How to Grow and Care for Foxtail Pine

Foxtail pine trees in wilderness


Michele D'Amico supersky77 / Getty Images

A rare variety of pine tree, the foxtail pine is specifically located in the Klamath Mountains and in the Sierra Mountains of California. Each region has its own subspecies; the Pinus balfouriana subspecies, referred to here, is located in the Klamath Mountains. 

The bark of this pine species can range from gray to cinnamon red. These rich tones complement its blue to yellow-green needle-like foliage. The pine needles grow in bundles of five and reach 1 to 2 inches in length.

The foxtail pine does not often produce many large branches but instead grows smaller branches from the main trunk, giving it a bushy fox tail appearance. The cones produced start out purple in color, then mature to red-brown and reach 5 inches in length. These trees are very hardy and thrive in high altitudes and on steep slopes. These slow-growing trees have a very long lifespan; some trees within this species are up to 3,000 years old. 

Botanical Name Pinus balfouriana
Common Name Foxtail pine
Plant Type Evergreen
Mature Size 30-50 ft. tall, 10-15 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Loamy, Sandy, Well-drained
Soil pH Acidic
Bloom Time Not applicable
Flower Color Not applicable
Hardiness Zones 4-7, USA
Native Area North America

Foxtail Pine Care

These rare trees are designed for the harsh climates of high-altitude mountain slopes. This means the more favorable growing conditions of the garden can prove challenging for these trees. They can be a bit tricky to grow in the usual landscape settings, though they are popular to keep as bonsai trees

Accustomed to rocky mountainsides, the foxtail pine is tolerant of wind and steep slopes. They are not often bothered by many pests or diseases but may battle with mountain pine beetles and white pine blister rust.  

Light

Full to partial sun is best to keep these trees thriving. They often enjoy morning sun and partial or filtered afternoon sunshine. 

Soil

These trees naturally grow in areas with rocky, slightly acidic, low-nutrient soil. Providing well-draining soil similar to this natural habitat will help foxtail pine trees thrive. This can be a bit tricky in the garden, but these unique trees respond well to perlite amended soil. They do not handle clay soil very well. 

Water

Foxtail pines flourish in areas with little water, making them drought-tolerant. To mimic these conditions, water deeply and infrequently, allowing the soil to dry in-between waterings. Depending on your specific climate conditions, this may be every other week or so. 

Temperature and Humidity

Naturally found at very high elevations, the foxtail pine is accustomed to hot days and cold nights. This makes the warm summer nights in lower elevations more challenging. To help with this, position this type of tree in a spot with afternoon shade, which allows for cooler temperatures as the evening arrives. Foxtail pine trees do best with average humidity levels.  

Fertilizer

Fertilizing young trees with phosphorus-based fertilizer will encourage healthy root development. However, because these trees grow in areas with very low nutrients, fertilization is not necessary for healthy growth.  

Propagating Foxtail Pine

Propagation can be done by means of cuttings; for pine trees, its usually best to do since from mid-fall to mid-winter. Follow these steps:

  1. Using clean garden snips, take a cutting around 5 or 6 inches long. 
  2. Clean the top half of the cutting of any needles. 
  3. Dip the cut end into rooting hormone. 
  4. Gently bury the cut end into a tray of planting medium. Water enough to keep the medium moist but not overly soggy.
  5. Cover with plastic and ensure that the cutting receives bright, indirect light.
  6. Once the cutting begins to take root (which may take several months or more), you can transplant to an outdoor location. Be sure to harden the plant off before doing so.

How to Grow Foxtail Pine From Seed

Foxtail pine seeds can be started indoors or directly sown into the garden. To start them indoors, follow these steps: 

  1. Stratify the seeds by soaking them for 24 hours. Then keep them in the refrigerator in damp paper towels or soil for 30 to 60 days. 
  2. Plant the seeds 1 inch deep in moist soil. 
  3. Keep the soil moist and warm. Use a heating mat and grow lights to provide the needed heat and light. Keep the heating mat on constantly. Keep the grow lights on for around 14 hours daily. 
  4. Once seedlings appear, allow them to mature for 2 or 3 months before transferring them to the garden. 

To start seeds outdoors, follow these steps:

  1. Plant the seeds in the fall before the ground freezes. The seeds will naturally stratify over the winter. 
  2. Cover the seeds about 1 inch deep and moisten the soil.  
  3. The seeds will germinate when temperatures warm in the spring. 

Potting and Repotting Foxtail Pine

Though these trees grow to be very tall, they are slow-growing and can be kept in containers when young. When choosing a container, be sure it has good drainage. Fill the pot with well-draining soil and water deeply and infrequently. As the tree grows, you may need to move it to a larger container or plant it into the ground. To do this, gently tip the container onto its side and tap the outside to loosen the roots. Slide the tree out and transfer to a new pot, being sure to provide water and suitable light conditions.

Overwintering

These trees are very hardy and are accustomed to the cold temperatures of high elevations. No extra attention is required for these trees to successfully survive the winter.