Pine trees get no respect in the South. They are everywhere, shedding needles, cones and branches and even occasionally snapping in two in high winds. But there is a whole world of small slow growing ornamental pines perfect for any garden or even containers. Most rang in size from 3 to 20 feet. They love sun and need little in the way of pruning or fertilization. The needles can be short or fluffy and range from steel blue to apple green. Some of my favorites follow.
The smallest of the pines is the Dwarf Mugo (Pinus mugo pumilio) which grows slowly to 3 feet tall by 6 feet wide. It is naturally mushroom shaped but can be pruned into a perfect little dome. It needs very good drainage and in our part of the country, some shade from the heat of the day. ‘Slowmound’ is an Isli selection that is even smaller, reaching only 2 feet. Spaan’s Dwarf Shore Pine (Pinus contorta) is also quite small, reaching only 4 to 5 feet tall and wide. It has very short needles and a twisted angular shape, making it perfect for a pot or bonsai.
The Japanese White Pine (Pinus parvifolia) can also be quite small. It is heat, drought and salt tolerant, making it a good choice either here or at the coast. ‘Blue Angel’ is 7 feet tall by 4 feet wide. Its blue foliage is very dense all the way to the ground. ‘Glauca Brevifolia’ is a little taller at 10 to 15 feet. It is narrow and upright with short blue needles that blend well with its grey bark.
There are several good selections in the 15 to 25 foot range. Vanderwolf Pyramid Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis) grows slow to to15 feet. It has very dense stiff needles and a naturally pyramidal shape. Oregon Green (Pinus nigra) will reach 10 feet in 10 years. It has very dense fluffy bright green needles. It will become more open with age. The tallest selection is French Blue Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris). It can reach 30 feet or more but is very columnar, only about half as wide as it is tall, making it good for narrower spaces. Unlike its brethren, it needs extra water during periods of drought.
So rethink the pine. It is a sun loving, drought tolerant and very handsome addition to our southern gardens.