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Pinus thumbergiana
Pinus thumbergiana

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Evergreen, Shrubs, Trees

Pines are the great individualists of the garden, each species differing not only in its characteristics but also in the ways in which it responds to wind, heat, and other growing conditions.

Cone appearance (size and shape) is one identifying feature of these trees. Another is the number of needles in a bundle; most pines carry their long, slender needles in groups of two, three, or five. Young trees tend to be pyramidal, while older ones are more open or round topped.

The text gives typical dimensions for pines in cultivation, but trees often grow much larger in the wild. Seeds of all species attract birds.

All pines can be shaped, and often improved, by some pruning. The best time to prune is in spring, when new growth emerges. Cut the candles (vertical fingers of new spring growth) to promote bushiness or limit the plant’s size. You can remove unwanted limbs to accent a pine’s branching pattern—but remember that a new one won’t sprout to take its place. In time, lower limbs of most pines will die naturally; when this happens, cut them off.

Shaping a pine artistically—in the manner of trees in Japanese gardens—requires some skill, but it isn’t difficult. Cut out any branches that interfere with the desired effect, shorten others, and create an upswept look by removing all twigs that grow downward. Cut the vertical main trunk back to a well-placed side branch to induce side growth; wire or weight branches to produce a cascade effect.

Pines are vulnerable to air pollution, which causes abnormal needle drop and poor growth and may even kill trees. They are also subject to a number of diseases and pests, but healthy, well-grown plants will usually maintain their vigor with comparatively little attention. Many five-needle pines are subject to a blister rust (a bark disease that can be fatal) when grown in the vicinity of currants or gooseberries. Your Cooperative Extension Office can also offer advice concerning each tree’s adaptability to your area and any local environmental or pest problems.

The number of available color variants, odd forms, and dwarf pines runs easily into the hundreds: seek them out at specialty nurseries.

Pinus aristata

Grows very slowly to 20 ft. tall (possibly to 45 ft.) and 15 ft. wide. Dense, bushy, heavy-trunked tree with ground-sweeping branches. In youth, symmetrical and narrow crowned. Needles are held in groups of five and grow 1–1 1/2 in. long; dark green flecked with dots of white resin. Cones to 3 1/2 in. long are narrowly oval, dark purplish brown, bristly. Excellent container, rock garden, and bonsai plant. Protect from wind in cold climates.

Pinus attenuata

Native to Oregon’s northern and central Cascades, Siskiyous, and Sierra foothills in California and south to Baja California. Grows rapidly to 20–80 ft. tall and 20–25 ft. wide. Usually rounded and regular in youth, open and irregular in age. Yellow-green needles 3–5 in. long are held in groups of three. Light brown cones are 4–6 in. long. Grows well in poor soil.

Pinus banksiana

Native from the Arctic Circle to Minnesota. Slow to moderate growth to 30–50 ft. tall (often less) and 10–15 ft. wide. In youth, a symmetrical pyramid; in age, irregular and more spreading, often picturesque. Sometimes remains shrubby. Good windbreak. Olive green needles to 2 in. long are held in groups of two and are often curved or twisted. Cones are yellowish brown, 1–3 in. long. Tolerates poor soil, even sand. Popular ‘Uncle Fogy’ has a very irregular, weeping form.

Pinus bungeana

From northern and central China. Grows to 50–75 ft. tall and 20–35 ft. wide. Starts out pyramidal to rounded, then becomes more open, spreading, and picturesque. Often multitrunked, sometimes shrubby. Smooth, dull gray bark flakes off like that of sycamore (Platanus) to reveal creamy white patches. Bright green needles in groups of three are 2–4 in. long. Oval cones are 2–2 1/2 in. long and yellowish brown. Limbs are brittle and can break under a heavy ice or snow load.

Pinus canariensis

Native to the Canary Islands. Grows fast to 50–80 ft. tall and 20–35 ft. wide. Gawky when young, but soon develops into a slender, graceful pyramid, after which it takes on a tiered look, then finally develops a round head. Bark is fissured and reddish brown. Needles 9–12 in. long held in groups of three; bluish green when new, then aging to dark green. Glossy brown cones are oval, reaching 4–9 in. long. Resists oak root fungus.

Pinus cembra

Native to the mountains of central Europe. Grows extremely slowly to 50–70 ft. or taller and 20–25 ft. wide. Handsome narrow, dense pyramid in youth; becomes broad, open, and round topped in maturity. Dark green needles are 3–5 in. long, held in groups of five. Broad, oval, purplish blue cones are 3 1/2 in. long.

Pinus cembroides

Native from Arizona to Baja California and Northern Mexico. Slow grower to 10–25 ft. tall and nearly as wide. Rangy in youth, but older trees develop stout, spreading branches that form a round head. Dark green needles 1–2 in. long are grouped in twos or threes. Cones are 1–2 in. long, rounded, and yellowish or reddish brown.

Good choice in desert. Cones contain edible seeds (pine nuts).

Pinus contorta

Native along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Northern California. Grows fairly quickly to 20–35 ft. tall and wide (its close relation, lodgepole pine, is much hardier and twice as large). Nursery trees are compact, pyramidal, and somewhat irregular; trees growing along the coast are often dwarfed and shaped by winds. Dark green needles are held in groups of two, reaching 1 1/4–2 in. long. Narrow, lopsided cones 1–2 in. long are light yellow brown.

Good-looking tree in youth; densely foliaged. Responds well to pruning. Good in containers.  Among the best pines for small gardens. Tree needs regular water.

Pinus contorta murrayana

Native to the mountains of the western U.S. Can grow to 50–80 ft. tall and 20–25 ft. wide, but is often much smaller. Planted among other trees, lodgepole pine grows tall and slender, but in the open, the trunk can be quite thick, even though it remains narrow and dense. The yellow-green needles are grouped in twos, reaching 1 1/2–3 in. long. Cones to 1 1/2 in. long are shiny brown and oval and tend to hang onto branches for a long time. Tree needs regular water.

Pinus coulteri

Native to dry, rocky mountain California slopes from Mt. Diablo and Mt. Hamilton through the Santa Lucia Range and Southern California to Baja California. Grows moderately fast to 30–80 ft. tall and 20–40 ft. wide, with shapely, open growth and wide-spreading, persistent lower branches. Can develop multiple leaders. Needles are deep green, stiff, 5–10 in. (even 14 in.) long and held in groups of three. Heavy cones are 10–14 in. long, oval, and buff-colored; they remain on the tree for a long time.

Pinus densiflora

Native to Japan. Grows rapidly when young, ultimately to 40–60 ft. tall (to 100 ft. tall in perfect conditions) and 40 ft. wide. Develops a broad, irregular head, even in youth; often has two trunks. Young branches have flaking, red-orange bark. Bright green needles are grouped in twos and reach 2 1/2–5 in. long. Tawny brown cones are 2 in. long, oval or oblong in shape. Won’t take hot, dry, or cold winds. Needs regular water.

Pinus edulis

Native from California’s desert mountains east to New Mexico and Texas and north to Wyoming. Grows slowly to 10–20 ft. tall and 8–16 ft.wide. Horizontally branching tree, bushy and symmetrical in youth, spreading as it matures and developing a rounded, flat crown. Stiff, dark green needles are usually grouped in twos, reaching 3/4–1 1/2 in. long. Roundish, light brown cones to 2 in. long produce the edible pine nuts sold in markets.

This is a beautiful, dense small pine for containers and rock gardens, lending a look of age to new gardens. Trees stressed by drought are damaged or killed by bark beetles.

Pinus eldarica

From southern Russia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Grows fast to 30–80 ft. tall and 15–25 ft. wide. Classic pine shape in youth, but the top spreads with age. Dark green needles in groups of two reach 6 1/2 in. long. Cones are oval to oblong, 3 in. long, reddish brown.

Among the best pines for much of the desert; also thrives near the Pacific Coast. Avoid planting in Southwest areas at elevations of 4,000–8,000 ft. where oaks are prevalent; fatal Comandra blister rust often kills these pines there. Christmas Blue is a blue-green strain.

Pinus flexilis

Native to 5,000–11,000-ft. elevations in northern Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and Southern California, as well as the eastern slopes of the Rockies from Alberta to Texas. Grows at a slow to moderate rate to 30–55 ft. tall and 15–25 ft. wide. In youth, forms a rather straggly pyramid; in maturity, develops a thick trunk and an open, round top. Many of its limber branches may droop. At highest elevations it is dwarfed and irregular. Dark green needles are slightly curved or twisted, to 3 in. long, and held in groups of five. Buff to buff orange cones are elongated and oval, growing 3–5 in. long.

Takes well to shearing; good bonsai subject. Tolerates wind and grows well on rocky slopes.

Pinus halepensis

Native to the Mediterranean region. Grows at a moderate to fast rate to 30–60 ft. tall and 20–40 ft. wide. Already shows rugged character at 5 years; in age, has open, irregular crown of many short, ascending branches. Light green needles 2 1/2–4 in. long are usually grouped in twos. Reddish brown cones are 3 in. long, oval to oblong, stalked and bent backward.

Takes poor soils, desert heat, and seashore conditions, but better trees can be found for milder climates. In the Southwest, Aleppo blight causes temporary dieback in winter.

Pinus heldreichii leucodermis

Native to the Balkans, Greece, and Italy. Slow grower to 50– 75 ft. tall and 15–20 ft. wide, forming a dense, erect oval or cone shape. Stiff, dark green needles are 2 1/2–3 1/2 in. long and held in groups of two; they persist for 5–6 years, so tree is densely foliaged. Narrowly oval, blue to bright brown cones 2–3 in. long are carried singly or in clusters of three. Young trees have pale grayish bark.

Great landscape tree, especially near the ocean where its salt tolerance pays off. There are excellent dwarf forms as well.

Pinus jeffreyi

Native to the mountains of California, southern Oregon, western Nevada, and Baja California. Moderate growth rate, reaching 60–120 ft. tall and 20–25 ft. wide. Pyramidal form, with straight trunk and pendulous branches; symmetrical in youth, more open with age. Blue-green needles grouped in threes are 5–8 in. long. Cones are 6–12 in. long and reddish brown. Attractive in youth, with silvery gray bark and bluish foliage. Furrows in the bark of older trees have the fragrance of vanilla, butterscotch, or oranges, depending on the tree and the sniffer. Takes much heat and drought. ‘Joppi’ forms a dense teardrop to about 10 ft. tall and wide.

Pinus lambertiana

Native to Sierra Nevada and California’s higher Coast Ranges, high mountains of Southern California and Baja California, and north to southwestern Oregon. Grows slowly in youth, then speeds up, ultimately reaching 200 ft. tall (or taller) and 50 ft. wide. In youth, a narrow, open pyramid with spreading, rather pendulous branches; in age, usually flat topped, with a wide-spreading, open head. Dark bluish green needles 3–4 in. long are held in groups of five. Cones are light brown, 10–20 in. long, and almost cylindrical. This is the world’s tallest pine. Huge cones are a hazard around play areas, patios, and parked cars—but they are the best-ever holiday decorations. Thrives around Puget Sound.

Pinus longaeva ‘Sherwood Compact’ (photo courtesy of Richard Bloom/Garden Picture Library/Photolibrary)
Pinus longaeva ‘Sherwood Compact’ (photo courtesy of Richard Bloom/Garden Picture Library/Photolibrary)

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Pinus longaeva

Native to the White Mountains of California. Grows very slowly to 30 ft. tall and 20 ft. wide, forming a dense pyramid in youth and opening up with age. Blue-green needles to 1 1/4 in. long are typically held in groups of five. Red cones may reach 4 in. long. These trees have been documented to have a life span of more than 4,700 years. ‘Sherwood Compact’ is a dense, formal-looking selection to just 3 ft. high and half as wide after 10 years.

Pinus monophylla

Native to Southeastern California, Baja California, Arizona, and Utah. This tree produces edible pine nuts. Grows slowly to 10–25 ft. tall. In youth, this tree is slender, symmetrical, and narrow crowned; in maturity, it remains small and round-headed, with a crooked trunk; in age, it becomes open and broad-topped. Gray-green needles are 3/4–1 1/2 in. long, usually carried singly, stiff. Cones are 2 in. long, roundish, and brown.

This is a good bonsai or rock-garden plant, and can be a shrub of great character in dry, rocky places.

Pinus mugo (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)
Pinus mugo (photo courtesy of Linda Lamb Peters)

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Pinus mugo

From the mountains of central and southern Europe. This slow-growing, extremely variable species can reach 75 ft. tall, but smaller forms offered in nurseries and garden centers tend to be shrubby and symmetrical. Dark green needles to 3 in. long are held in groups of two, crowded on the branches. Cones to 2 1/2 in. long are tawny to dark brown. Durable and adaptable. Moderate to regular water.

Look for named varieties to ensure uniformity in size and shape. All look best if left to grow naturally; choose plants with a pleasingly rounded form rather than trying to shape them later through pruning.

‘Big Tuna’ is dense and upright, to 10 ft. tall and 6–8 ft. wide. ‘Gnom’ forms a tight globe just 2 1/2 ft. high and wide after 10 years. The popular dwarf ‘Mops’ forms a dense mound to 2–3 ft. high and wide; needles take on a golden cast in winter. ‘Slowmound’ is dense and slow growing to 1–2 ft. high and wide in 10 years. ‘Tannenbaum’ grows slowly into a dense Christmas-tree shape about 10 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide. Varieties with golden needles are available.

Pinus mugo mugo

From the eastern Alps and Balkan states. Slow growth to 4–8 ft. high and 8–15 ft. wide. From the start, a shrubby, symmetrical little pine. Often spreads in old age. Dark green needles to 2 in. long are held in groups of two and are crowded on branches. Cones to 1 1/2 in. long are oval and tawny to dark brown.

Widely used in rock gardens and containers. Pick plants with dense, pleasing form. Pumilio group includes a number of compact selections.

Pinus mugo uncinata

From the mountains of Spain and central Europe to the Balkans, this is slow growing and highly variable in size. May be a prostrate shrub, low shrub, or pyramidal tree of moderate size (30–80 ft. tall and wide). Nursery plants are generally bushy, twisted, and somewhat open.

Pinus nigra

From Europe and western Asia. Slow to moderate growth to 40–60 ft. tall and half as wide. Dense, stout, pyramidal tree with uniform crown. Branches grow in regular whorls. In old age, broad and flat topped. Stiff, very dark green needles, 3–6 1/2 in. long, are held in groups of two. Oval, brown cones are 2–3 1/2 in. long. Tree of strong character for landscape decoration or as a windbreak in cold regions. Tolerant of urban environment and seacoast conditions. Resistant to oak root fungus.

Pinus parviflora

From Japan and Taiwan. Slow to moderate grower to 20–50 ft. tall and wide or larger. In youth, a dense pyramid; in age, wide spreading and flat topped. Needles are 1 1/2–2 1/2 in. long, bluish green, and held in groups of five. Oval to oblong, reddish brown cones are 2–3 in. long.

Widely used and popular as a bonsai subject and container tree. Thrives in mild climates. Blue-gray and dwarf forms are available.

Pinus pinea

From southern Europe and Turkey. Moderate growth to 40–80 ft. tall and 40–60 ft. wide. In youth, grows as a stout, bushy globe; in middle life, develops a thick trunk topped with an “umbrella” of many branches. In maturity, tree is broad and flat topped. Stiff needles are bright green to gray-green, 5–8 in. long, and held in groups of two. Cones are broadly oval, 4–6 in. long, and glossy chestnut brown. Excellent pine for beach gardens; also tolerates heat. Eventually too large for small gardens. This is the pine depicted in Renaissance paintings; also one source of edible seeds (pine nuts).

Pinus ponderosa

Native from British Columbia to Mexico and east to Nebraska, Texas, and northeast Oklahoma. Moderate to fast grower, reaching 50–100 ft. tall and 25–30 ft. wide. In youth, straight trunked and well branched. Yellow-green to dark green needles are held in groups of three. Cones are oval, light brown to red-brown. Important lumber tree. Handsome orange-brown bark. Useful for groves and shelter belt; also good for bonsai or containers. Doesn’t take desert heat and wind.

Pinus radiata

From the central coast of California. Very fast growth to 80–100 ft. tall and 25–35 ft. wide. Puts on 6 ft. a year when young; reaches 50 ft. in 12 years. Shapely, broad cone shape in youth, then drops its lower branches to develop a rounded or flattish crown. Bright green needles, 3–7 in. long, are held in groups of two or three. Oval, lopsided cones are 3–6 in. long, light brown, and held in clusters that persist on the branches.

Often shallow rooted, subject to blowing over in wind. Even in ideal climate, suffers many pests and diseases (including pitch canker) that make it a poor risk. Try to keep established plants healthy with occasional deep watering and feeding.

Pinus strobus

Native from Newfoundland to Manitoba, south to Georgia, west to Illinois and Iowa. Grows slowly in seedling stage, then fast to 50–80 ft. tall (or taller) and 20–40 ft. wide. Forms a symmetrical pyramid with horizontal branches in regular whorls. Becomes broad, open, and irregular with age. Fine-textured, handsome tree. Blue-green needles are soft, 3–5 1/2 in. long, held in groups of five. Slender, often curved, light brown cones reach 3–8 in. long. Intolerant of strong winds.

Pinus sylvestris

From northern Europe, western Asia, and northeastern Siberia. Grows fast at first, then moderately to 30–70 ft. (possibly to 100 ft.) tall and 25–30 ft.wide. Forms a narrow, well-branched pyramid when young. In age, becomes irregular, open, and picturesque, with drooping branches. Stiff, 1 1/2–3 in.-long, blue-green needles often turn yellow-green in winter. Egg-shaped cones to 2 in. long are gray to reddish brown. Popular as a Christmas tree and in gardens. Showy red bark, sparse foliage in maturity. Wind resistant.

Pinus thunbergii
Pinus thunbergii

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Pinus thunbergii

From Japan. In most favorable climates (such as the Pacific Northwest), this grows fast to 100 ft. tall and 40 ft. wide; along the eastern seaboard and in hotter, drier climates (such as Southern California and the desert), it grows slowly to moderately to 20 ft. tall and 10 ft. wide. Spreading branches form a broad, conical tree; irregular and spreading in age, often with a leaning trunk. Bright green needles are stiff, 3–4 1/2 in. long, held in groups of two; new growth (candles) is nearly white. Oval, brown cones grow to about 3 in. long.

This is a handsome tree that can be sheared as a Christmas tree or pruned as a cascade or giant bonsai. Give it regular water in hottest areas.

Pinus wallichiana

From the Himalayas. Slow to moderate growth to 30–50 ft. tall and 15–30 ft. wide. May reach 150 ft. high in the wild. Broad and conical, it often retains branches to the ground even in age. Drooping, blue-green needles 6–8 in. long are held in groups of five. Slender, elongated cones are 6–10 in. long and light brown. Good form and color make this a fine choice as a featured pine in a big lawn or garden.

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