Dwarf Pine Trees: Information on a Japanese Variety

Sometimes, Less Is More

Dwarf white pine tree.
David Beaulieu

Japanese dwarf pine trees argue the case that, sometimes, less is more. Their short height and slow growth rate can increase their value in the landscape rather than diminishing it because it allows them to be used effectively in spots in the yard where larger specimens would cause you nothing but headaches.

Plant Taxonomy and Botanical Type

Plant taxonomy assigns this Japanese dwarf pine tree the genus and species names, Pinus parviflora. The cultivar name is Arnold Arboretum Dwarf. It is classified by botanists as an evergreen conifer.

Characteristics of This Dwarf Pine Tree

Bizon Nursery 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 or fence as a background would nicely showcase this compact specimen plant.

Planting Zones, Sun and Soil Needs, Care Tips

These dwarf pine trees can be grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 to 8. Grow them in full sun and in a well-drained soil. If the soil in the location where you intend to transplant the tree does not already drain well, amend the soil with compost. Compost not only will help water percolate better through the ground but also improve the fertility of the 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" (the new growth) in spring and prune these off to check the growth of the plant. As with any plant, prune off any dead or diseased branches at any time that you spot them.

Uses for This Dwarf Pine Tree and the Benefit of Slow Growth

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 small space allotted to them. 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.

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 (in this case, 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 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. 

Other Great Choices for When Space Is Limited

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:

  • Euonymus Moonshadow: evergreen, and a favorite variegated plant
  • Winter heath (Erica x darleyensis Mediterranean Pink): 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
  • Syringa x Bloomerang lilac: re-bloomer; more compact than the common lilac
  • Bobo hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata Ilvobo): attains a height of just 3 feet at maturity; easily kept even shorter by pruning
  • Spiraea japonica Gold Mound: brilliantly-colored spring foliage

You also have some other types of dwarf pine trees from which to choose, including:

  • Mugo pine (Pinus mugo Mops): Broadly spreading in form (3 to 5 feet tall and 10 feet wide when mature), it makes for an effective ground cover.
  • Dwarf Austrian pine (Pinus nigra Hornibrookiana): 5 to 10 feet tall and 10 to 12 feet wide at maturity
  • Dwarf Bosnian pine (Pinus leucodermis Green Bun): globe-shaped, with mature dimensions of 4 to 10 feet tall and wide