How to Grow Virginia Pine Trees

Virginia pine tree branches with short and twisted needles

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) is a common tree and native to the East Coast. The coniferous evergreen is also found from southern New York State to Alabama and along the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

Young Virginia pines have smooth bark that, with age, becomes red and scaly until it takes on a shaggy and grayish-brown color at maturity. Virginia pine is pyramidal in shape, but it gradually loses that form with maturity, becoming scrubby and rounded, which is why it's nicknamed “scrub pine.” 

Its needles are short, twisted, and come in fascicles, the botanical term for a bundle of leaves. Its seeded cones are seen throughout the tree and can stay on the tree for five years before dropping. As the Virginia pine reaches maturity, the top of the tree often flattens out, and it loses the typical pine shape that people find so appealing. Though the tree seeds itself from seeded cones, it is not considered invasive. Saplings can be successfully planted in the spring, with an expected growth rate of 1 to 2 feet per year.

Botanical Name Pinus virginiana
Common Name Virginia pine, Jersey pine, spruce pine, scrub pine
Plant Type  Evergreen conifer
Mature Size 40-70 ft. tall
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Well-drained, sandy, loamy, clay
Soil pH 5.0-7.0
Bloom Time N/A
Flower Color N/A
Hardiness Zones 4-8 (USDA)
Native Area  Eastern United States

Virginia Pine Tree Care

Virginia pine is considered a pioneer plant that seems to arrive first on the land, is easy to grow, and thrives in areas that other plants don't. The shape and size, combined with the tree’s notoriously weak wood that breaks with ease, means it is a poor choice for most ornamental landscape uses, and it is not often chosen for that purpose. They also have a relatively short lifespan of about 90 years, making these trees the perfect plants for reforestation projects on vast pockets of empty land that has been deforested, vacant, or infertile.

The Virginia pine also attracts beneficial wildlife activity, especially pollinators and birds. It plays host to the Eastern pine elfin, a tiny brown butterfly that uses the pine’s needles as a home for its eggs. The tree attracts many birds, with woodpeckers, and bobwhites being the most common. Woodpeckers love the weak softwood of older trees that provides ample feeding opportunities. 

If you do have a large space that needs filling, the ideal way to grow a Virginia pine is to buy numerous seedlings or saplings and plant them roughly 20 to 25 feet apart to create a dense stand. 

Whether planting a stand or a single tree, it is recommended that the Virginia pine be staked and secured, so it is not affected by strong wind or weather until it establishes itself. Once firmly rooted and established, the tree is relatively easy to maintain.

Virginia pine tree branch with short twisted needles and yellow-green pine cone hanging

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Virginia pine tree with twisted branches and short pine needles and pine cones hanging

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Virgina pine tree with dense and twisted branches in wooded area

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

The Virginia pine is best served by being placed in an area with full or partial sun.

Soil

While adaptable to almost any soil condition except wet soil, the Virginia pine thrives in well-draining, loamy, sandy soil with a neutral to low pH. The tree is known for growing in particularly inhospitable soils.

Water

Ensuring the tree is well watered while it is being established is essential. However, after the tree has established itself, watering is not needed besides what is provided by rain.

Temperature and Humidity

A very hardy and adaptable tree, the Virginia pine will thrive in a variety of conditions.

Fertilizer

There is no need to fertilize the Virginia pine. It will grow well in even the poorest of soil.

Pruning

Many homeowners like to have a Virginia pine tree pruned into the tidier shape of a Christmas tree, especially because they will become scraggly in appearance when they mature. Limb damage is still common in pruned mature Virginia pines, however.

The shaping process needs to be done yearly to keep up the tree's appearance. Shaping requires numerous bouts of pruning and shearing during its many annual growth flushes to control the shape, height, and width of the tree. It may be best left to a professional who knows the correct timing to prune and shear a Virginia pine tree into shape.

Propagating Virginia Pine Trees

Propagating a Virginia pine tree is possible with branch cuttings, but not so much with seed. By the time you find a flush of fallen pinecones, they have likely dried out and released their seeds. It's best to stick to propagating with cuttings that you can take off the tree just about any time during the year, though it's best done between fall and winter before the new spring growth. You'll need patience, however, because rooting a Virginia pine can take at least a year to root properly.

  1. Take a few 4- to 6-inch cuttings from branches with healthy growth at the tips.
  2. Remove needles from the cutting's lower third.
  3. Dip the bottom inch of each cutting into rooting hormone.
  4. Plant each cutting in a small pot filled with a mix of potting soil, perlite, and coarse sand for good aeration. Make sure no needles are touching the soil when inserting the cutting into the pot.
  5. Water the soil until it's moist but not soggy.
  6. Cover the pot with clear plastic for a greenhouse effect.
  7. Place in bright, but indirect sunlight.
  8. Keep the soil moist.
  9. Remove the plastic as soon as new growth appears.
  10. Allow the seedlings to grow enough before transplanting outdoors in the early spring so they can become successfully established.
  11. Plant seedlings outdoors in a clean site without any competing vegetation nearby.

Common Pests & Diseases

The Virginia pine's health may fall victim to the pinewood nematode, sawflies, pine beetles, and weevils. The application of appropriate pesticides in the spring may help to thwart these pests.

Virginia pine can also develop Diplodia tip blight, heart rot, and pitch canker, all of which may need professional intervention to stop the infection of adjacent trees. Sometimes applying fungicides in the spring or pruning infected branches and twigs during dry weather can prevent the spread of some diseases.

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