Pine trees have a unique look among evergreens, and one of the most picturesque and striking is the Japanese Pine. Often planted for Asian gardens, it is also a valuable tree for coastal areas, being very salt tolerant, as well as a beautiful specimen tree for a lawn or in any open area. The natural tree can grow large, so a more compact form, and one with additional features, is ideal, and the beautiful variety called the Thunderhead Pine certainly satisfies that need. Dense and compact, but not dwarf, and with striking white winter buds, this tree is a great choice for something different and beautiful.
Growing Thunderhead Pine Trees
The Thunderhead Pine is a small tree with an irregular crown, reaching 12 to 15 feet in 10 years, with a spread of as much as 20 feet. Growth will slow down as the tree matures, but it will in time reach perhaps 25 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It is perfect for a medium-sized space on a lawn, and beautiful around water, either a lake or the ocean, where it can even be grown right at the edge of the sea – a natural location for this tree in its native Japan. If not pruned up when young to develop a trunk, the lower branches will spread wider, forming a dramatic irregular mound of stems and foliage, ideal for a rocky place, a slope or spilling over a wall. The combination of horizontal branches and upright growth is unique and very striking. If you like the dramatic and powerful in your garden plants, then this is a plant you must have. This tree is also a popular plant for bonsai, and it can be grown in containers and trained to be even more striking – perfect for an Asian-inspired courtyard or terrace garden.
The 5-inch needles are a deep and dark green, adding to the brooding and powerful look of this tree. They are in bundles of two, attached to the stems in tight whorls, and living for between 3 and 5 years, before turning light brown and falling in late spring. The winter buds are large and silvery white, making a wonderful contrast with the dark needles, and the new spring shoots are also silvery, looking like large candles on the tree. Young branches have orange to yellow bark, maturing to a near-black gray. The trunk is deeply grooved and furrowed, adding to the rugged appeal of this tree. Older trees produce dark-brown cones, 2 to 3 inches long and an inch across, sometimes in large quantities, adding another dimension to the interest and beauty of the tree.
The Thunderhead Pine is not shade tolerant, so choose a spot in full sun to grow it. It prefers lighter, acidic soils, with some moisture, but once established it is very drought tolerant, and it is a very good choice for sandy soils. It does not grow well in heavy clay soils that are often wet, or in limestone soils. It is very salt tolerant, and it can be grown as the front line of plants at the beach, right down to the water, so a row along the ocean makes a good windbreak for a garden, allowing other plants that are not quite so salt tolerant to thrive in the shelter it gives. In exposed coastal places it will soon develop a romantic windswept look, growing low and broad. It normally has no significant pests or diseases, but it is important not to plant this tree too deeply, or to allow soil or other materials to cover the root zone or crowd the trunk. Plant on a low mound, even in well-drained soil, and never deeper than it is in the pot you receive it in. Keep the area around the base of the tree free and clear, even of fallen needles, and don’t cover exposed roots. This will usually prevent the development of any diseases. It is fully hardy to zone 6, and also hardy in zone 5, but some needle burn can develop if temperatures fall below minus 23o F.
The Thunderhead Pine is not a dwarf tree, but it can be pruned extensively to limit its growth. Cut the long new shoots (called ‘candles’) back to just an inch or so long in spring, after they extend fully, but before the needles begin to expand, to keep it more compact. Branches can also be removed as needed, and this tree responds well to elaborate pruning. If you have space, you can also leave it to grow into its wonderful natural form.
History and Origins of Thunderhead Pine Trees
The Thunderhead Pine is a special variety of the Japanese pine, Pinus thunbergii. Prized in Japan, this tree lives in open coastal areas of Kyūshū, Shikoku and Honshū provinces, and in parts of South Korea. It is trained forms of this tree, called niwaki, that give Japanese gardens their unique look. In 1987, among a group of seedlings being grown by Angelica Nurseries, Massachusetts, a unique plant was noticed. Its original name was ‘Angelica’s Thunderhead’, but this was later shortened to ‘Thunderhead’, the name it is known by today. These special forms are always in high demand, and they are grown by grafting pieces of the tree onto the roots of seedling Japanese pine, to preserve their unique genetics. Cheaper seedlings will not match the quality or specialness of this tree. If you want something very special in your garden, this is it, so order now, as our stock will soon all be gone.