The individual and combined effects of elevated CO2 and O3 on the foliar chemistry of silver birch (Betula pendula Roth) and on the performance of five potential birch-defoliating insect herbivore species (two geometrid moths, one lymantrid moth and two weevils) were examined. Elevated CO2 decreased the water concentration in both short- and long-shoot leaves, but the effect of CO2 on the concentration of nitrogen and individual phenolic compounds was mediated by O3 treatment, tree genotype and leaf type. Elevated O3 increased the total carbon concentration only in short-shoot leaves. Bioassays showed that elevated CO2 increased the food consumption rate of juvenile Epirrita autumnata and Rheumaptera hastata larvae fed with short- and long-shoot leaves in spring and mid-summer, respectively, but had no effect on the growth of larvae. The contribution of leaf quality variables to the observed CO2 effects indicate that insect compensatory consumption may be related to leaf age. Elevated CO2 increased the food preference of only two tested species: Phyllobius argentatus (CO2 alone) and R. hastata (CO2 combined with O3). The observed stimulus was dependent on tree genotype and the measured leaf quality variables explained only a portion of the stimulus. Elevated O3 decreased the growth of flush-feeding young E. autumnata larvae, irrespective of CO2 concentration, apparently via reductions in general food quality. Therefore, the increasing tropospheric O3 concentration could pose a health risk for juvenile early-season birch folivores in future. In conclusion, the effects of elevated O3 were found to be detrimental to the performance of early-season insect herbivores in birch whereas elevated CO2 had only minor effects on insect performance despite changes in food quality related foliar chemistry.