How to Grow and Care for Mugo Pine

True Dwarf Cultivars to Grow in Small Spaces

Pinus Mugo

 

tanukiphoto / Getty Images

The mugo pine (Pinus mugo) is a species of conifer, a needled evergreen. Most varieties grown for landscaping have a broad, spreading form, growing wider than they are tall. 'Mops' mugo pine is a popular cultivar that is a true dwarf, unlike some other dwarf cultivars that grow relatively tall. 'Mops' should not be confused with Gold Mops false cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera). Because they are evergreens that stay relatively short, mugo pines are quite versatile in the landscape.

Mugo pines descend from taller evergreen, conifer trees native to mountainous regions in Europe, a fact that gives you a clue to their hardiness. 'Mops' and many other mugo pines are hardy to planting zones 3. In fact, they do not do well in areas with overly hot summers. Another selling point is that they are deer-resistant plants.

Botanical Name Pinus mugo
Common Name Mugo pine
Plant Type Evergreen shrub
Mature Size 3 to 5 feet tall and 10 feet wide
Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Well-drained
Soil pH 6.5 to 7.5
Bloom Time Non-flowering
Flower Color Non-flowering
Hardiness Zones 3 to 7
Native Areas Central Europe, Balkans

How to Grow 'Mops' Mugo Pine

If you are growing a cultivar such as 'Mops,' mugo pine trees are virtually maintenance-free, barring any insect or disease problems, which are not common. Their roots grow close to the surface, so it is a good idea to mulch around their bases to help keep the roots cool, especially in climates with hot summers. Mugo pines are rarely infested with bugs or plagued by diseases, but gardeners in some regions should watch out for pine sawfly and pine needle scale as well as various moths and borers, tip blight, rots, and rusts.

Light

While mugo pines tolerate partial shade at the northern end of their range (zones 3 to 5), they perform better there in full sun. Partial shade may be preferable when growing them at the southern end of their range (zone 7).

Soil

Mugo pine trees are not fussy about soil pH and can tolerate slightly acid to slightly alkaline soil. They are also tolerant of various soil types, provided the soil drains well; they do not like wet soil.

Water

While your mugo pine is young, water as needed throughout summer so that the ground never dries out completely. Mature trees are moderately drought-tolerant and need less consistent watering.

Fertilizer

You can fertilize your mugo annually with compost or another organic soil amendment. They typically do not need applied fertilizers.

Temperature and Humidity

As natives of the dry western U.S., 'Mops' mugos and similar cultivars are drought-tolerant and can survive hot summers and cold winters. In warmer climates, they may do better in partial shade rather than full sun. They also do not suffer winter burn on their foliage from the drying winds of winter, the way some evergreens (like arborvitae) do.

Varieties of Mugo Pine

  • Pinus mugo 'Compacta': May include several varieties generically named 'Compacta'; typically 5 feet tall and 8 feet wide but may grow larger
  • Pinus mugo 'Sherwood Compact': Dwarf with a rounded habit; 3 feet tall and 4 feet wide
  • Pinus mugo 'Enci': Similar size to 'Sherwood Compact' (3 by 5 feet); slow-growing; dense, short needles
  • Pinus mugo 'Gnome': Small, flat-top form; slow-growing; 18 inches tall and 3 feet wide
Sherwood Compact Mugo Pine
Sherwood Compact Mugo Pine. F. D. Richards / Flickr / CC By 2.0 

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 shape the plants by removing some of the new candles in spring; this will slow the growth rate further.

Growing Mugo Pine in Containers

Small mugo pines work well in containers and can be left outdoors all winter in most climates. Some of the smallest cultivars of mugo include:

  • 'Paul's Dwarf': Grows to 2 to 3 feet tall in 10 years; has short needles; hardy to zone 2
  • 'Honeycomb': Grows to 4 feet tall in 10 years; needles turn gold in winter; hardy to zone 3
  • 'Gnom': Grows to 4 feet tall in 10 years, but relatively wide at 5 feet; hardy to zone 2

When growing mugo pines in containers, it's important to water them properly for the season. As winter approaches, keep them well watered until the soil freezes. You can then stop watering as long as the soil remains frozen. Once the soil thaws in spring, or during warm spells in winter, water as soon as possible. Return to the regular watering schedule once the temperature rises for the season.

Landscape Uses of Mugo Pine

'Mops' and other short mugo pines can function effectively as a low hedge or ground cover as well as foundation plantings or as evergreens 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.