty-five percent of the crown, otherwise the tree is harmed.

Sanitary removal of branches or their parts is primarily due to the fact that the part breaks due to strong winds or human activity, or they pose a threat to power lines, buildings and structures, and other communications. In such cases, interfering parts of the tree are removed. This can be like a partial pruning, when only the top is cut off or shortening the branches in a circle.

Crown shaping is an activity aimed at creating a decorative shape of a birch.

Booking is best done in the summer, because at other times of the year cut birch branches sap a lot, which can cause them to dry out.

Most often the top of a birch is trimmed due to the fact that the height of the tree is incommensurable with the thickness of the trunk. This happens when several trees grow at once in a relatively small area. Between which there is a struggle for a place "under the sun", the tops stretch upwards, while the thickness of the trunk does not have time to grow.

Often in the spring, a lot of young growth appears on the cut areas, which must be removed regularly.

Sanitary pruning is carried out in order to timely remove dry and damaged branches. Since they not only spoil the appearance, but can also cause harm by falling on people, damaging buildings or vehicles (of course, we are talking about rather massive and heavy branches).

Branches infected with horticultural diseases should also be pruned. In this case, it is recommended to completely remove and burn them so that the disease does not spread to healthy areas of the birch.

After the branches have been removed, the saw cut should be sanded with a knife to speed up the healing of the wound. Our grandfathers treated wounds with paint, today professional gardeners categorically forbid this, since such activities can lead to rot in the damaged area. In order to disinfect the wound, it can be treated with a solution of copper sulfate.

Trimming the crown of a birch for decorative purposes, if carried out correctly, also contributes to the rejuvenation of the tree. With the help of such actions, you can achieve the following results:

  • birch crown acquires a more well-groomed and decorative appearance, which fits perfectly into the overall exterior of the garden plot;
  • removal of old and damaged shoots, promotes the formation of young ones;
  • reduces the size of the birch crown, which allows you to increase the area of ​​​​illumination of the garden plot.

Birch pruning for rejuvenation is carried out from mid-autumn to mid-spring. It is necessary to have time to do these manipulations before active sap flow begins. This procedure should be carried out annually, within two or three years. The length of the pruned branches depends on the age of the tree. The older it is, the lower the percentage of shoots that should be cut.

Tree growth is easily controlled by pruning. This is done in the following way. Around the second year of life, you need to cut off the top of the tree. This method allows you to stop the growth of a birch in height and make its crown more lush and dense. This manipulation should be performed in the summer, when juice secretion slows down or in mid-October.

Decorative pruning of adult birches, which garden designers have been practicing lately, is of course somewhat cruel in relation to the tree, but the result is really interesting shapes. You can often find a birch tree that looks like a fancy palm tree. This is what the gardeners did. Of course, this method requires completely removing the top of the tree and all its branches at a distance of ten centimeters from thick trunks. Now you need to wait, in a couple of years, the birch will form many young shoots in place of the old log cabins. Not all trees can endure such a shock procedure, some die. And the stronger ones recover within a few years.

It should be noted that the birch is rather painfully endures the loss of part of its shoots. This manipulation should be carried out only with special need, as well as taking into account the structural features and development of the tree.

It would be better, of course, to entrust this work to people who specialize in this area and have sufficient knowledge and practical experience. Skillful actions of professionals will not only help to create a beautiful decorative shape of the birch crown, but will also significantly reduce the risk of tree death after cardinal pruning methods.

Birch pruning

Birch pruning is a procedure that is just as necessary for a plant as loosening the soil. If done correctly, the tree will look neat, harmoniously complementing the landscape design of the site. Birch will not hurt and shade a large area, and in addition, it will consume less moisture than a tall adult plant.

Birch is an adornment of the Central Russian landscape. Its white trunk contrasts with the rich green of the foliage and looks like a marble column. This tree looks great in classic French style and in modern, in Provence and even in Japanese minimalist design. By pruning birch, it is possible to achieve that the tree has a compact appearance, without creating problems with shading and without taking up a large area.

When to prune birch crowns

This tree has one feature, for which Russians especially love it. In the spring, sap flows through the vessels of the birch. Moreover, unlike other trees, except for maple, a large amount of absorbed moisture contributes to the fact that even with a small cut in the bark, the juice begins to flow out. And for this reason, pruning a birch in the spring can lead to the death of the plant. If it became necessary to carry out crowning at the beginning of the summer season, then it is advisable to do this in the last decade of May or early June, when the abundant sap flow has already stopped.

The best time for birch pruning is autumn. At this time, before persistent frosts, it is best to remove old dry and diseased branches. Autumn pruning is also recommended for the aesthetic design of the crown, in which the birch is given the necessary shape by shortening the branches that have grown strongly over the summer.

Sometimes, if the tree sails heavily in the wind and there is a risk that it may fall under the influence of wind and wet snow, it is recommended to shorten the upper part as well. Pruning of the birch top is carried out before the onset of severe frosts, at temperatures above -5 ° C. Otherwise, the cut may freeze, which will lead to the reproduction of harmful microorganisms and insects in the affected part. Top pruning is also done in case of a high risk of birch damage to high-voltage transmission lines, the formation of a dense shadow that interferes with the growth of other plants on the site.

How birch is pruned

The top of the tree is cut off in the second year of life. Due to this, the growth of the tree slows down and the formation of lateral branches is activated. The removal of the top, that is, the topiary pruning of birches, is carried out in mid-October or in summer, when the movement of sap slows down. Anti-aging crowning is rarely used for birch, since this plant is very negative about the loss of most of the shoots.

For trimming, a number of rules must be observed:

  • use only clean and very sharp tools
  • it is impossible to combine the sanitary removal of diseased branches with the formation of a crown
  • need to choose the right season
  • , only a quarter of the shoots can be removed, no more.

Sanitary pruning can be done two or three times a year, as long as the healthy branches are not affected. But aesthetic crowning - once a year, and the older the tree, the fewer shoots are cut. The places of cuts must be treated with garden pitch, and it is advisable to let them dry for several days so that putrefactive microorganisms do not appear under the sealing layer on wet wood. Garden pitch has a disinfecting property, but it only acts on the surface if the wound is fresh, but the dried wood “draws” it into itself. The penetrating layer is small, but quite sufficient to disinfect the cut and protect it from diseases.

Why birch is not pruned every season

This tree belongs to the moisture-loving group. It can grow only in conditions of regular watering and sufficiently high soil density. Cut points actively evaporate moisture. In addition, to supply the roots with nutrients, it is necessary that they are formed in the right amount in the foliage. Since birch leaves are small in size and located on branches at a great distance, they produce exactly as many metabolites as needed for the normal functioning of the plant.

By removing shoots, a person reduces the area of ​​the crown, respectively, the roots receive less nutrients, in particular, carbohydrates. The root system begins to atrophy and the tree receives less moisture, which leads to its death.

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