With Christmas coming, I thought our plant of the month could be one of my favorite trees, and one of the top seven best-selling Christmas trees, white pine (Pinus strobus). The white pine is an amazingly beautiful tree to consider as an alternative to Scots (Scotch) pine or Eastern redcedar in your yard. This is a tree that can be used as a specimen tree or as a tree for a windbreak. They have softer needles so they are not painful to plant or prune.
White pine, sometimes called Eastern white pine, grows to become quite a large, old tree, given the right conditions. White pines can grow up to 80-150 feet tall and 20-40 feet wide. Pinus strobus is one of the fastest growing landscape pines, with a growth rate of up to two feet in one growing season, which can be a desirable trait. However, when planting trees do be cautious because if you get a fast growing tree, you give up a stronger tree; if you get a stronger tree, they tend to grow a little bit slower. This means that white pines may lose limbs sporadically in strong storms, or lose the top out of the tree. This is not a good reason to avoid planting such a beautiful tree. When you purchase a white pine, remember there are many different cultivars to choose from that may have different forms, including 'Fastigiata' which is columnar, 'Globosa' which is globe-shaped, and 'Pendula' which has a weeping form.
White pines have needles that are in clusters of five, which is rare for conifers in the area. These needles have a silvery tint to them, in the right light, and are thin and flexible. The pine cone is four to eight inches long, brown, and is often covered by a bit of resin. The cones will stay closed until the seeds are mature, at which time the scales will open up and bend backward, allowing the seeds to be released. The cones hang off the branches from a stalk that is one inch long.
White pines were once the world's most important timber tree. They are still relished by woodworkers today due to the quality of the wood. White pines used in combination with many other plants provide great habitat for wildlife. Otherwise, the main use for white pines is as specimens plant in a landscape setting or as windbreak trees in combination with other tree types.
Pinus strobus prefers to be planted in full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Remember, when planting trees, the key is to make the hole wide, but not very deep. Keep them well watered, about one inch every week during the hot part of the summer and one inch every couple of weeks when it is cooler. Watering should be a slight trickle for about an hour. One key thing to remember when deciding where to plant white pines, is that they are intolerant of wind, salt, and air pollutants, so don't plant it on the outside line of trees in a windbreak or along a street or sidewalk where salts will get piled or sprayed onto them. White pines are great trees. Try one for a Christmas tree or put one in your landscape next spring. Either way, enjoy their beauty!