Mops Mugo Pine Tree Plant Profile

True Dwarf Cultivar to Grow in Small Spaces

Mugo pine tree in a mulched garden bed.
David Beaulieu

Mops is a dwarf cultivar of the mugo pine tree, not to be confused with Gold Mops false cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera). Because it is evergreen and such a low-growing plant, it is quite versatile in the landscape. Unfortunately, the unreliable pumilio variety is more widely available in garden centers in some regions than is Mops, so be very careful when shopping.

  • Botanical Name: Pinus mugo; Mops is the cultivar
  • Common Name: Mugo pine, mugho pine, dwarf mountain pine, Swiss mountain pine 
  • Plant TypeDwarf trees that are needled, evergreen, conifers
  • Mature Size: 3 to 5 feet tall and broadly spreading (10 feet wide)
  • Sun ExposureFull sun to partial shade
  • Soil Type: Well-drained and kept evenly moist
  • Soil pH: Neutral to slightly alkaline or slightly acidic
  • Bloom Time: Not a flowering tree
  • Flower Color: Not a flowering tree
  • Hardiness Zones: 3 to 7
  • Native Area (Species): Central Europe and the Balkans

How to Grow Mops Mugo Pine Trees

In terms of their heritage, mugo pines come from taller evergreen, conifer tree stock; for landscaping purposes, shorter, shrub-like forms were developed. These trees are native to mountainous regions in Europe, a fact that gives you a clue that they do not like to grow in areas with overly hot summers (thus the lower end of their USDA zone range being only zone 7).

If you are growing a cultivar such as Mops, mugo pine trees are virtually maintenance-free (barring any insect or disease problems). Their drought tolerance will be especially appreciated in warmer climates (provided that you grow them in partial shade there). Since their roots grow close to the surface, it is a good idea to mulch around these ground-cover trees, to keep the roots cool.

In the North, these plants are rarely infested with bugs or plagued by diseases, but gardeners in other regions report attacks from the following sources:

  • European pine sawfly 
  • Various moths
  • Various blights

Happily, these plants tend not to suffer winter burn on their foliage from the drying winds of winter the way some evergreens do, such as arborvitae (Thuja spp.). Another selling point is that they are deer-resistant plants.

Light

While the plants tolerate partial shade at the northern end of their range, they perform better there in full sun. But partial shade may be preferable when growing them at the southern end of their range.

Soil

Mops mugo pine trees are not fussy about soil pH but do demand a well-drained soil.

Water

While they are young, the ground must not be allowed to dry out totally in summer. Mature trees are moderately drought-tolerant.

Fertilizer

Fertilize annually with compost.

Landscape Uses, Other Cultivars

Mugo pine trees come in a number of cultivars or varieties, and their plant form can vary from pyramidal to broadly spreading. A particular plant's traits will depend on the cultivar or variety that you select. When making a selection at the nursery, most consumers have in mind a dwarf tree, such as Mops, which can function effectively as a low hedge or ground cover.

Such consumers may well end up disappointed if they bring home the pumilio variety, whose dimensions at maturity vary greatly, from instance to instance. Besides Mops, other good options for those who seek a plant that will stay compact are:

  • The Compacta cultivar (5 feet tall by 8 feet wide)
  • Sherwood Compact (3 feet tall by 4 feet wide)

Compacta and Sherwood Compact have a rounded habit, whereas Mops is widely spreading. Mops is thus better suited for use as a ground cover.

In addition to their use as ground covers and low hedges, dwarf mugo pine trees are used in foundation plantings and for rock gardens. Their small size means that their landscaping functions will overlap with some of the uses of shrubs; they have more in common, practically speaking, with small shrubs than they do with trees. Their moderate drought tolerance (once established) and their tolerance of partial shade make them adaptable and help account for how popular these plants are.

Pruning Mugo Pine Trees

People sometimes plant mugo pine trees under the false assumption that they are all dwarfs. The result of this poor plant selection is that the homeowners end up with plants too big for the space in which they are growing. This drawback is somewhat offset by mugo pines' slow growth rate. But if you find yourself stuck with pumilio mugo pine trees (rather than Mops) that are growing beyond the dwarf size you had been expecting, you can step in and shape the plants to some degree, through partial removal of the new candles in spring; this will slow the growth rate further.