When a homeowner wants an evergreen tree, they usually ask for pines. The vision of symmetrical shape, minimal care and no raking is appealing. Yet the majority of pines are difficult at best in the average home landscape. Consider a few of the growing requirements of pine trees.

First, pine trees need well-drained soil. Their natural habitats are often on mountainous slopes of rock or sand. Oklahoma’s red clay poses a challenge with drainage. Pine trees do best if planted as a perimeter specimen or windbreak that receives only occasional irrigation. 

Smaller landscape pines such as Mugo and dwarf white pine cultivars are excellent additions any drought tolerant planting. Pair these large, shrubby pines with lavender, santolina or rosemary and water no more than twice a month.

A second problem encountered with pines in the yard is their growth habit. Coniferous trees – those that make cones – produce new growth in spring. The thin spires that extend from the branch tips are called candles. This is all of the growth for the year. Adding fertilizer and water will not cause a pine to continue growing through the summer. In fact, excessive fertilization facilitates insect attack and weak growth. 

Do not strive to grow a lush green lawn beneath a pine if you want a healthy tree. Visit parks and public gardens. Grass and pine trees simply do not take the same water or fertilization regimes.

Pine trees vary greatly in form. A young tree at the nursery may be picture perfect in Christmas tree form. As the tree grows in the ground, its true habit begins to emerge. Austrian, Scotch, Pinon and Stone pines are species that maintain a nice pyramidal shape with little assistance. White, Loblolly and Japanese Black pines characteristically put on irregular growth. 

Think about the view from your home or outdoor living area. Are you looking for a screen, a windbreak or a specimen? You can achieve your objective with a little research before choosing and planting the tree. Consider a cultivar pine such as Tanyosho (Umbrella) or Blue Shag as a standard focal point.

With all great gardens, thought and preparation precede success! Take the time to double dig your hole and place some rock in the bottom before refilling with a blend of native and well-aerated soil. Planning for a pine avoids many problems. And who needs more problems?

LeeAnn Barton has worked with nurseries for more than 20 years. She digs in the dirt in Stillwater. Direct any questions to her, especially about tree selections, by emailing leeannbarton@sbcglobal.net.


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