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Two-year-old silver birch (Betula pendula) saplings were grown for a third growing season in controlled-environment rooms (dasotrons) at three soil temperatures (5, 10, and 20 °C). All trees grew the first flush of leaves, but the growth of the second flush was almost completely inhibited at the two lower temperatures. The dry weight of the second-flush leaves was 50 times larger at 20 °C than at 5 and 10 °C, with about 100 times more nitrogen. Root growth was less affected than shoot growth. Chlorophyll content, net assimilation rate and stomatal conductance were lower at low soil temperatures. The value of the cytoplasm resistance estimated from the electric impedance spectra was lower at 5 °C than at 10 or 20 °C. Leaf water potential was highest at the lowest soil temperature, and intercellular carbon dioxide concentration was only slightly lower in saplings growing in cooler soil. We conclude that the effect of long-term exposure to cold soil on net assimilation and growth was not caused by stomatal closure alone. It is likely to be additionally mediated by the limited nitrogen acquisition at the low soil temperatures, and perhaps additionally by some other factor. As the growth depression of aboveground parts in response to low soil temperature was more significant in silver birch than what has earlier been found in conifers, the relative changes in air and soil temperature may eventually determine whether birch will become more dominant in boreal forests with climate change.