March can be an enjoyable and challenging month. We tend to have quite a few nice days mixed around snow and other cold days. This is the month where we transition from Winter to Spring and when people really start to get tired of the cold, snowy weather and start to get very anxious for spring weather and the ability to get out into their gardens again. Not much is blooming this month, so I have chosen the 2016 Great Plants for the Great Plains evergreen tree selection of Ponderosa Pine.
The Great Plants program is developed by the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. It is a program to bring superior ornamental landscape plants into gardens to meet the challenging growing conditions of the Great Plains, according to their website. This program helps to increase diversity in our landscapes and encourages homeowners to plant with underutilized plant material. This year, they have chosen Ponderosa pine for the evergreen of the year.
Ponderosa Pine is a native evergreen tree that grows up to 65 feet or taller and 30 feet wide. This pine has needles that are 5-10 inches long and they are held on the tree in groups of 3’s, occasionally in groups of 2’s. The bark is brown-black in color and can turn a yellowish brown to cinnamon red with age. The cones are found on the end of the branches alone or in a group of 3-5. The cones are 3-6 inches long and up to 2 inches wide and have a sharp point on the end of the scales.
Ponderosa pine can be used as a specimen tree or in mass plantings in your landscape or it can be incorporated into a windbreak to be used with other tree species. It is also a great tree to be planted on bare soils or almost bare rocks to help with erosion control. Ponderosa pine is a forest tree that does not tolerate shade or wet soil, but it is tolerant of salt and alkaline soils. It also is drought tolerant which will help it survive the hot, dry summers Nebraska often faces.
There are a couple of diseases that affect Ponderosa Pines, but this tree should still be planted, as it is a native tree and therefore will grow well in our Nebraska climate. Pine wilt is a disease that is killing many Scotch and Austrian Pines throughout Nebraska. Ponderosa Pines, according to the Nebraska Forest Service, rarely die from this disease. Ponderosa Pines are susceptible to needle blight and tip blight, 2 diseases that can cause dead branches and decreased growth through the tree, especially in cool, moist springs. However, these 2 diseases can be controlled with liquid fungicides applied in late April, mid-May and late May. Ponderosa Pine is a great tree to use in your landscape. It can make a great addition to your windbreak, incorporated with at least 2-3 other species of trees for diversity, or it can be used as a specimen tree in your landscape. It is a tough, native tree that will grow well in Nebraska. So the next time you are planting an evergreen tree, consider the 2016 Great Plants of the Great Plains selection, Ponderosa Pine.