Pond pine trees (Pinus serotina) are native to North America and commonly found on the coast of the southeastern United States, stretching between Florida and Alabama, and as far north as New Jersey. The bark of the pond pine forms rough plates that are a brownish-red color. The tree's cones are rounded ovals, and the needles are a long and lush dark green that are almost soft to the touch. Though closely related to the pitch pine tree and loblolly pine, pond pines are not as cold-hardy. These trees also flourish in the Southeast due to the large number of lightning storms there; pond pine trees require fire in order to open and release their seeds from the cones.
Best planted in fall (though any time is usually successful), pond pines grow slowly, taking as many as 18 years to reach maturity. Due to their love of water, pond pines usually make their homes in areas near swamps, marshes, and ponds—though they're seen in coastal plains areas as well.
|Common Name||Pond pine, marsh pine, pocosin pine, bay pine, black bark pine|
|Botanical Name||Pinus serotina|
|Plant Type||Coniferous tree|
|Mature Size||40–70 ft. tall, 1–3 ft. wide (trunk)|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Moist, sandy loam|
|Hardiness Zones||7-9 (USDA)|
|Native Areas||North America|
Pond Pine Care
Pond pine trees are not generally valued as landscaping trees, as their form is not considered attractive or unique. However, they can be useful in preventing erosion and improving water quality. Like many landscape trees, they don't take a lot of personalized care to help thrive. As long as you live in the proper USDA hardiness zone, you can likely grow a pond pine. That said, properties that provide their preferred environmental elements (moist, boggy conditions) will serve the tree the best.
Pond pine trees like sites with poor drainage, and in forests this means undrained peaty soil that holds moisture. Evergreen shrub bogs that do not drain well are also called "pocosins" and are also likely locations where one finds pond pines, which led to "pocosin pine" becoming one of the folk names of the pond pine. Additionally, the tree will do best in a soil mixture that is slightly acidic. These damp, boggy conditions can be tough to replicate on a traditional suburban property, so keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to host this tree in your yard.
Because they tend to grow as overstory trees near damp areas such as bogs and swamps, pond pines do best with a fair amount of sun. In some natural situations, oaks and maples may tend to grow up around and dominate them, but as long as partial shade is maintained they should survive just fine. However, pond pine trees are generally considered shade-intolerant and will not flourish in true shady conditions.
Pond pine trees thrive in wet spots and poorly-drained locations. Given changing weather patterns due to climate change, it's possible that pond pines will now be able to grow in different locations, such as further west or in spots previously considered too dry for them. They're also tolerant of the occasional flood, making them a good option for coastal locations prone to strong tropical rains or hurricane-like conditions. If caring for a pond pine tree in a more traditional suburban landscape, make sure to water it frequently, soaking the soil well each time and never allowing it to dry out.
Temperature and Humidity
The pond pine is cold hardy down to minus 3 degrees Fahrenheit. That said, it needs to have at least 190 frost-free days per year in order to flourish and grow properly, so it does best in warmer zones with an average low of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It especially loves the high humidity present in many swampy environments.
When planted in the proper growing locations, pond pines should have no problem flourishing. That being said, if you're looking to mimic their natural environment in a more traditional landscape, they may benefit from a boost of fertilizer. Feed the tree when you plant it, and again at the beginning of the growing season during its first and second years of life. Choose a blend that is slow-release and all-purpose—one that is geared towards acidic plants is a bonus.
Types of Pond Pine
There are no named cultivars of PInus serotina sold in the nursery trade, but in natural environments the species often hybridizes with pitch pine (Pinus rigida). The pure species can be distinguished from that tree by its longer needles and slightly larger cones.
Pond pine is also very similar to loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), which is native in the same region and prefers the same kind of wet, boggy environment. Both are similar in size and have nearly identical needles. But pond pine has cones that are slightly smaller (2 to 3 inches) and have a more egg-like shape.
Pruning pines is usually restricted to removing diseased, dead, or broken branches. More aggressive pruning for shape is usually discouraged, as pine trees do not respond well to this kind of insult. Other than removing faulty branches, there is often no reason to prune a pond pine, as these trees are generally grown in boggy natural areas, not as specimen landscape trees. Should major pruning become necessary, do it during the dormant winter season.
Like any pine tree, a pond pine's growth can be slowed and its size limited by removing the "candles" that appear on the branch tips during the early spring season. The candles are the new growth that will turn to mature brown wood if allowed to grow unimpeded. By removing or shortening the candles, you can keep the tree somewhat stunted, with a fuller, denser growth habit.
Propagating Pond Pine
Pond pines are normally propagated by seed, as the failure rate is high and successful stem cuttings can take as nearly six months to root. But if you choose to try it, here's how:
- In late fall, use sharp pruners to take some semi-hardwood cutting from the tips of branches (soft flexible wood on the tips, older brown wood at the base). Young, immature trees are best for propagating.
- Dip the snipped end of the cutting, then plant in a small container filled with standard commercial potting mix.
- Place in a bright, warm location and mist the potting mix and cutting periodically to keep moist. An environment of 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit is best.
- In 16 to 22 weeks, the cutting should be rooted and can be transplanted into its permanent landscape locations—or potted up to a larger container to continue growing. It's common to grow cuttings in a pot for several years before transplanting them into the landscape. Outdoor planting is best done during a period of mild temperature—about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
How to Grow Pond Pine From Seed
Growing pond pine from seed is not hard, but it is somewhat time-consuming. Start by harvesting seeds from a mature, dried cone in summer. Older, mature trees are more likely to produce cones that have viable seeds. Separate the seeds from the cone scales, then place them in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel and store at 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two months.
Then, plant the seeds about 1/2 inch deep in a pot filled with sterile potting mix and keep moist at 72 degrees in a full-sun location. In two to six weeks, the seeds will germinate and sprout. You can repot as the seedlings grow larger. When the seedlings have produced their second set of needles, they are ready for transplanting into the garden. This can take as much as two years.
When planted in its established hardiness range, a pond pine requires no winter protection once it is mature. Seedlings will benefit from a layer of mulch around the base. These trees should be watered well—at least twice a month—during the winter season to prevent desiccation of the needles. Small trees can be susceptible to animal damage, which can be prevented by using wire mesh cages around the trunk.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Pond pine trees are somewhat vulnerable to various pests or blights, including Atropellis tingens, which can cause cankers and result in dying foliage. Comandra blister rust (Cronartium comandrae), which can cause galls, or, more often, spindle-shaped swellings is also common, as is red heart disease.
Common Problems With Pond Pine
Other than known pest and disease issues, pond pine can be susceptible to wind damage, as it is a relatively brittle pine. Prune off damaged branches as they appear. Major pruning, where necessary, should be done during the dormant winter period.
How long does a pond pine tree live?
Like many pines, pond pine is a long-lived species. In optimal growing conditions, lifespans well over 100 years are fairly common.
What is the best way to use this tree in the landscape?
A somewhat ungainly tree, pond pine is most often used natural boggy areas or meadows adjacent to ponds and other bodies of water. It is also a good tree for attracting butterflies and other pollinators.
Does this tree have wildlife appeal?
The sprouts, seedlings, and seeds of the pond pine are known to be food for various wildlife including deer, rodents, and birds, and the trees also provide habitat for a number of diverse wildlife species. It attracts a variety of butterflies and other pollinators.