Lodgepole pines are highly adaptable survivors that have evolved to live in less than favorable conditions. One variety, prevalent in the Rocky Mountains, is born from fire, meaning their seed cones require heat to open and release their seed. Lodgepole pines can live at altitudes of 6,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains or along the Pacific Northwest coast. It can be identified from other pine trees by its twisted needles, bunched in two, where it gets the botanical name contorta or tangled. The needles are about two inches long and are a bright green.
The perfect time to plant the tree is September to Mid-November, depending on your climate. It needs some time to take root before the winter comes. It has a slow to moderate growth rate, growing 1 to 2 feet yearly. Native to North America, it is not invasive in the U.S.; however, it is considered invasive in other countries.
|Common Name||Lodgepole pine|
|Botanical Name||Pinus contorta|
|Plant Type||Coniferous, evergreen|
|Mature Size||Varies; 3.5 ft. to 160 ft.|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil pH||5.0 to 7.5|
|Flower Color||Pale Yellow|
|Native Area||North America|
Lodgepole Pine Tree Care
It grows in 11 states in the United States and five Canadian provinces. Its native habitat stretches from the Pacific, where the variety is called the shore pine, inland to Montana. Growing a lodgepole pine is easy, but it can grow tall and have a long lifespan, up to 200 years or more. Be aware that they shed needles, drip sap, have extensive branches, and can eventually shade a large area. A mature tree can have an average spread of 20 feet.
Leave space between trees if you are planting a stand and using multiple trees as a windbreak. Its crown can sway more than nine feet in high winds.
It is native to North America, so it is not invasive in the U.S. However, it has been reported invasive in New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina.
Give the tree room to grow in a spot with full sun to partial shade. This tree needs at least four hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day.
The wonderful thing about the lodgepole pine is its adaptability. The ideal soil should be moist, well-draining, and slightly acidic. This tree is suited for a diverse range of soils, including loam, sand, silt, and clay, as long as its well-draining.
Initially, after planting, you will want to make sure you give your new tree plenty of water to promote root growth. Daily drenching for the first two to three months would be ideal. Once past the seedling or sapling stage, ensure it gets at least 1 inch of water per week. Take into account rainwater. It is better to water a tree less frequently and soak the roots rather than watering more frequently to only moisten the surface. The objective is to let the water penetrate the soil and foster new root growth beneath the surface.
Temperature and Humidity
Temperature and humidity are not significant factors for lodgepole pine trees. They can handle high and low temperatures and wet and dry environments. These trees grow in areas with cold, wet winters and warm, dry summers. Sierra lodgepole pine can grow under arid conditions.
Once your pine is established, you won't need to fertilize. But, during its first year, feed your tree a slow-release fertilizer meant specifically for pines.
Types of Lodgepole Pine Trees
- Sierra lodgepole or tamarack (Pinus contorta var. murrayana): Grows throughout the Sierra Nevada range, from the Klamath Mountains and farther south in the Transverse and Peninsular ranges; taller height tree, gets to about 100 feet tall.
- Mendocino White Plains pine (Pinus contorta var. bolanderi): This coastal variety is only 2 to 5 feet tall when mature.
- Beach, shore, or coast pine (Pinus contorta Dougl. ex Loud var. contorta): Pacific coast pine from Yakutat Bay, Alaska, to northern California; medium height tree, gets to about 50 feet tall.
- Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia): Grows from the interior of Alaska, the western Canadian provinces, down to Colorado; tall tree, grows up to about 150 feet tall.
Lodgepole pines rarely need to be pruned unless you want to fix damage or control new growth. Remove damaged branches immediately. Never trim a pine tree branch to shorten it. Remove the entire branch down to the trunk if a branch needs trimming. Remember to sterilize your tools before and after every pruning task.
The easiest way to control pine growth is to pinch off the candles or new growth or shoots early to mid-spring before the needles come out. Pinch off the candles between your fingers halfway down its length and snap. Do not use clippers or scissors. They tend to make the candles turn brown. Leave half of the candle. If you break the entire candle (decandling), you will have a lodgepole pine that grows buds during the summer that won't open until next year.
Propagating Lodgepole Pine Trees
You can propagate lodgepole pine trees by stem cuttings or seeds. You can take stem pieces from pine trees anytime, but the ideal time is in the fall or mid-winter. It's best to get a cutting before the new growth occurs in the spring. Here's how:
- You'll need sterilized pruners, a moistened, well-draining rooting mixture (pine bark, peat, or perlite mixed with sand), clean pots or a deep, separate-celled planting tray with ample drainage holes, a clear plastic bag or plastic wrap, rooting hormone, and a warming mat (optional).
- Take several 4- to 6-inch healthy, disease-free cuttings from the current year's growth. Dip the bottom half of the stem in the rooting hormone. It's OK if it has some new growth at the tip.
- Remove the needles from the cutting's lower half (snipped end). Place the cutting (cut-side down) about 2 to 3 inches deep into the pot or tray filled with moistened rooting soil. None of the needles remaining on the stem should touch the soil.
- Cover the cutting with a clear plastic bag or plastic wrap. Place the tray in bright, indirect light. Optionally, you can use a warming mat set to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. A greenhouse-type environment will help the rootings grow faster. If you notice drippings inside the plastic, it's too moist. If the soil becomes soggy, the cutting can rot. Remove the plastic daily for at least one hour to give the cutting ventilation. Once you notice new growth sprouting, remove the plastic entirely.
- Cuttings may take up to one year to root. New growth is a sign that the stem has taken root. Once the cutting is rooted, transplant the root ball into a pot with a soil-based potting mix.
- Add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil and place the pot in a partly shady site for two to three weeks until the cutting acclimates to the soil. Then, move it to a brighter location.
Transplanting into the ground:
- Transplant the root ball into the ground in the autumn. Dig a hole at the planting site that is only three inches deeper than the root ball. The hole should be twice as wide as the ball or container, centered and straight.
- You can cut into the roots and spread them out if the roots are bound.
- Protect the tree with a grow tube or tree shield. If in a windy or unstable spot, add stakes to support the tree until it establishes itself.
- Water thoroughly and regularly for the first year.
How to Grow Lodgepole Pine Trees From Seed
Most lodgepole pines have regular pinecones that easily release their seeds. However, the Rocky Mountain variety has hard, tightly shut serotinous cones with a strong resin. High heat, for example, from forest fires, is needed to melt away the resin to release the seeds.
Start the seeds after collection in the fall or wait until after cold stratification. You can simulate cold stratification by putting the seeds in a plastic bag and placing them in the refrigerator for at least one month.
Sow the seeds in individual pots with well-drained potting soil. Push each seed just beneath the soil surface and ensure the seed is vertical, with the pointy end facing downward. Place the pots in a sunny window and water thoroughly. Keep the seeds moist and wait. Germination can take 30 to 60 days. Transplant the seedling outdoors once it grows from 6 to 12 inches tall.
Protect seedlings for their first few winters with a 4- to 6-inch layer of shredded bark mulch to insulate the roots and retain moisture in the soil. Leave a few inches of space around the trunk; do not put mulch up against the trunk.
Water seedlings twice a month through the winter when the ground hasn't had any rain or snow.
To protect the seedling from harsh winds or foraging animals, drive stakes into the ground around the seedling and wrap the outside of the stakes with wire mesh (buried a few inches deep into the ground). Wrap the cage with a hardware cloth or burlap. Allow light to reach the seedling from the top. Similarly, you can build a wooden box or frame around the wire mesh cage and wrap burlap around it.
Once well-established, the tree will not need any overwintering protection.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Numerous pests attack the lodgepole pine, the mountain pine beetle being the most troublesome and widespread. Sawflies are also a menace to this tree.
Mountain pine beetles infest a tree by entering the tree via pitch tubes or spots where the resin leaks from the bark. The beetles lay eggs under the tree bark, which also introduces blue stain fungus to the tree, blocking water and nutrient absorption. Within weeks, this insect's activity combined with the fungal infection can kill the tree. Pesticides applied by a licensed operator are the only way to eliminate this pest.
Similarly, sawflies are related to wasps but do not have stingers or waists. Sawflies "saw" openings into the tree to lay their eggs. The small, green larvae look like caterpillars that eat away at the pine needles, defoliating the tree. If it's a small infestation, it may not kill the tree, but it will suffer in appearance. Sawflies can't be prevented but can be controlled with pesticides or handpicking. Birds and beetles are a natural control for this pest.
Common Problems With Lodgepole Pine Trees
Lodgepole pine trees are the most widely distributed pine trees in North America. It's easy to grow and maintain; it's not picky about its soil, temperature, or moisture levels. However, it is susceptible to several pests and diseases.
Yellowing Foliage and Leaf Drop
Scales insects and mealybugs are related bugs that are problematic for lodgepole pines. Scale and mealybugs use piercing mouthparts to suck the sap out of the plant tissue. Scale insects look like hardened, armored bumps on leaves or stems. Mealybugs look like small pieces of cotton, often grouping and colonizing an area where leaves and stems branch.
Both insects weaken the plant by causing yellowing foliage and leaf drop. Also, both excrete wastes, a sweet substance called honeydew. A sign of an infestation is a line of ants collecting at the spots to collect the honeydew, a favorite food source. A secondary effect of the honeydew is it can cause a black fungal growth of sooty mold.
To get rid of mealybugs or scale, use horticultural oil, neem oil, or insecticidal soap. You can also use a pressure washer with a high-force, fanned stream of water to dislodge most of the insects. Do not use a pinpoint stream of water; it can irreversibly damage the foliage.
Browning of Needle Tips
Blight is a rapid killer, often caused by fungi (Dothistroma or Diploda) that kills the plant tissue. Symptoms are rapid spotting or foliage wilting. The tip of the needle turns brown, while the base of the needle remains green. A reddish-brown band separates these two sections of the foliage. The transition from green to dead areas is abrupt. Eventually, the needles will brown and fall off. If you notice black, raised pimple-like spots, those are fungal spores.
To prevent the disease, allow good air circulation between trees and do not spray its leaves with water. To control it, apply copper-based fungicides in spring or summer.
Discolored Pustules Under Leaves
Your tree might have fungal rust if you notice bright orange, yellow, or brown pustules on the pine needles. It is caused by fungal spores that spread by splashing water or rain or wind. The fungus first appears like thick orange liquid droplets on a section of diseased bark; it spreads and grows in the inner bark layer. Rust is worse when the weather is moist. To control it, prune away diseased branches. If the trunk is infected low on the trunk, it can girdle or strangle the tree, eventually killing the tree. Removal might be your easiest solution.
How long do lodgepole pines live?
Rocky Mountain and Sierra lodgepole pines are among the largest varieties, living, on average, 150 to 200 years. However, some Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine trees live more than 400 years. Sierra lodgepole pines can live an excess of 600 years.
Why is it called lodgepole pine?
This pine tree gets its name from the indigenous people of the North American Rockies, who used the tall, straight lumber to make their lodges and homes. Also, the needles were used to make tea, and the resin was used for medicine.
Are lodgepole pines used in landscaping?
You might see the dwarf selection Pinus contorta subsp. latifolia 'Chief Joseph' in some landscaping. This tree is not used as frequently as other pine trees in landscaping, but it has been trending upward as people embrace using native plants more in their tree and shrubbery plans.
- Pinus contorta (lodgepole pine)
Pinus contorta (lodgepole pine). CABI Invasive Species Compendium.
How Trees Survive and Thrive After a Fire. National Forest Foundation.
Pinus contorta var. latifolia. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forestry Service.
Fire Effects Information System: Pinus contorta var. murrayana. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forestry Service.