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Pinus thumbergiana
Pinus thumbergiana

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Zones A2, A3, 1-11, 14-19, 36-43
Full Sun
Minimal Water

Pinus aristata

Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pine
Evergreen, 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.

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