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Pinus thumbergiana
Pinus thumbergiana

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Zones A1-A3, 1-11, 14-24
Full Sun
Regular Water

Pinus mugo

Mugo Pine, Swiss Mountain 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 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.

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