Embraceable Pines

The smoky blue needles of White pine in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

The smoky blue needles of White pine (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

I grow a lot of evergreens; from shrubs right up to the big spruces, and let’s face it-some of those needles are downright nasty.  When I have to prune my blue spruce or low growing junipers, it’s ouch, ouch, ouch-even with gloves. So, when I find a pine that doesn’t prickle, I have to get a little closer to inspect and fondle it.  And one tree that welcomes caressing is our native white pine, Pinus strobus, a fast grower with stroke-able frosty grey-green needles that stand erect from the tips of multiple branches.  White pine is a dependably stalwart tree known to grow for hundreds of years (Syracuse, NY, has a tree dated over 450 years old) growing to heights exceeding 200 feet.  I planted one in 2002 and it has grown from 3 feet to over 20 feet with no special care or fertilizing.

White pine and Japanese Red pine in landscape in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

White pine and Japanese Red pine in the landscape (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

White pine is favored for its quick establishment; in the right (zone 3-7) conditions of sun and well drained soil it can grow up to 3 feet annually.  From Newfoundland to the mountains of Georgia, white pine can be spotted in dense stands across the countryside.  Although evergreen, it sheds many of its 3-6 inch needles in late September, and piles of golden droppings remain around the tree’s base all season long (you can rake them up, but I leave mine as a natural mulch).  Typically, white pine grows about 80 feet tall by 25 feet wide if open space is provided, and will branch all the way to the ground.  Deer may occasionally nibble on its soft limbs and it is also prone to white pine weevil during earlier stages of growth, the latter can be addressed by pruning off the infected branch and safely disposing of it (do not compost). Considered a natural “Supercanopy”, white pine provides nesting habitat for dozens of birds as well as cones that offer winter forage for a variety of local fauna.

The porcupine striped needles of 'Burke's Red Variegated' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

The porcupine striped needles of ‘Burke’s Red Variegated’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Then there are some of us that just can’t be satisfied with plain ol’ green needles, we need a little more pizzazz.  As it happens, my husband and I stumbled upon such a gem-in-the-rough while strolling through one of our favorite garden haunts, Broken Arrow Nursery: www.brokenarrownursery.com .  Ged discovered what looked like a bleached blond porcupine in a pot, sort of bent to one side from being in close quarters with other companions, but adorable just the same.  With spiky, yellow-striped needles so soft to the touch, similar to a white pine-yet much showier, who could resist?  We quickly added this quirky specimen to the rest of our loot, and headed home to plant.

Variegated Red pine illuminates the pasture in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Variegated Red pine illuminates the pasture (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

This Japanese red pine (named red because of its bark, not needles), Pinus densiflora ‘Burke’s Red Variegated’, soon became one of my all-time favorite touchable pines.  Japanese pine, a Japanese/Asian native in zones 4-7, illuminates the landscape all year long as it basks in the sun’s rays, often appearing celestial. Although planted in the open so it can stretch to its full capacity (like the white pine, the Japanese red pine also grows quickly; up to 10 inches per year), you can grow it in a garden setting as well.  I saw a ‘Burke’s Red’ creatively pruned to fit within a border, and it was absolutely stunning.  Some of the lower branches and random upper branches were removed to give it an oriental appearance with more emphasis on the trunk.  An artistically trimmed physique paired with those flashy needles is guaranteed to provide a dynamic focal point through all the seasons.

If you’re looking for a tree to snuggle up with, and have the space to accommodate it’s breadth, a member of the Pinus family might be the perfect fit for your property.  Whether shimmery or subdued, its embraceable needles are a welcome addition for the landscape and the wildlife that inhabit it.  Reach out and make a connection . . . touch a tree today ♥

(Note: There is a more compact version called Pinus densiflora ‘Golden Ghost’, which may work better in a smaller garden setting.)


  1. I love the many dwarf forms developed at Uconn by the late Sidney Waxman. Here are some of his selections:
    Pinus strobus (white pine) ‘Sea Urchin’ is a miniature shrub with blue-green needles and is only 15″ high x 22″ wide.
    P. strobus ‘U Conn’ is relatively fast-growing with bright green needles. It is 10′ high x 8.5′ wide and is his largest selection.
    P. strobus ‘Blue Shag’ is moderately fast-growing with blue-green needles and remains very dense with mainly lateral growth. Size is 3′ high x 5′ wide.
    P. strobus ‘Green Shadow’ is a 6′ multi-trunked shrub with a rounded top and dark green foliage. It was found as a chance seedling and roots easily from cuttings.
    P. strobus ‘Blue Jay’ is a dense, low mound 20″ high x 50″ wide. The foliage has a distinct bluish cast.
    P. strobus ‘Soft Touch’ is a dense, flattened mound 2′ high x 4′ wide, with thin needles with a slight twist.
    P strobus ‘Old Softie’ resembles a miniature weeping hemlock with soft green foliage and a cloud-like, billowy habit. After 27 years it is 4′ high x 7.5′ wide.
    P. strobus ‘Golden Candles’ is an upright shrub 7′ high x 5′ wide with moderately dense branching. Both the candles and the current year’s foliage are a bright golden color.
    P. strobus ‘Paul Waxman’ is unusual in that it is more than twice as wide as tall. After 22 years, it is 2′ high x 5’wide. The needles are green and blue-green, with the green ones being caused by the failure of the needles to separate in the fascicles as they should, thus giving the appearance of a single, thick needle.
    P. strobus ‘Coney Island’ originated as a graft taken directly from a witches’-broom. Its form is cloud-like and is 30″ high x 40″ wide. The name is appropriate because of the presence of the large number of miniature cones that develop near the periphery of the shrub.
    P. strobus ‘David’ is a tall growing selection with clusters of cloud-like branches at its outer fringes. The dimensions after 25 years are 15′ high x 12′ wide.
    P. strobus ‘Witches’-brew’ is a 5′ high asymmetrical shrub with dark green foliage that can be pruned to reveal its unique limb pattern.

    • Wow, Jeff! Thank you for taking the time to list all these great options. I’m looking forward to visiting Meadowbrook Gardens next spring, and loading up on some of these wonderful specimens! Thanks so much for writing, I always love to hear from my readers ~

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