How to Grow and Care for Longleaf Pine

Longleaf pine tree with long yellow-green needles on branches

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

"Longleaf" pine is so called because its pine needles are an uncharacteristically long 8 to 18 inches. These needles are a rich, brown color and appear in clusters of three at the ends of the branches. The grayish-brown cones are 5 to 12 inches long. Both the needles and the cones are valued for their use in crafts. A mature specimen makes for an attractive landscape tree, since it will have a nice, reddish-brown bark with paper-like scales. Longleaf pine has a slow growth rate. Various mammals and birds use longleaf pine for food and shelter.

Learn how to grow and care for this iconic Southern tree.

 Common Names Georgia pine, hard pine, heart pine, hill pine, longleaf pine, longleaf yellow pine, Southern yellow pine, longstraw pine
 Botanical Name  Pinus palustris
 Family  Pine
 Plant Type  Evergreen tree
 Mature Size   80 to 100 feet
 Sun Exposure  Full sun
 Soil Type  Prefers well-drained soil but has some clay tolerance
 Soil pH  Acidic to neutral
 Hardiness Zones  7 to 9
 Native Area  Southeastern U.S.

Longleaf Pine Care

Happily, longleaf pine tree is relatively tolerant of two extremes: drought and temporary flooding. But since even "tolerant" plants can tolerate adverse conditions much better when they have been given proper care, it is important to know what to provide longleaf pine with to give it its best chance to thrive.

Longleaf pine tree top with new growth and long needles closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Longleaf pine tree top with new growth offshoot and long needles closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Longleaf pine tree branch with green pinecone hanging under long needles

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Longleaf pine tree with long green needles shooting from trunk

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Longleaf pine tree with light green needle clusters on end of branches

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

Longleaf pine is a tree that needs to be grown in full sun to thrive.

Soil

A tree with a long taproot, longleaf pine wants a deep, sandy loam.

Water

Longleaf pine tree has average water needs.

Temperature and Humidity

The region to which longleaf pine is native is characterized by hot, humid summers and mild winters. 

Fertilizer

Fertilize longleaf pine three times annually with a fertilizer that has a 3:1:2 NPK ratio.

Types of Longleaf Pine

No cultivars, varieties, or subspecies of longleaf pine are available. However, longleaf pine tree does sometimes produce natural hybrids with loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) and slash pine (Pinus elliottii).

Pruning

Some homeowners do not like the look of the lower limbs on the trunk of a longleaf pine and prefer to prune them off. If you choose to do this, make your pruning cuts flush with the trunk. You can prune in summer, fall, or winter; avoid pruning in spring, because this is when the sap is flowing. It's best to remove, at most, a few branches each year, so that you don't slow down the growth of the plant excessively.

Propagating Longleaf Pine

Longleaf pine is sometimes propagated through cuttings taken in late fall, as follows:

  1. Prepare a container by filling it with potting soil.
  2. Poke a hole in the soil.
  3. Using a sharp knife and choosing a branch with new growth, remove a piece 3 to 5 inches long from the tip.
  4. Remove the needles along the lower third of this cutting.
  5. Dip the cutting's bottom into rooting hormone, and insert this same end into the hole.
  6. Water the soil.
  7. Keep the container in indirect sunlight.
  8. Keep the soil moist until the cutting roots. To this end, it helps to create a plastic tent over the cutting. For a "pole," drive a small stake into the soil. For a "canvas," hang a clear plastic bag over this stake. It's easy enough to lift up the bag when it's time to water.
  9. Once your cutting has rooted, take the bag off but continue to keep the soil consistently moist.
  10. Transplant the rooted cutting in the spring after frost danger has passed.

How to Grow Longleaf Pine From Seed

You can also grow longleaf pine from seed. In fact, this is the preferred propagation method. Here's how:

  1. Harvest the cones in late summer or early fall (alternatively, the seed can be bought from seed companies). The best time is right before the cones fully open.
  2. Spread the cones across a perforated surface. Good air circulation hastens seed release.
  3. Knock out the seed.
  4. Sow them in late fall in a suitable area of the yard.
  5. Keep the soil evenly moist prior to and just after germination.

Overwintering

In zones 7 to 9, no particular precautions need to be taken to overwinter longleaf pine. The plant may sometimes survive in zone 6 with the help of mulch, but, if you are attempting this, gently knock off any snow and ice that accumulates on its branches in winter. The branches are not designed to bear such loads and can easily break because of them.

Common Problems for Longleaf Pine

Longleaf pine is less susceptible to pests and diseases than are many similar pines. Nonetheless, it is a good idea to be vigilant and to implement sound practices that will further discourage such problems.

Bark Beetles

If your longleaf pine tree is losing needles, this can be a sign of an infestation of bark beetles. Bark beetles are more likely to attack trees that are stressed than they are healthy trees. For this reason, even though longleaf pine is relatively drought-resistant, be sure to water it during dry periods so as to avoid stressing it. Also avoid inflicting mechanical injuries on your tree (as when mowing), since wounds are an open invitation to pests and diseases.

Root Rot

Yellowing leaves can be a sign of root rot, a disease hard to detect otherwise since it develops underground. Since this disease can be caused by waterlogged soil, avoid overwatering longleaf pine.

 

FAQ
  • Can the Needles Be Used for Garden Mulch?

    Yes, the needles of the longleaf pine are the "pine straw" so popular as a mulch in the South.

  • Do the Plants Have Any Other Practical Uses?

    Yes. The wood has been used for lumber. The needles are used in basket weaving.

  • Why Are the Cones of Longleaf Pine So Highly Valued?

    Of the Southern pine trees, this one has the largest cones. They look great on winter wreaths.