While the West Coast has taller trees, the eastern white pine is the biggest conifer native to eastern North America. This fast-growing evergreen with long, soft, blue-green needles is commonly found as far north as Newfoundland and as far south as northern Georgia, a span covering growing zones 3 to 8. This behemoth can grow to be as tall as 80 feet and as wide as 40 feet. Eastern white pine is the only pine tree in the East that bears five needles to a bundle. These bundles form clusters that look like little brushes.
Like other pines, this is a gymnosperm—a tree that bears seeds that are exposed in a cone structure rather than enclosed in a nut The tree's cones are cylindrical and are the largest pine cones found in many areas of the tree's range, reaching as much as 6 inches long. By comparison, the pine cones of a pitch pine (Pinus rigida) measure only about 3 1/2 inches long.
|Botanical Name||Pinus strobus|
|Common Names||Eastern white pine|
|Plant Type||Needled evergreen tree|
|Mature Size||50 to 80 feet tall, 20- to 40-foot spread|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Medium-moisture, well-drained soil|
|Soil pH||5.5 to 6.5 (acidic)|
|Hardiness Zones||3 to 8 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Southeastern Canada, eastern U.S.|
How to Grow Eastern White Pine
This tree is fairly easy to grow in a medium-moisture, well-drained soil with an acidic pH. In cool climates, it does well in full sun, but it appreciates some shade in warmer environments. Eastern white pine will not survive in compacted clay soils. Nor does it like very hot climates or urban environments where pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and ozone are present.
Unless you are willing to prune regularly to keep this tree shrub-sized, give it lots of space, as it quickly matures into a very large specimen. Individual trees should be planted at least 20 to 30 feet away from any other trees or shrubs.
This tree does well with at least 4 hours of direct sunlight each day. The hotter the climate, the more it appreciates some shade.
Eastern white pine likes an acidic soil that is well-drained. A thick bed of pine needle mulch over the root zone will both cool the soil and lower the pH.
Keep the tree well-watered when young, but once established it does fairly well in dryish soil, provided the soil is kept cool. If given about 1 inch of water weekly, it remains a happy specimen.
Temperature and Humidity
This is a tree that prefers cool, humid weather, and it sometimes struggles in the warmer end of its hardiness range
Eastern white pine should be fed in spring with a high-acid fertilizer designed for evergreens.
Propagating Eastern White Pine
This tree is fairly easy to propagate from seeds taken from large, mature cones that are allowed to fully dry out. Once a cone is dry and brittle, shake out the seeds and plant them about 1/4 inch deep in moist soil in a shady spot. Germination and initial growth will take some time, but small trees are then easily transplanted to other locations. Once the trees reach small sapling size, growth becomes quite swift.
Varieties of Eastern White Pine
The species form is the type that is most often planted, but there are several good cultivars, especially the dwarf varieties:
- 'Nana' and 'Compacta' are two mounded dwarf varieties.
- 'Blue Shag' is a compact form with blue-green needles.
- 'Contorta' is a variety with twisted, curled branches.
- 'Fatigiata' has a tall, columnar form with blue-green needles.
- 'Pendula' is a weeping form of eastern white pine.
- 'Aurea' is a variety with yellow needles.
Prune away broken, dead, or diseased branches whenever you see them. When trimming for shape or size, perform the pruning in late fall, winter, or early spring when the tree is dormant.
Landscape Uses (and Limitations)
If you were composing a dictionary entry for "messy tree," you might very well insert a picture of an eastern white pine tree. Ironically, it would serve just as well as an example of a graceful, magnificent specimen plant. These facts present something of a dilemma to the homeowner seeking a visually appealing yet low-maintenance landscape.
Eastern white pines have a lot of great features. They are large, fast-growing, and have a graceful, rounded pyramidal shape. They make excellent windbreaks and shade trees and can be clipped into hedges. Their branches are also prized for crafts and decorations; the boughs are commonly employed in outdoor Christmas decorations using greenery. The pine cones also come in handy for creating decorations once you learn how to wire the cones.
While Pinus strobus is hardly a conventional hedge plant, it can be used effectively in this capacity. If you live in a rural area and have lots of Pinus strobus saplings on your property, they can easily be turned into a free hedge. Dig them up while they're still young and plant them in a row, as you would any hedge. Then, head them back regularly to keep their growth in check.
But there are many drawbacks that need to be considered. These are brittle trees that are easily damaged by heavy snowfall or ice storms. Nor is the messiness restricted to winter damage. The large cones are difficult to rake up and slow to decompose. In spring, the pollen gets all over car windshields, and the pitch (sap) makes an even bigger mess. You can remove pitch from a windshield using a solvent (such as nail polish remover, mineral spirits, or rubbing alcohol), a rag, and a single-edge razor blade.
Unfortunately, eastern white pine is susceptible to many pests and diseases. A variety of blight and rust diseases are possible, one of which—white pine blister rust—often kills the trees. Make sure this disease is not common in your area before planting an eastern white pine. White pine weevils can attack this tree; they are best combatted with heavy doses of pesticide in the spring, though the application can be difficult with large trees.