Pines are among the most widely distributed trees in the northern hemisphere. There are often lively discussions among botanists about exactly how many species exist but it’s probably somewhere between 175 and 220. Their range takes in most regions north of the equator and in Sumatra even creeps slightly south of it. The USA has a wide variety of native species with the most interesting probably being the immensely long-lived bristlecone pine.
Wild pines can reach immense heights – the tallest known one is a ponderosa pine in Oregon that’s over 268 feet tall – but there are many smaller, and even dwarf, varieties too. They’re coniferous evergreens and many of them have a distinctive tall, straight appearance and develop an irregular or flattened crown as they age. Their wood has been used in construction and for other purposes for centuries; while it’s not resistant to rot or insects it’s tough and easy to work with.
Pines can easily live for a thousand years or more so it definitely won’t be a temporary addition to your garden. They’re also fast growing, so before planting you need to be sure you’ve chosen the right location. Here’s a guide to what you need to know when you buy a pine tree.
Your pine tree will establish itself more quickly, grow better and be more resistant to pests and disease if it was well looked after in the early stages of its life. To ensure you get a high quality tree like this you should buy it from a reputable nursery like The Tree Center. We have a great range of pines for you to choose from, so look for the ideal location, choose a variety that will suit it, then order it from us.
Sun: Plant in full sunlight for best results.
Water: Pines don’t need a lot of water. It’s actually best for young trees to plant them in drier weather and only water lightly; this will encourage them to send down a strong taproot.
When to plant: The best time to plant a pine is in late summer or early fall. However it’s possible to plant them later, up to early winter, as long as the ground doesn’t freeze to below the depth of the roots.
First, loosen the soil around where you’re going to plant it. This will give the best possible drainage for the young tree. If you’re at all unsure about drainage dig a test hole a foot deep and fill it with water; if it drains in under twelve hours everything should be fine.
Check the size of your tree’s root ball. Dig a hole twice as wide as the roots and no deeper. Going too deep isn’t a good idea with pines; as the ground settles you can end up with a depression that will collect water over the roots. That’s bad news; it’s best to plant too high than too low. In fact if your soil’s drainage is borderline aim to have a slight mound at the base of the tree.
Check the roots to make sure they’re not pot-bound, and loosen if necessary. Any circling roots should be straightened out. Once the roots are freed place the tree in the hole and hold it upright. Fill in the hole, tamping the soil down gently every few inches. Don’t tamp it too hard or you’ll damage the roots.
Although pines usually do well in full sunlight it can be too much for them when they’re young. To protect your tree until it’s had a chance to establish itself consider placing a screen on the west side of it so it will have some shelter in the afternoons.
Pines prefer acidic soils, although some are choosier than others. A few species will also do well in calcareous – chalky – ground. The important thing, though, is drainage. Although some species, like the lodgepole pine, will tolerate waterlogged ground most will quickly succumb to root rot. For that reason sandy soil is ideal for pines, with loam a second choice. If your garden is heavy clay consider a lodgepole or one of the other damp-tolerant species.
Pines don’t need rich soil, so there’s no need to fertilize. It’s only necessary to enhance the soil if it’s extremely poor; for example clay can be lightened with sphagnum or other organic matter. Just be sure to mix it extremely thoroughly.
Most pines develop strong, deep root systems that, as well as making the trees highly wind resistant, do an excellent job of finding and bringing up water. For that reason they only need additional watering in very dry weather and in most cases it’s actually bad for them. Unless you have a long period of drought your pine shouldn’t need water at all. If it does try a soaker hose, laid out several feet from the trunk and turned on for short periods of no more than an hour each day.
If there’s a water feature in your garden, such as a creek or pool, try to keep your pine at least ten feet away from it. The root system can easily find its way into wet soil around the feature.
It’s very rare that a pine needs fertilizer. They’re well adapted to poor quality soil and their deep roots will keep them well-nourished in most ground. Mulch is a different story though. Young pines don’t like having weeds around their base and a good mulch will help to control them. The best choice is wood chips (avoid black walnut); this will also do a lot to keep moisture levels in the right range.
There aren’t many trees as spectacular as a big pine, and it will make an imposing centerpiece or specimen tree for your garden. They’re generally robust, and can live for a very long time. The oldest known pine is a Great Basin bristlecone in California’s White Mountains, and it’s believed to be about 4,600 years old. That makes it one of the oldest living things on the planet; the only other trees that live that long are some aspens and the European yew.
Pines can make excellent shade trees when mature, and because they’re so fast growing you can realistically plant one and know that you’ll see it reach sufficient size for you to relax under it in the not too distant future. They’re also commercially important; as well as their timber, which is used for many high quality wood products, they’re one of the key sources for pulp. The seeds of many species are edible and a vitamin-rich tea can be made from their needles.
The wide range of pine species has been expanded by many cultivars, so overall you have an excellent choice. Whether you want a hedge, an attractive border or a lofty tree there’s almost certainly a pine that will suit your purposes. At The Tree Center we always hold a selection of high quality pines; here are some of our top choices:
The Dwarf Mountain Pine is a small European pine that makes a great shrub for locations where you’d like the foliage of a pine but don’t have the space for a large tree. Reaching up to ten feet high, it has a spreading form and is usually bushy and as wide as it is tall. It’s ideal for cooler climates and also makes an attractive hedge.
The Scots Pine is a tall, hardy variety that usually reaches about 60 feet when grown in a garden but wild ones often grow to more than twice that. It has a striking shape when mature, with a tall, bare trunk and a spreading canopy that can act as home to a huge variety of birds. It’s particularly good as a shade tree.
Pines are among the most familiar trees and they’re deeply embedded in many cultures. Their wood has built homes, ships and many other things; the seeds of some species – the Korean pine is one – are a valuable addition to some delicious recipes and also make a tasty, nutritious snack. The trees themselves make a handsome and low maintenance addition to any garden and they grow fast enough to quickly make their presence felt. No matter what pine you choose its seeds will be a valuable winter food source for local wildlife, too.
Pines are generally healthy trees but there are a few things to be wary of. Waterlogged roots is probably the most common problem; avoid that by ensuring drainage, and elevated planting if necessary. Pines are quite susceptible to tip blight and also to attacks from the pine wilt nematode. More common pests like aphids and scale can also be an issue. Large species, like the Scots or ponderosa, sometimes shed branches and this can be dangerous, so it’s always a good idea to have the lower branches removed when they die.