'Mops' Mugo Pine Trees

A True Dwarf Cultivar to Grow in Small Spaces

Mugo pine tree image.
The mugo pines popular in landscaping come in shrub form. David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy, Botanical Classification of 'Mops' Mugo Pine Trees

Plant taxonomy classifies mugo pine trees as Pinus mugo. 'Mops' is an example of a dwarf cultivar, not to be confused with 'Gold Mops' false cypress. Unfortunately, the unreliable pumilio variety is more widely available in garden centers in some regions than 'Mops.'

In terms of their heritage, mugo pines come from needled evergreen conifer tree stock, although, for landscaping purposes, shorter, shrub forms are used.

Attributes

Mugo pine trees come in a number of cultivars or varieties, and their plant form can vary from pyramidal to broadly spreading. As alluded to above, characteristics will depend on the cultivar or variety that you plant. When making a selection at the nursery, most consumers have in mind a dwarf tree, such as 'Mops': a plant 3-5 feet tall and broadly spreading (10 feet wide), such that it 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. For a true dwarf mugo pine, buy the 'Mops' cultivar, instead. Other good options for those who seek a plant that will stay compact are:

  1. The 'Compacta' cultivar (5 feet tall by 8 feet wide)
  2. 'Sherwood Compact' (3 feet tall by 4 feet wide)

As you can see from the measurements provided for 'Compacta' and 'Sherwood Compact,' these two selections have a rounded habit, whereas 'Mops' is widely spreading.

'Mops' is thus probably more specifically suited for use as a ground cover.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Information, Sun and Soil Requirements

Mugo pine trees can be grown in planting zones 3-7. The plants can be grown in partial shade to full sun. They are not fussy about soil pH but do demand a well-drained soil.

The ground in which they are planted should be kept evenly moist until the plants have had a chance to become established. These trees are indigenous to mountainous regions in Europe, a fact that should give 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).

Landscape Functions for Dwarf Types, Other Names Used for the Plants

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 the some of the uses of shrubs. They are drought tolerant trees; this, combined with their tolerance of partial shade, makes them adaptable and helps account for how popular these plants are.

You will also see mugo pine trees referred to as "mugho pines," "dwarf mountain pines" and "Swiss mountain pines." 

Pruning Mugo Pine Trees, Other Plant Care Tips

As mentioned above, 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 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.

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. 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:

  1. European pine sawfly 
  2. Various moths
  3. 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, most notoriously arborvitae. Another selling point is that they are deer-resistant plants.

Seeking to grow a bush that stays short, but not interested in the plant described above? See this listing for small shrubs.