Dwarf Pine Trees: Information on a Japanese Variety

Sometimes, Less Is More

Dwarf white pine tree picture.
Pinus parviflora 'Arnold Arboretum Dwarf' is a tiny white pine. David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy and Botanical Type

Plant taxonomy classifies Japanese dwarf pine tree as Pinus parviflora 'Arnold Arboretum Dwarf.' The part of the name in single quotes is, as usual, the cultivar name.  

These dwarf pine trees are classified as evergreen conifers.

Characteristics of This Dwarf Pine Tree

Bizon Nursery (the source for the dwarf pine tree shown in the image) says of the plant that a "ten year old tree is 3 feet tall and under 2 feet wide." Its plant form is pyramid-like.

The needles are blue-green in color, the branching pattern dense. This is an artistic tree that deserves a background that will highlight its interesting form. For example, a light-colored wall as a background would nicely showcase this compact specimen plant.

Planting Zones, Sun and Soil Requirements, Care Tips

These dwarf pine trees can be grown in planting zones 4-8. Grow them in full sun and in a well-drained soil.

This specimen should need little pruning. But you can prune it lightly to shape it as desired or to keep it as small as possible. Look for the "candles" (that is, new growth) in spring and prune these off to check the growth of the plant. As with any plant, prune off any dead branches at any time that you spot them.

Uses for Dwarf Pine Trees, Their Outstanding Quality, and Other Choices

This slow-growing dwarf tree is effective in foundation plantings, entrance plantings, beds near patios, or in any other area in the yard where it is critical to have plants that will not outgrow the space allotted to them.

Sometimes, less is more -- and slow is good. For instance, when installing a plant in a small space, you need reasonable assurance that it will not quickly spike out of control, necessitating its removal after just a short period. Thus the popularity of slow-growing dwarf pine trees and other short, compact specimens.

The dwarfs discussed in this article are slow-growing white pines suitable for use in small spaces. While some white pines are towering giants (for example, eastern white pine trees) that dominate a landscape and can be quite messy, this type of Pinus parviflora pays heed to the old Japanese proverb, "the nail that sticks out gets pounded down." There will be no need to pound it down (that is, over-prune it to fit it into a tight space), since, keeping a low profile at all times, Japanese dwarf pine tree makes a statement not with its size, but with its elegance.

The cultivar name, incidentally, derives from the fact that the plant began at Harvard's Arnold Arboretum in Boston. This arboretum, which was established in 1872, was designed, in part, by the famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. 

When mulling over other choices for small spaces, consider small shrubs as well as other dwarf trees. One must specify small shrubs, because some shrubs are much bigger than some of the dwarf trees. The following list sets in front of you a varied menu of small shrubs:

  1. Moonshadow euonymus (evergreen, and a favorite variegated plant)
  2. Winter heath (evergreen; bears tiny flowers in winter even in a cold climate like that of New England in the United States, when nothing else is blooming)
  1. Bloomerang lilac (re-bloomer; more compact than the common lilac)
  2. Bobo hydrangea (attains a height of just 3 feet at maturity; easily kept even shorter by pruning)
  3. Goldmound spirea (brilliantly-colored spring foliage)